I was going to title this post cycling in America but that would have been misleading. I’m not even cycling in San Francisco for real, as much as my cycling heart and trembling thighs would like to scale the beautiful hills of this lumpy city. I’m on holiday you see and so I’m on a hire bike taking on one of the most picture perfect postcard cycle rides of a metropolis the world has to offer. No, I cannot complain.
Cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito
How far is it, was the question my girlfriend should have asked but didn’t. The ride is eight miles and I was surprised to get away with such a ride on our holiday. Even then, she loved it despite a mini meltdown in the wind towards the end of the ride over the bridge.
I loved it of course. You really do appreciate the art deco detail and stylings when cycling along this engineering marvel.
Riding the famous bridge
As famous for its colour and architecture as for its suicides, the Golden Gate Bridge is a marvel of engineering. More than that it is beautiful. Especially when the rolling fog clings to its underbelly or shrouds its peaks in mystery.
The ride out to the bridge is nice and flat but for one small climb at the very start of the bridge. Don’t worry. Stick the hire bike in the granny gear and you can mount any climb in San Francisco.
At the top of the climb, there’s a highly recommended diversion down to Fort Point. A roll down this hill will give you some of the best vantage points and best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Oh, and some crazy surfers waiting on waves oh so very close to the rocky shoreline. Seriously dude, I mean WTF.
The ride over the bridge is a pleasurable 1.7 miles (or 2.7km if you swing that way). There’s a little pedestrian dodging and a few over-serious gents on road bikes to avoid but the sheer length of the bridge gives you plenty of time to admire its sharp lines and steel cables, not to mention the fog and views of Alcatraz and downtown San Francisco.
Is it worth cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge?
Are you crazy? Yes. Beg, buy, borrow or steal a bike if you must, just do it. Besides, there’s not a lot else to do in San Francisco. Sorry San Fran, you’re just not my cup of tea. Or joe for that matter.
Tips for cycling the Golden Gate Bridge
- Wear layers. It may be warm in the city sun but once you’re up on the foggy, windy bridge you’ll be thankful for the extra layer or two.
- Stay for lunch in Sausalito. This little bay side town is quaint and there’s some good eating with waterside views. I’d recommend Salito’s Crab House and Prime Rib.
- Return via the ferry. Buy your ticket before you sit down to lunch to avoid the queues. The ferry ride back has great views of Alcatraz and the city.
- Look out for seals. Cute, if that’s your thing.
- Take a detour to Fort Point for the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Get a cycle route map. Should you venture away from the bridge, this map handily shades the hills of the city according to the severity of the slope, meaning you can avoid or seek the famous hills as you please.
- Go see the Bay Bridge. It gets lonely but is of equal stature to the golden child, see below.
- Lock your bike in the city. San Francisco is home to more homeless people than any other city in the USA*. This you’ll know the minute you begin walking the streets. We saw a group of homeless folk in the Tenderloin admiring their haul from the day, lots of shiny bikes. This was no sportive we’d stumbled upon.
*America, land of the free, home of the brave but no place to be should your luck run short. The number of homeless people in this city should be a national embarrassment. I’m sorry USA, but I’m embarrassed for you as a human being. Still, at least we can comfort ourselves that the destitute will soon die and halve the number of people sleeping on the streets.
A word for the poor old Bay Bridge
Nobody rides the Bay Bridge, the ugly sister in a town revered for its golden princess. Formly known as the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, this grey bridge was built before its more illustrious rival, is longer, holds the record for being the world’s widest bridge, is beautifully lit at night by fancy LEDs and… Wait for it… And it takes you to Treasure Island. No kidding. And yet nobody loves the poor old Bay Bridge.
Renting a bicycle in San Francisco
Rent and hire. Just one of the many cycling Americanisms. Seat and saddle. Tire and tyre. Spandex and Lycra. Fenders and mudguards. Hex key and Allen key. Lance Armstrong hero and Lance Armstrong doper.
Sure, I could have gone to Fisherman’s Wharf and paid a small fortune to rent a bike but hey, I’m in San Francisco and I care about the world. And I’m tight. So I headed over to the non-for-profit cycle hire shop called The Bike Hut near Mission Bay.
A bit of a trek from my place, I’d recommend a bus, but this option is much cheaper and you’re helping young people into work. We were handed our bikes and told to pay upon our return. No deposit. We cycled off, a little worried for the trust fund being put aside for the young people hoping to find work. Maybe I’ve got a face you can trust.
Cycling in San Francisco
Some observations. A great number of cyclists heave up the city’s 40 plus hills, a great sign of progress for American cycling. The diversity of riders is also very pleasing. Gone is the male dominated Lycra set of London, replaced with all comers, male and female, old and young.
Such scenes do make me worry for the so called cycling revolution in my home city, where cycling is perhaps more of a commuting necessity for those brave enough to take it on than a lifestyle choice. You can’t have a cycling revolution with such a small segment of society.
Amazingly the fixed gear / single speed bicycle appears in great abundance on the inclines of San Francisco. I’m guessing the single speed predominates simply because I ride fixed on the flats of London and I’m not sure a fixie is the wisest of choices in San Francisco. If you find a gear easy enough for the climb then good luck descending and vice versa.
Whilst some of the bike choices appear to be hipster posturing, a lot of the bikes have a very practical feel to them with wide tires and racks on the front and back. High five San Francisco, cycling is most definitely alive in the city. It was a pleasure riding you. Ahem.