Transported: Biking for Newbies
Welcome to "Transported," our new weekly series about getting places in San Francisco, whether you take the bus or the BART, bike or drive. Come here to find the skinny on secret parking spots, the new bike lanes and how to get across town on Muni without losing your mind.
So, you've finally caved, ditched Muni for good and gotten yourself a bicycle. You want to learn to bike the city without getting killed, right? First tip: Wear a helmet. Here are some more to get you started.
Easy bike routes to practice your skills:
The world-famous Wiggle is a gradually-climbing route that zig zags through the city and has long been used (on foot and on horseback) as an easy way to navigate San Francisco. It starts at the Ferry Building and takes you through major neighborhoods like downtown, the Castro, Panhandle, the Haight and Golden Gate Park. Use Market Street's new green bike lanes until you hit the Castro and Lower Haight. You'll be on Fell Street, a high speed, one-way road, for only one block before you hit the Panhandle, which will take you to Golden Gate Park. Once you're in the park, relax and enjoy the scenery.
Golden Gate Park is a pretty and safe place to learn the ropes. Wind through the Panhandle to get there if you don't want to brave Fell Street. Bike paths run parallel to John F. Kennedy Drive and go through most of the park. On Saturdays from April to September, Kennedy Drive does not allow cars from Transverse Drive to Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive. On Sundays year round, even more streets are closed to all cars. There is also free bike parking and ample places to rent bikes for a day.
The Embarcadero is especially bike friendly with dedicated bike lanes and ultra flatness. Stretch your legs by starting at AT&T Park and biking along the waterfront, well past the Ferry Building and hulking piers until you hit the roads below Coit Tower.
For more salty sea air, blaze through Fisherman's Wharf to Hyde Street Pier, where a bike path takes you through the Aquatic Park, past Fort Mason, and along and around Crissy Field. On a sunny day, it won't get more beautiful than this route. The Presidio, vast and woodsy, is a slightly more hilly way to practice, but cars are pretty mindful of bikes here and there is plenty to see.
Streets to avoid: Van Ness Avenue, Oak Street, Divisadero, Geary, and Mission Streets. None are wide enough for cars, buses and bikes to coexist harmoniously, and they lack bike lanes. Vehicles go fast, and cyclists run the risk of slamming into the open doors of parked cars.
Don't get your bike stolen: Try to park your bike alongside others, in well-populated areas. Carry around two locks if you want to be extra safe, and lock up your front tire (especially if it's quick-release) as well as the frame itself. Look into seat locks, because bike saddle theft is on the rise. Get more tips here.
Bike repair shops:
Some bike repair shops give you more attitude than assistance. Valencia Cyclery, in existence for 25 years, gives you down-to-earth mechanics. They'll explain stuff to you without snobbery, help you convert a mountain bike to a single speed, pump your tires with free air, or anything else you might need.
Mojo Bicycle Cafe on Divisadero serves Ritual coffee and fixes bikes. Obviously, it's a match made in heaven. They've got low prices, are open seven days a week, serve every type of cyclist, and stock a carefully-curated selection of bikes and parts. Grab some coffee, read the newspaper, and by the time you're done you might just have that tire all patched up.
Pedal Revolution is a non-profit bike shop that provides job training for troubled teens. They do repairs on vintage and new bikes, and give 30-day guarantees on their work. They also sell new and used bikes, as well as do custom builds. It's an amazing shop that supports a great cause.
The Bike Kitchen is a cooperative that is all about DIY. They run countless classes (some women and transgender only!) to teach anyone--young, old, inexperienced or advanced--how to build and repair your own bike. It's an excellent resource in the Mission that will teach you stuff you'll never forget. Check out their classes here.
Sfbike.org, which is an amazing resource for bike maps, also hosts affordable bike learning and repair classes in conjunction with Box Dog Bikes, a cooperative that caters to all kinds of cyclists and offers low rates on repairs and new bikes.
Finally, there's the hotly-debated Critical Mass. Taking place on the last Friday of every month, it draws thousands of bike riders. People wear costumes, drink beers, and generally take over San Francisco for a few hours to prove the point that bikes may one day rule the world.
If you're new to biking, it's a great way to feel safe riding through the city, and to meet future riding buddies. It has also been the cause of dangerous confrontations between motorists and cyclists, making it necessary for police escorts to ensure the entire event is safe for all. Try it out for yourself and decide.