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 blazingsaddles.com.



Further information: Go to onlyinsanfrancisco.com or mustseesanfrancisco.com

From The New Zealand Herald

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning: The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Sport
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier leaguePlus updates from Everton vs Palace
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Sport
Heskey's aim has improved since the end of his English football career

Long after his career in English football has ended, Emile Heskey's impotency in front of goal remains an object of ridicule.

News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Sport
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
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
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam