What I Did On My Holidays


Chapter 23

Cycling in San Francisco

24/11/99
Day 18

Darren kindly let me borrow his bike today. It was a good day for a ride since the name of the day ended in the letter Y. Darren's bike is a mountain bike with front suspension and a full set of granny gears, essential equipment for San Francisco. I charted a course for Lombard Street (the one in the San Francisco postcards that don't show the golden gate bridge).

I set out along Pine street. A good start since it is roughly flat and one way. It gave me a chance to become accustomed to the bike and its gears and also to riding on the wrong side of the road. Just as well, because as soon as I turned right, I needed all the gears to get up the hill. I found that the bike was bouncing up and down as I pedalled due to the unloaded front suspension (it was a really steep hill, I wouldn't want to lean back on the bike...) and also a lack of air in the rear tyre. Since I'm not a triathlete, I had to stop to put air in the tyre. And then I was up and over the hill and discovering the joy of flying down a steep hill when you have to give way at every crossroad.

This downhill was steep, so it was a challenge to both stop and not fly over the handlebars. There was also a slight deal with maintaining some traction with the rear wheel. It was a quick descent to Lombard street.

Strangely, being on the wrong side of the road and having the left turn being the big one didn't worry me as much on a bike as it did as a passenger in a car. I guess I'm used to taking more liberties on the road when riding.

The bit of Lombard street I reached was not the bit in the postcards with the pretty flowers and the squiggly bit of road. That was above me. Note, not "up the road", but "above me". I planned to ride up to the touristy bit and check out the view from the bottom and the top. This meant I was in for a steep (gosh) climb just to get to the bottom which was ok, but then I found that the target stretch of road was one way, the wrong way. It was detour time!

So I rode around some blocks and up some hills and reached the top end of Lombard. This gives a great view in three directions. One way is the tourist shot down the pretty bit of Lombard, opposite is a view down a building covered hill to the predominantly treed Presidio. In the third direction, down Hyde, you get to see some water and further across the water, some land. Unfortunately, the last view fades out under a brown haze of smog.

I decided that the only reason for having a squiggly one way section of Lombard was to give cyclists a challenge. So I tried it just so that I could say that I rode down Lombard. Pretty as a picture in the postcard, it just looked ugly from a bike seat. No time for admiring the view or the horticulture, you had to concentrate of the series of switch backs and the brick paved surface as well as the steep downhill nature of the road. Since there was a full audience of tourists armed with cameras, waiting at top and bottom to catch a shot of "Mad cyclist in terrible crash", I decided not to wipe out on this stretch. Naturally, the physical pain of a crash was no factor in the decision.

I survived.

I have ridden down Lombard street.

I had then had my fix of riding, so I headed back trying to avoid hills. This was remarkably successful given I had no knowledge of the streets, the hills, the one way bits, and the bits that were stairs rather than road.

All up, I reckon San Francisco is a great place to ride once you get the hang of the hills and braking without breaking yourself.


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© Copyright 2000 Andrew McIver

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