When The Flowerpot Men were urging us to go to San Francisco back in 1967, I very much doubt that cycling was uppermost in their thoughts.
I expect that the only peddler that many of the Hippie generation were interested in was the one who dropped them their daily fix of psychedelic drugs.
Flower Power and the Hippie dream was all 50 years ago, and a lot can happen in half a century.
Having said that – the 60s ethos appears to be alive and well (if in a slightly diluted form) and living happily in California.
As crew for a major UK airline, I frequently fly to the USA, and decided some time back, that when I was next on a San Francisco layover, I would rent a bicycle, and enjoy some California Dreamin’
I had done a little research into bike rentals before my trip, and had decided that a company called Blazing Saddles (www.blazingsaddles.com) offered a good range of bicycles at a very reasonable rates, with a well appointed Mountain bike starting at just $9.00 per hour ($36.00 per 24 hours), and a range that includes Hardtail MTBs, Full Suspension MTBs, Comfort Tandems, High Performance Tandems, and High Performance Carbon/Alloy Roadies.
An Electrically assisted Bike is also available at $69.00 per day. Trailers and Tag-alongs are also an option if required.
In the highly unlikely event that they can’t help, then Bay City Bikes also offer a good range of cycles for similar prices. They are also located on Fishermans Wharf and may be contacted at http://www.baycitybike.com
Included within the rental package are a Helmet, a Handlebar Bag, and a lock. Cycles are all fitted with sturdy rear racks, bells, and bungee cords.
So it was, that on a pleasant June Sunday morning, four of us decided that we would cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge, and then ride into the little town of Sausalito.
The plan was to enjoy a relaxed lunch at a waterfront restaurant, and then ride back on the ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf. All in all a total mileage of about 9 miles.
This would ideally suit our party, as some of the riders were quite inexperienced, and there were some quite steep hills to negotiate on the way to the bridge.
We decided that as we were in no hurry, we would catch a cable car from Market Street at 1000, and enjoy a scenic trip through the City on the way to Fisherman’s Wharf, where Blazing Saddles are located.
Riding the Cable Cars is a highly recommended part of the trip, especially for movie buffs, as the route crosses California Street made famous by Steve McQueen in the film Bullit . Other films made around the City include Mrs Doubtfire, and of course, the hit 1970s cop drama The Streets of San Francisco.
The Cable Car also passes Crookedest Street. This little street gets its name because the road is a series of very tight hairpin bends compressed into about half a city block, all of which clings precariously to a very steep hill. Walking down it is “interesting”, but I imagine the bin men, and emergency services have a nightmare accessing any of the houses there!
Blazing Saddles have a number of locations spread throughout San Francisco, but we would be renting from their Hyde Street branch, which is located about two blocks from the beginning of the cycle path leading to the Bridge.
The cable car route terminates about 100 yards from the shop, which is immediately identifiable by the selection of cycles outside.
Blazing Saddles is a very efficient operation. We were greeted at the reception desk by a team of friendly and knowledgeable staff, and we were rapidly talked through the options, and the required paperwork.
We opted to take the additional insurance that covered the bikes against all damage, and all decided on “Comfort” Mountain Bikes. These differ from the standard models in that they are fitted with a gel saddle disc brakes and front suspension. A good decision, as the difference in price is only a dollar an hour!
We also decided to take advantage of Blazing Saddle’s offer of ferry tickets, which meant no queuing up to buy them at Sausalito. These tickets are offered on a sale or return basis, so it would have been foolish not to have taken advantage of the offer.
We were also given a voucher for a free appetiser at the Paradise Bay Restaurant in Sausalito, and reduced rate secure bike parking adjacent to the restaurant.
We had to leave a credit card number as a security deposit, and we where then whisked to the cavernous area behind reception where we were swiftly fitted up with bicycles.
The staff in bike despatch give a rapid fire briefing on the cycle controls; it is important to listen to this, as the brakes are set up in a different way from in the United Kingdom. In Britain, the right hand brake lever operates the front brake, and the rear brake is activated by the left brake lever. In the USA that convention is reversed.
