San Francisco: Pedalling through thin air

You have ridden a bike before, haven't you?" asks the young assistant at the bike rental place as he watches me trying to pedal away.

Cheeky monkey. "Of course I have," I retort, desperately trying not to fall off. "I was riding bikes before you were born."

What I don't tell him is it's about that long since I was last on one. Cycling has been my least preferred method of transport since I was knocked off my bike by a car when I was 11. I've only cycled a couple of times in the past 30-odd years.

So it's no wonder I'm wobbling madly as I try out the bike in the Blazing Saddles premises near San Francisco's Hyde Street Pier. I eye my six-year-old's tag-along bike attached to the back of my husband's cycle in envy.

It's an easy ride from here to the Golden Gate Bridge, the assistant tells us, only 70 minutes, and then 20 minutes to cycle across the bridge itself. There's a separate lane for pedestrians and cyclists, he assures me, so I'm not going to have to chance my luck with speeding traffic.

Most people who bike the bridge keep going once they reach the northern end and cycle for another 10 minutes to the pretty seaside town of Sausalito. Then they catch a ferry back to the city and return to the bike garage via Fisherman's Wharf. But we don't have time - we've got a flight to London later today - so we'll have to ride straight back.

We wheel our bikes down the hill to the water's edge, then we're off. At first it's easy - like riding a bike, ha ha - but after a few minutes we hit a hill and I have to get off and push. By the time I'm back in the saddle and riding down the other side of the hill through a park that is part of Fort Mason, a former Army base, my husband and daughter are already disappearing into the distance.

It's a bit depressing, but suddenly I see beyond them the Golden Gate Bridge stretched out over the water. Yesterday it was almost completely obscured by fog, but the sight of it today inspires me to keep going.

Now we are in an area known as Marina. The Pacific Ocean is pounding against the sea wall on my right and to my left is the stunning classical-style Palace of Fine Arts and then Marina Boulevard, lined with elegant Spanish-style homes, some of the most expensive and picturesque real estate in San Francisco.

A few minutes later we're on to the Golden Gate Promenade, which cuts through the Presidio, once a military base and now a famous park. The promenade takes us through Crissy Field, a former airfield that's now a scenic natural area, its marshes and sand dunes so unspoiled it's hard to believe we're just a couple of kilometres from the hustle and bustle of the city.

At the end of the promenade is a busy recreational area, a bookstore and the Warming Hut café. The thought of sitting inside nursing a mug of hot chocolate is tempting but I'm not stopping now. A bit more effort, including a brief walk up Long Ave, and we're on the bridge itself.

There's no chance to savour the moment because I have to navigate my way through the dozens of dawdling pedestrians. When I try to warn them I'm coming through I discover my bicycle bell doesn't work. Calling out "Excuse me" is ineffective so in desperation I resort to yelling "Ding, ding". Amazingly it does the trick.

Gradually the crowd thins until I'm able to pick up speed. Six lanes of traffic zoom past to the left but I feel safe thanks to the barrier between us. The handrail on my right isn't particularly high and it is rather windy but any initial nervousness vanishes as it sinks in that I am cycling on one of the world's most recognisable landmarks. Apart from having to carefully manoeuvre around the bases of the two towers, riding across the bridge is the easiest part of the whole journey, as well as the most exhilarating.

I finally catch up with my husband and daughter, who have pulled over alongside the railings. The view is breathtaking. We watch the ferries going across San Francisco Bay and taking tourists to Alcatraz.

In the distance is the outline of the city and we can make out distinctive buildings like the triangular Transamerica Pyramid skyscraper, and the cylindrical Coit Tower, shaped like the nozzle of a fire hose in tribute to San Francisco's fallen firemen.

We linger as long as we can then ride almost to the northern end before reluctantly turning back. With the wind behind us the return journey is a piece of cake. By the time I'm whizzing down the hill past Fort Mason I can only just resist yelling out "Woo hoo!". This is fun.

We get back to Blazing Saddles three hours after leaving and the assistant who doubted my cycling ability smiles as I hand back my bike. "Glad to see you made it," he says. Me too.

Travel facts

Getting there: British Airways flies directly to San Francisco.

Where to stay: We stayed at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel near Union Square. Check out the doormen dressed as English Beefeaters.

Getting around: You've got to go on a cable car at least once for the experience but travelling by taxi is quicker, easier and can be cheaper if there are more than two of you.

Cycling the bridge: Stay right. Cyclists give way to pedestrians. In the US, the rear brakes are on the right handle bar and the front brakes are on the left. Rentals range from US$7 an hour for a basic bike to US$11 for a tandem. See

Further information: Go to or

From The New Zealand Herald

Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Boxer Amir Khan will travel to Pakistan in bid to 'make a difference' in the wake of army school massacre
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly finalists Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge
tvLive: Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridgeface-off in the final
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture