On Biking in San Francisco
You may think that San Francisco, with its gnarly hills and traffic, would be a terrible town for bicycles. But in this last year I have found out just how practical bikes are.
San Francisco is a small town. For many destinations, biking is faster than public transit. The Mission/Haight areas are pretty flat and especially bike friendly. Even the longest cross town trip can be made in a half hour, which is coincidentally the amount of time you can expect to search for parking in the Mission/Haight. Traffic lights are a great equalizer, where you’ll often meet the cars that sped just passed you. You also get to roll past lines of autos at stopsigns, and roll through them if no cars are coming. Bikes are required to ride in the street with traffic, but they can become a pedestrian instantly to take advantage of a crosswalk or go against traffic for a short distance.
Traffic is actually mellow on most streets, and the hills aren’t that problematic if you know how to avoid them. It will still take one or two months for a new rider to work up the endurance to breeze around town, but just keep at it. And fear not: there are official routes through the city that don’t require you to tackle more than a medium grade for a few blocks. The SF Bike Coalition publishes a map of bike routes color coded with grade information. They also teach classes in urban riding (where they probably tell you not to breeze through stop signs or ride through cross walks). Check out all thier resources online.
Everything looks different on a bike. People and places you pass along the way suddenly become part of your world. You can stop or change direction on a whim, and park right next to your destination. Driving feels cumbersome after experiencing such freedom. Cars become much more annoying. You quickly realize that even modern cars are spewing out huge amounts of smelly air.
It helps to get the right gear. For city riding, I strongly recommend a bike with the larger 700c wheels. It’s the frame height, not wheel size, that determines how it fits you. Knobby tires are fine for mountain trails, but smoother thinner tires go faster with less exertion. Though the forward leaning road bikes are fastest, I’m really happy with my hybrid for commuting. Compared to a road bike, it has straight handlebars, slightly thicker tires, and a more upright posture. Spending a ton of money to get a bike that’s 5 lbs lighter doesn’t make sense for everyday riding around town (especially after loading up with groceries). A comfortable bike seat may be the $30 purchase that keeps you wanting to ride.
The Bike Kitchen is a great community resource in the Mission.
Members get a space to work on their bikes, easy access to parts and expertise. They will teach you to be your own bike mechanic, and if you volunteer a bit they will even give you all the parts to build one!
Once you’ve sold your car and become a hardcore biker, you’ll need a way to carry stuff around. You need a trunk. May I suggest a Chrome Bag?
They’re a San Francisco company with an outlet on Folsom street, and the bags are made in the US. Their messenger bags are in the $100 range, but they’re durable and can fit way more than your average backpack.
Perhaps you want to express your love of bikes in a more active sort of way along with hundreds of other devout riders while taking over major city streets? You are probably looking for Critical Mass.
On last Friday of every month, a couple hundred bicyclists meet at Herman plaza around 6pm. They ride through the streets at a leisurely pace for a few hours in a multifaceted political statement that I won’t venture to describe here. Oakland has their own critical-mass, as do many other major cities.
So there’s some stuff I’ve learned in a year of riding. What am I leaving out?