Before heading to Yosemite and the High Sierra, we spent a few days in San Francisco – a place I’ve always wanted to visit.
In common with many city destinations across the world, there are a number of tours you can take, not least the excellent trip to Alcatraz.
It’s a fabulous way to get a bit more intimate with this magnificent structure while exploring other parts of the Bay area without getting behind the wheel or juggling timetables.
San Francisco – a cyclists’ city
Even if you’ve never been to San Francisco, you’ll probably be aware that it’s a city of hills… in some cases ridiculously steep hills. Given our American friends love of cars, you’d be forgiven for thinking that San Franciscans would baulk at the bike in the interests of protecting their knee joints.
Not so. Bikes are everywhere in the city, as are decent cycle lanes. Lunch times see city slickers getting in the miles along the Embarcadero on sleek carbon racers. Couriers favour sturdy steel machines in common with peers across the Pond in London but these guys are not ashamed to use gears… it’s only the hipsters of the Haight who ride single speeds and then push their steeds uphill.
Not surprising, then, that a number of enterprising rental firms offer decent bicycles for hire, mainly trading on the popular and relatively undemanding excursion to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. ‘Are you ready to ride the Bridge today?’ hawkers ask on the gaudy tourist hell of Pier 39. ‘You betcha!’
Having been fitted for your steed, in my case a decent Fuji hybrid from Blazing Saddles, you are given a map with the route clearly way marked. The initial, on road section is a little hectic if you haven’t ridden a bike for years, but you soon leave the highway and pick up a decent cycle track heading west along the Bay shore through a park at Fort Mason.
Here, there’s a pretty sharp uphill section, which sees many riders walking. Also be wary of people hiring bikes who plainly haven’t ridden for years. One lady seemed unable to push off on her folding cycle without collapsing in a heap and threatening the progress of others. Hirers provide helmets should you need one (it’s the law for minors).
A park continues along Marine Drive where you can admire very appealing Bay-front homes and the seemingly endless procession of attractive local joggers and cyclists getting in their respective miles.
Soon, you’re in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and good cycle lanes lead to the Golden Gate Bridge which will now be clearly in view… or not, as it’s shrouded in cloud most of the time as weather off the Pacific is funnelled through the mouth of the Bay resulting in a bizarre microclimate.
You may wish to stop for coffee at the Warming Hut before the second sharp climb of the route up Long Avenue to Lincoln Boulevard.
Now you are ready to cross the bridge. Normally, cyclists are diverted to one side of the highway, pedestrians the other. However, bikes and walkers were mixed on the city side the day of our ride as workmen occupied the other route. This posed no great problem, save for the constant bell ringing and shouting from impatient local cyclists keen to make speedy progress.
It is almost guaranteed that the bridge will be cold and windy so secure hats, if you’re not wearing a helmet, and take a fleece or sweater.
If you like your bridges, then the Golden Gate is a feast for the eyes. I lingered, reading interpretive panels and simply gazing at its elegant curves. The last time I was similarly captivated by a structure was the Eiffel Tower.
Linger too at Vista Point for better views of the bridge before tumbling down a very steep hill, East Road, to Sausalito. Take care not to break the speed limit here as I did… a speed warning sign angrily flashing my rate of knots.
Options beyond Sausalito
For many, Sausalito represents the end of the line and it’s an agreeable terminus. There are options for a decent lunch (I’d recommend some fish tacos) before boarding a ferry back to Pier 39. Blazing Saddles supplies you with tickets for the ferry at the start of the ride. If you use them, you pay when you hand the bike back.
Sadly, for me at least, Sausalito was the end of my ride as my other half had had enough of cycling for one day. However, the Marin Headlands are crisscrossed with trails for those seeking off-road adventures while to the north lies further coastal roads and the Muir Woods national monument with its monster redwoods, if your legs will power you.
Top tips for cycling the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
1. Do it, you won’t regret it
2. Take warm clothing
3. Take a drink (the hire bikes have a bag for essentials, and a lock for that matter)
4. Take your time and divert off the route
5. Be wary of pedestrians if you are sharing a route across the bridge, and inexperienced cyclists
6. Grab a Lapperts Ice Cream in Sausalito
7. Admire the yachts
8. Take the ferry back to Pier 39 for great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.
Cycle hire providers
A note on price
Cycling the bridge is not cheap, as such, so it makes sense to make use of your bike as much as possible and make sure you visit as much as you can enroute. For two people, including ferry trip, we paid around £60.
A note on the ferry
You might think that mayhem would ensue as a swarm off people pile onto a boat with their bikes. You’d be wrong, though. Bikes are stacked in an orderly fashion in the main lounge of the ferry, co-ordianted by the crew. On arrival at Pier 39, passengers simply waited in line for their respective steed. I have to say I was expecting a scrum. Kinda’ restores your faith in the human race… but maybe that has more to do with the bike.