san fran bike shops

In all about the ride, bike, san fran, stateside, west coast on December 6, 2010 at 9:38 am

San francisco is a single speed/geared kind of town and when you see the hills which rear up into view you can understand why.

But more than being a type of bike kind of town, it is a bike town, small enough to be easily navigable and with a vocal enough bike lobby to have made the bike voice heard loudly and clearly. The bike is in the ascendency here, bike lanes, bike racks on buses, spaces on metro’s, more bike shops than you can shake a stick at, and all kinds of bikes circulating across town, day and night.

San Francisco is a city at peace with its cycling inhabitants and the car gives way to the bike at every intersection, and the bike lanes are many and wide. It’s easy to ride here, so I do, over the slight inclines and declines, trying to avoid the steep spikes which hem in certain parts of the city. Down long thoroughfares, boulevards, avenues. Enjoying being part of the multitudes, enjoying being anonymous, just another cyclist. No stares, no doubletakes, no jeers, or ironic cheers, just people making space for the cyclist.

The bike shops are myriad and varied, from designed and curated spaces, to overflowing bits shoved into as many corners as possible. But what each of them has is that American desire to please, greeted on entry, and knowledgeable staff who put you at your ease when asking questions. And despite the disparity in size and stock, each and every one feels like a local bike shop, this is the equivalent of going looking for a bar in Berlin, where everyone is a one-off down some alley or under an arch, the same is true of the bike shops in San Francisco.

Everyone rides everything here and though I’m sure it’s there, I don’t get any sense of snobbery, or disdain for what people ride. Everyone’s still got to get over the peaks, that split San Francisco.

I spend afternoons, tooling around, looking at the fixed bikes rolling past, and heading over to Haight Ashbury, picking a route that avoids the steep bits, only to take a turn and there jutting upwards is the type of hill, I’d been trying to avoid, and its a red-faced surge to try to get up it.

Don’t buy into the hype, the hills in San Fran are steep, and don’t get me wrong they do feel scary when you approach them and they loom ominously in front of you, but every block they plateau so the impartial grid, that was so unceremoniously dumped onto the uneven, lumpy landscape, provides an escape a level section to catch the breath before charging on, out of the saddle, stomping hard, heaving from side to side. Making the journey to Haight Ashbury was one of the most rewarding rides of my journey, because you knew as soon as you got to the top, that on the way back it’d be all downhill, riding the brake obviously, as those crossroads that had provided such eager release and sanctuary, now provided the opportunity to be sideswiped by oncoming traffic if you didn’t get the lights right, as you spent all attention to the spinning of your legs…

Bike wise San Francisco felt pretty unique, in that so many people were riding bikes, of all different shapes and sizes on a regular basis. No fanfare, no look we’re riding bikes, just riding them to go to the shops, to go to work, to go to school, to go out drinking. Just riding. And the range of bike shops had grown to accommodate that as well. Wish we had such a diverse range of bike shops in London, rather than the hegemony of the Evans and Cycle Surgeries, that dot the landscape.

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