I had a lot of travel with work this month, so what a good excuse to go for rides in exotic places. This time it’s San Francisco!
Not the ideal city for cycling you might think, given it’s hilly, but in reality that’s no issue at all.
I mentioned it before, but this is the first time I tried Strava Local, where a few rides were suggested of varying difficulty.
We opted for a “medium ” difficulty ride, particularly given we brought no cycling gear at all. I’d be doing this ride in full-on tourist mode. Jeans, trainers and backpack!
My buddy found a bike rental place very close to our hotel, downtown near Union Square, called “Blazing Saddles” (like the movie). They only had “supermarket” bikes, but all in good working order, disc brakes, triple chainrings, basic suspension and 700c “off-road” fat touring tires. The bike I was given had a suspension seat post, which I asked to be replaced with a standard seat post, fearing it would annoy me on the ride.
Blazing Saddles had a very slick operation and very quickly and clearly explained everything we needed to know, provided maps, ferry tickets if needed, and adjusted the bikes to fit. In Europe this would have taken three times longer, but in the US this sort of thing seems a well oiled machine! (no, I wasn’t paid to say that)
We headed off onto Market Street and out west towards Panhandle, climbing up some gentle hills before stopping at a small neighbourhood breakfast place near Ashbury. SF was still waking up, so very little traffic to contend with at this point.
Lots of cyclists (full-on lycra posse) passed while we were having breakfast, presumably starting out on the same route. So I guess there is a good weekend cycling culture here after all.
After our fill of granola (muesli), fruit juice and latte macchiato (coffee is every cyclist’s best friend – even unsuitably dressed tourist cyclists), we headed off in earnest.
Weaving through small streets and past pretty wooden townhouses we soon reached Panhandle, then Golden Gate Park, where by now a few joggers and families were enjoying the sunshine.
Before long we passed a beautiful waterfall, banks of colourful flowers, a windmill (?!) and reached… the Pacific Ocean!
Arriving under cloud cover and a fresh wind, in 10 minutes this morphed into clear blue skies and warm sunshine. The climate is very changeable here, but this glorious spring weather stuck with us for the rest of the day (hello sunburn).
The water was way too cold for swimming so we dipped a toe, hung around a bit, then headed on.
We rounded the headland to the north, climbing a small hill and onto a coastal path winding through light forest before reaching a golf course and the road back inland towards the Golden Gate Bridge.
After figuring out which side of the bridge was for pedestrians and which for cyclists, we headed over this iconic landmark, then looped underneath it on the north side and continued to Sausalito along some quiet roads.
These quiet country roads would feature for the rest of our ride, with beautiful views of the San Francisco bay, and huge banks of various spring flowers and the strongly perfumed clouds of scent coming off them. Magical stuff.
We continued north, saw a Lacrosse game in action (a first for me), and came to a crossroads. While studying our now crinkled and sweaty map, a lady came over to us and offered her assistance. She suggested we visit Mill Valley, which we hadn’t planned to do. Feeling energetic, we took her advice and headed east, following vague (forgotten) directions.
Steep, narrow, winding roads followed and we probably caused some nuisance to the drivers looking to pass us (American pick up trucks are HUGE and ubiquitous), but all were patient and friendly.
Feeling (looking) hot and lost, a driver volunteered directions, which sent us down a back lane and into some stunning Redwood forest. Sadly I was so blown away I didn’t take any photos…!
We looped back and continued north, heading to Larkspur for lunch. By this point, I guess we had ventured beyond the range of your average tourist, and at a traffic light another lady driver inquired what we were doing, and found us very brave (foolish) to be heading up our intended hill.
Foolhardy as always, we continued and found the climb (Camino Alto) to be pretty gentle after all. Easily done on our supermarket bikes.
At some point I picked up a tiny eight-legged hitchhiker.
We continued after lunch and circled the peninsula to Tiburon, which by now was teeming, to await our ferry back to SF.
We started all the way over there…
At this point my friend revealed he had never ridden more than 20kms in a single ride!
No fuss, no stress. What a legend!
So in summary, we enjoyed a sleepy city, powerful ocean, infinite views, beautiful spring flowers, towering dense Redwoods, small town America, friendly and curious locals, rolling Californian countryside, bustling marinas, a cool glass of local IPA, a ferry ride past Alcatraz and a sore bottom from a wide saddle not intended for hundreds of miles.
What a day!
I feel very fortunate indeed to have been able to enjoy this. A great experience that I can highly recommend.
Thanks California – you were awesome!
Check out our ride on Strava here!