I am not sure that I would do it again, but I can tell you that I am proud I did it. My experience biking the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco came with a thumb sprain, broken brakes, sun burn and a good cough. Let’s just say it was an adventure from the get-go, but it was well worth all the drama for the unbelievable views.
My husband and I have rented bikes in San Francisco several times before, though they have been simple bikes, a cruiser one visit and an electric bike another. The cruiser was perfect for a basic ride from the Fisherman’s Wharf to the base of the bridge where the terrain is fairly flat, and the electric bikes were awesome for exploring the city more in-depth to help with all the hills. The electric bike experience was probably my favorite, but our recent visit was the most memorable ride yet.
On this trip, we planned to bike “Big Red” and spend the night in Sausalito for two nights. In preparation for this, I did some research and decided to rent bikes in advance from a company that had received really good reviews on Yelp, San Francisco Bicycle Rentals (Yelp reviews here). I also looked into best ways to pack lightly using backpacks so that we would not have to worry about transporting luggage. Dave and I already had backpacks from a store called Lululemon. We only needed something for small adventures like these everyday bags, but I also purchased some inserts (Shacke Pak Organizer Bags) to help compress materials inside of the backpack and keep it better organized. Most clothing items were rolled and placed in a pak, aside from our jackets which we packed on top so that it would be easy to grab if needed.
The other item that I purchased before the trip was a scarf with a zipper pouch. I ended up using this almost every day of the trip. Mine was purchased from Lululemon, but there are other places that have them available as well. Sholdit is a brand that would have them available year-round. This purchase was not necessarily bike specific, just a way for me to leave my purse at home which was convenient for such and adventure. This is a great purchase that I think will be a regular accessory on future travels.
Of course, you do not necessarily need these items and there is always the option to just make the bike ride a day activity and not need any of these purchases. But we have been to Sausalito before and I would definitely recommend an overnight stay if possible. That requires a little planning unless you work with a tour group that handles your luggage transportation to the seaside city.
The other new factor for this trip was my purchase of a GoPro camera. Though I have not used it much, I am already in love with it. However, my ability to focus on biking and to use the camera was almost immediately challenged. And I lost. More on that later…
To start this tale of misfortune, I was somewhat disappointed in our bike rental service. Though we made a reservation and had given our credit card information, we arrived on Saturday to the news that they were out of locks. This would have made our visit to Sausalito nearly impossible because we would have no security for leaving the bikes anywhere. Apparently the weekends are very busy and reservations are not really reservations at all for them. This could have completely ruined our plans, but they did end up finding a pair of locks and they upgraded our bikes for free.
The bikes were really nice, but definitely more advanced than any other bike that we had ever rented before. While Dave worked to get comfortable and adjust his bike, I was figuring out my GoPro camera and how I could bike and record at the same time. This was a mistake. (But the video is pretty cool, see below.)
Starting from the very flat Fisherman’s Wharf area, we rode our bikes along the bike path that follows the water line. Riding on a beautiful Saturday meant that we were weaving amongst thick crowds, but the paths are wide enough that riding through the groups is not unpleasant. The first challenge is a very steep hill, but it pays off with a really nice view at the peak.
Going down this hill, I used the front brake which was working very well. The front stopped, the back kept going, and my body went with it. I slammed my left hand on the cement path and my hips landed on the handlebars. And to top it all off, thanks to my new camera, this was all caught on video:
In addition to hurting my thumb and hand pad, the brakes on the bike were also disconnected. I called the bike rental shop and they sent someone over immediately. They were able to repair the bike on the spot, but they had a replacement bike if needed. It was not the same quality bike with as many gears, so I am glad that they were able to repair it. The gentleman who handled the repair was genuinely kind and worked quickly to get us back on the path. I had been disappointed in their service at the shop in regards to the reservation, but this service certainly redeemed the company.
We were able to continue and though I was bruised and beaten up, I was determined to stick to the plan because not riding would have completely thrown off the entire trip – it was just a thumb sprain. And so we continued and we made it all the way to Sausalito. Aside from learning about front brakes, there are a few things that I learned from this adventure that I wish I had known in advance.
The obvious one, is getting to know your rental bike. The second is do not forget your sunblock. Also, the weather is confusing as it can be very sunny, but crossing the bridge is also very windy and cold. We believe that Dave got a cold from this juxtaposition of temperatures. And the other important thing to remember is that you are not just crossing the bridge. Once you are over the bridge, there is no ending to celebrate as there is a large hill beyond the bridge to get you into Sausalito. So pace yourself for a full ride even after the bridge.
But I think that the biggest lesson that I learned is that the crossing is a little stressful because there are so many riding levels on the bridge. From serious cyclists to families with young riders, there are fast riders and slow ones. There is also the tourist element where people want to stop and take photos but there is not much room for two-way traffic. If I had it to do over again, I would plan for a weekday ride when there would have been less traffic. I was frustrated with some slow, brake heavy riders, and some riders were frustrated with me too.
Between the stress of my hand pain and the stress of the ride itself, I had to remind myself to enjoy the views, and not rush through the task. The views are amazing and the bridge is impressive to see up close and personal. It is not an easy activity, but it is completely achievable for many travelers.
To get back to San Francisco, a few days later we took the ferry along with our bikes for an easy boat ride with a great view. The bikes are placed in the gut of the boat. It takes patience to deal with all the passengers and their bikes but I can not imagine riding both ways unless you are a very advanced rider with thick skin.
I am really proud that I did it, but I think that we will leave the bikes in San Francisco and take the ferry both ways to Sausalito next time.