An entire book could be written on the topic of riding bikes in San Francisco. From roadies, to commuters, to BMXers, to fixies and to whatever else kind of wheel turning vehicle you can think of, one thing is known for sure, people in San Francisco like to roll (pun absolutely intended). There’s no doubt that the city and the people have made some major movements civil engineering moves in order to help protect cyclists. With organisations such as SF Bicycle Coalition continuously pushing local projects to expand bike lanes and new traffic technologies, I can safely say that I still feel safest riding in the city of San Francisco.
(Rating and link to the Strava route is located below)
San Francisco is a small city, covering just over 46 sq. miles. You can realistically loop the whole city in less than 3-4 hrs by hugging the edges of the peninsula. My good friend Joseph and I chose a southern loop because we rarely ride the south side of San Francisco. It can be difficult to pull big group rides on routes like this because of the traffic and frequent stops, but I do find it necessary for my own well being to do a city loop every now and then, it really gives a good perspective of the cultural diversity and continuous changes that are happening around San Francisco. Trees and ocean views do get boring. Yes, I said it.
Joe is a native born San Franciscan and knows most of the roads like the back of his hand and may have been slightly offended that I was using my Wahoo on the ride, I mean it was mostly just to check if we we’re on the right path or not.
Our ride kicked off from Sight Glass coffee, which is located at the very beginning of The Wiggle coming from the west side. Bike parking is right out front and you should be able to keep your sight on it while you put in an order.
Starting from The Wiggle, we quickly made our way down to Market Street. What is The Wiggle you might ask, The Wiggle is a bike route that avoids the daunting hills of San Francisco ultimately allowing you to cross the city with minimal climbing. Once on Market Street you’ll ride 2 miles down to the farthest east side of San Francisco, also known as the Embarcadero, a bustling area of tourists, business men and new developments.
Once you reach Embarcadero you’ll be heading South towards San Bruno Mountain, which is one of the main climbs on the route. With a quick ride past the Ferry Building and the San Francisco Giant’s stadium you’ll quickly exit the Embarcadero area to find yourself in the Dogpatch, an area known for manufacturing warehouses and new city developments such as the Golden State Warrior’s arena, which did not exist when I did the same loop less than a year ago.
That’s one of the more astonishing aspects of cycling around San Francisco, if you frequent the city on a normal basis you’ll notice the level of change is continuous and indefinite. The locals understand and accept this beyond the average transient that plops down for a year or two because of a job opportunity. Change is the lifestyle of San Francisco, progression is the catalyst.
As you exit out of the Dogpatch you’ll quickly hit the grade towards San Bruno Mountain, which climbs steadily to the top of the radio covered mountain and offers wide views of the county known as Cow Palace. Odd name for a county within San Francisco, but the Cow Palace arena itself was named after the popularity of livestock took off during the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, which was held over in the Presidio-Fort Mason area.
Traffic is fairly minimal on Old Ranch Road and the shoulder is wide enough to ride side-by-side, but is not recommended because it is illegal to ride side-by-side in California. Eventually you’ll make a left onto Radio Road and begin your climb up to the top of San Bruno. The grade is fair and the distance of the climb is moderate enough for even beginner cyclists.
As you descend you will exit left on Old Ranch Road, which turns into Guadalupe Canyon Road. Your descent will take you down into South San Francisco and dump you out for a quick jaunt through neighbourhood hills and down into Lake Merced. From there it’s a straight shot along Pacific Coast Highway. Once you reach the park you’ll take John F. Kennedy Drive through the northern side of the park .
Cycling in San Francisco is a challenge especially as the city continues to grow and evolve. This ride is generally a safe and a quick loop that can be used for recovery rides or just to show a visiting friend the different side of San Francisco.
The ride ends at the Rideout Fountain towards the eastern side of Golden Gate Park. Surrounded by the modern DeYoung Museum and the Academy of Sciences the area is great for meet-ups or just a quick chill out on the grassy plains within the massive round-about. Just behind the amphitheater you can find several food trucks, including my favorite Indian food truck, Anakoot. 5 dollars will get you 2 large samosas and a generous amount of tamarind chutney sauce. If the food trucks don’t pique your interest there are plenty of to-go restaurants located on both sides of Golden Gate Park.
Link to Strava Route for GPS users.
This ride is generally slower with only 2 or 3 fast descents. With wide shoulders and marked bike paths, this loop should fulfill the cardio range for beginner and intermediate cyclists. More of a recovery loop for the advanced cyclists, the South San Francisco loop is a gentle ride where conversations with friends precedes a consistent work-out ride.