Missing this piece of vital information could mean an interesting emergency stop scenario, and a subsequent in depth look at the inside of an American Emergency Room.
Having been given our bikes, and had saddles adjusted, we were instructed to ride towards the exit, and come to a complete stop so as to ensure the brakes were working satisfactorily.
We were then free to depart for the Bridge.
The route heads west past aquatic park on a dedicated cycle path, running adjacent to the waterfront, and is well maintained and free from potholes, and is mainly of tarmac or concrete surface. Within half a mile or so, there is a fairly steep (but luckily short) hill leading into Fort Mason Park. At the top of the hill is a vista point, giving a view over the bay.
Disappointingly, the weather in June is characteristically foggy in the morning, and only the first tower of the bridge could be seen, and the fog horn sounded moodily melancholy.
We decided not to let this dampen our spirits, so we continued on, with a gentle descent through the pleasant grounds of the park, at the bottom of which our sign-posted route took us through a car park, and out again onto a wide, well maintained path. This is shared space, with a pedestrian footpath of about ten feet in width, and two cycle lanes clearly marked for two way bike traffic.
As this was a Sunday morning, every cyclist in the San Francisco area had decided to get their bikes out, and the air was filled with shouts of “On ya left dude” and “Comin’ though” On the whole, other riders were courteous, and polite.
The route remains fairly flat in the main, and passes a tidal marshland nature reserve, and a variety of birds and fowl may be seen here if you bother to stop and look. The route then passes Crissy Field, an old army airfield, but which is now a part of the Golden Gate Nature Reserve Area.
Eventually, the path sweeps left, culminating in a short, steep uphill climb on Long Avenue.
This intersects with Lincoln Boulevard, but this is probably the only stretch of the route which uses roads. Within a hundred yards or so, the route forks right and heads to the base of the bridge.
As the vehicular traffic across the bridge is very busy, there are segregated paths for pedestrians and cyclists, but quite sensibly, the Bridge authority has ensured that cyclists and pedestrians do not conflict with each other. This is done by the simple expedient of splitting the walkers and bikers onto either the east or west side of the bridge.
So, as it was a weekend day, cyclists were obliged to use the West path and walkers the East. This system is excellent, and makes for a good flow in both directions.
So with the last climb of the ride, we wound our way under the bridge, and up onto the bridge itself, where we stopped for the obligatory photo by the Golden Gate Bridge sign.
The ride across the bridge is a little chilly, mainly due to the coastal breeze, and in our case, the mist. However, the road surface is well maintained, and clearly signed.
Once over the bridge, a steeply descending curving path leads down into the town of Sausalito.
The town is obviously a prosperous area, and the houses and streets are beautifully maintained, and spotlessly clean.
The cycle path disappears here, and the ride into town is conducted on public roads, but the car drivers in this idyllic spot are courteous, and generous in their encounters with bicycles – of which there are literally thousands!
We cycled to the western edge of the town, where we found our restaurant, and duly handed our cycles to the valet, who ensured that they were parked and locked in a secure area – and all this for just one dollar per bike.
The restaurant, The Paradise Bay, is in a nice location overlooking the waterfront, and we chose to sit outside to enjoy some top quality fish, and sample some of the local ales – in my case Steam Bitter, which is a refreshing way to end a fabulous ride.
Having eaten and drunk to our capacity, we cycled the half mile to the ferry terminal, and were soon boarded, along with about a hundred and fifty other cycles for our half hour crossing of the bay, back to Fishermans Wharf.
A short ride along the sea front took us back to Blazing saddles, where we returned the bicycles, and settled our bill – which came to just $40.00 each for a whole days use of the bikes, and the ferry tickets which normally retailed at $10.00 each one way.
Lastly, We all purchased a tee shirt proclaiming the we had “Biked the Bridge”
So – if you are looking for a fun day of leisure riding then I would thoroughly recommend Biking the Bridge, and Blazing Saddles are there to help you do it.