In the Saddle: Uneasy rider
October 4, 2006
It seemed like a good idea at the time and, in retrospect, I guess it was, but my first bike ride in a big city was as terrifying as it was exhilarating.First of all, anyone who thinks mountain biking starts where the pavement ends hasn’t biked in San Francisco. I watched seasoned road bikers pump up hills that make Smuggler look like a speed bump in an Iowa parking lot. I saw one guy pull himself from certain disaster when his front wheel caught briefly in the groove of one of the many tracks inset in the city’s streets to serve various modes of mass transit.But, “Bike the Golden Gate Bridge!” screams from every rental-bike storefront near the Bay. So, a companion and I settled onto the wide seats of a couple of weighty hybrid bikes and nosed our way to a bike path along the waterfront. It’s not so much bike path, though, as a free-for-all crammed with dogs, pedestrians, joggers – you name it.The route to the bridge, a combination of bike path and streets, could be easily marked to assist all the tourists who stop to ask each other for directions. But it’s not.The route climbs a couple of hills – minor by San Francisco standards – but plenty of folks were trudging upward on foot, pushing their bikes along. I didn’t look that bad, pedaling my way to the top of the rises without stopping, even though the little bell on my handlebars dinged with every bump on the concrete, cementing my status as a tourist.The bridge itself is windy and high, with a walkway designed by engineers who never envisioned legions of bikers crossing the span. On one side, six lanes of vehicle traffic roar past, separated from bikers by a few thin strands of cable. On the other, the drop-off to the water is more than 200 feet at the bridge’s highest point.In various spots, two bikers passing in opposite directions is a tight squeeze, made more interesting by speedy locals weaving in and out among the slowpokes on rental bikes. There were few safe places to stop.As for the view from the bridge, don’t ask me. I was busy trying not to look.