I recently returned from a trip to California including the Bay Area and San Diego. I was out there visiting family & friends and participating in the All-California Sacred Harp Singing Convention. I had hoped to do a little cycling while I was out there (and I did get to do some), but it didn’t quite work out as planned. I initially looked into renting a bike for a day or two, but I was kind of put off by the price. It still kind of amazes me that you can rent a $15,000 car for about $60 per day, but it costs at least $30 per day to rent a bike that probably retails for less than $500. I realize that there is a great deal of infrastructure behind that $500 bike and it’s not realistic to expect the price to scale down that much, but still… It would be nice to be able to travel to a distant city and have a transportation option other than renting a car or taking public transit. (I guess I could get a folding bike!)
As previously mentioned on this blog, I love cars. I won’t waste time going into the reasons, again. One of my favorite places to drive is Hwy 1 on the Pacific Coast through Marin County. I rented a mini cooper convertible for one day of my trip and headed up there with my friends. I didn’t see too many other convertibles in California with their tops down, but for me, if it’s 50 degrees or warmer, the top goes down!
Unfortunately, the windows were up most of the time, which cuts down on the convertible experience a little, but my friends were kind of cold in the back seat. I’ll have to say, I was pretty impressed with how the mini handled this extremely curvy road. This was a regular cooper convertible (not the Cooper S), so the engine occasionally felt a little under-powered, but the steering was spot-on. I’d say it was the second most fun I’ve had driving a car. After tearing up the Marin highways for a few hours, my friends were pretty much frozen, so we headed back into the city. I put the top up for the freeway drive (50 degrees and 70 miles an hour is a little too much even for me), but dropped it back down for a little more city driving.
I’d been looking forward to driving a Mini pretty much since they were first on the road. I love the way it drives and I love how it looks, I don’t even mind the limited sight lines of the convertible. However, the interior needs some work. It’s impossible to read the tachometer, the speedometer is oddly placed, and many of the controls are overly-cute but feel cheap. Would I like to own one? Yes, yes I would. However, I don’t need a car, and I wouldn’t want a convertible unless I had a garage. So, occasionaly renting a convertible works just fine for me.
But this isn’t a car blog, this is a bike blog! In light of such:
On my way to the Shoreline Highway, I stopped in Sausalito, CA to check out the houseboat village there. The pictures turned out kind of spooky:
There were many bikes parked on the docks leading out to the houseboats. Most were a little worse for wear. And a few were creatively decorated:
Ack! Rusty chain!
The rare tiger bike, here seen shedding its winter coat.
Oh those kooky Californians.
Eventually, I did get to ride a bike. I borrowed a friend’s Diamond Back. It was the right size, but it hadn’t been used in a while. I pumped up the tires, and they seemed to be holding air okay. I had to take the seat down a little, and I figured I’d take the allen wrench and pump with me just in case. My friend and I put the bike in the back of her station wagon, and headed off to the Boulange de Cole Valley for some tasty treats. After filling up on french toast and coffee, I was ready to head out:
My friend like how the florescent non-matching pant cuff things looked with my multi-color socks. I’ll go into this in more detail in a later post, but I am not afraid to look like a dork while cycling. So, I was ready to go – I headed over to the Haight, and then down through Golden Gate Park to the ocean. Within a few blocks, I noticed that the seat was slipping down a little bit. No problem, I must have left it too loose after adjusting it. Luckily, I had the allen wrench multi-tool thingy. I brought the seat back up and tightened it down something fierce. A few blocks later, I noticed it slipping again. In the picture above, you can also see that I’m wearing my favorite biking shoes, a pair of light-weight, flat-soled Campers. These are great on my bike at home, because they just slide right into the toe clips and I’m off. However, my friend’s bike had no toe clips. So, the pedals were a little slippery, and the seat kept sliding down. Next challenge: the San Francisco hills!
Perhaps this doesn’t look so tough to you, and in comparison to some other SF hills, it’s pretty mild. But I was tackling this hill on a low seat, slidy-pedal bike. By the time I got to the top, I looked kind of like a teenager on a BMX, with my knees much higher than would be ideal for pedaling efficiency. BTW: in the foreground of this shot, you can see a street marking known as a “sharrow.” This is intended to indicate that this street is a signed bike route, but there is no separated bike lane, thus bikes and cars must share the road. A little further up the road, you can see an actual bike lane starts. I think this was Cabrillo St, somewhere around 30th St. I hope I don’t sound ungrateful to my friend who loaned me her bike. I was very happy to have the chance to bike through the city, and it was nice to do it on a personal bike instead of a crappy rental. I’m just trying to convey the difficulties of biking in SF without a well-fitting bike. I saw all sorts of people riding all sorts of bikes (unfortunately, I’m still a little shy to stop and take pictures of strangers on their bikes.) I saw many people on cheap bikes that fit them far worse than the one I was riding, I don’t know how they do it, because my legs were killing me by the end of the day.
My friend also loaned me her copy of the SF bike map, which turned out to be a life-saver. One can get a little too reliant on one’s mobile device with GPS and a little dot that tells you right where you are. The SF bike map has one feature that I don’t expect to see on Google Maps any time soon: street grades! The steeper the street, the darker the shading on the map. This a huge help in figuring out how to go from point A to point B without going up and down a huge hill. Plus, the bike map shows all of the different bike lanes, bike routes and bike paths in the city (which tend to be the less-steep streets).
After biking down to the ocean, I started back towards the main part of the city. I didn’t have much of a plan, just thought I’d wander around. But as my seat refused to stay up, my plan quickly changed to – get home with as little effort as possible. Luckily, the bike map directed me to Valencia Street, which turned out to have a well-separated bike path, and it was relatively flat. It also seems to be the SF equivalent to what Bike Snob NYC calls “The Great Hipster Silk Route.”
Valencia street features such hipster landmarks as Ritual Coffee, 826 Valencia, Paxton Gate, and fixie-makers extraordinaire: Mission Bicycle. I visited all of them on my trip. Mission Bicycle was a little ridiculous, I have to say. The coffee at Ritual is about the best I’ve ever had, and the mustaches and ugly eyeglasses are about as ironic as they can get. 826 Valencia has the fish tank theater which is a great place for a tired cyclist to rest his burning thighs while watching Karl the porcupine pufferfish.
There are probably some epic burritos around there somewhere too.
After a little relaxing, it was back on the bike for the final, all-uphill leg of my journey back to Glen Park. I’d estimate that I only biked about 15 miles in total, but I felt like I’d done 30. I know that for many cyclists, 30 miles is a warm-up ride, but for me, that’s about as long as I go in a single day.
And that’s about all I can write in a single day. Has anyone else had the pleasure of biking in SF on a visit? Anyone bike there on a daily basis? My legs are sore just thinking about it right now, or maybe I just have the flu…