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7 Tips For Biking In The 7x7 (San Francisco)
If you're like me and suffer from crippling anxiety at the thought of biking in San Francisco, it might help to read the following tips. Some are obvious (i.e. wear a helmet or (possibly) die) and apply to any city, others are tips only a local would know. Read on for seven tips for riding in the 7x7.
Stats On The City
According to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's 2011 Report:
- 75,000 people ride their bike every day in San Francisco;
- Peak riding hours are between 8:30-10:30 AM and 4:30-6:30 PM;
- Bikers account for 3.5% of all commuters;
- Approximately 68% wear helmets, and 94% of riders use their bikes "as designed";
- The five busiest locations are:
- 11th and Folsom;
- Market and Valencia;
- Page and Scott;
- 5th and Market;
- 17th and Valencia.
#1: Wear A Helmet (And Bring A Lock)
My dear friend Jim constantly implores me to wear a helmet. "But I'll ruin my hair." I retort. (He had no idea how far my vanity extends.) "Better your hair than your brain." Point taken, Jim.
It really is a no-brainer (get it!?): Wear a helmet regardless of your ride's length or location. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
- Helmets can help prevent head injuries in 85% of bike accidents;
- 75% of those killed in bicycle accidents suffered head injuries (Nationwide, only 20-25% of cyclists wear helmets);
- 83% of people killed in bike crashes were adults.
Next, to keep your bike safe, you'll need to lock it before leaving it unattended. Both a U-lock and cable lock are recommended due to the increase in bike thefts in the city (about 4,085 bikes were stolen in 2011). The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition provides a helpful guide (image source below) to keeping your bike safe, as well as what to do if it's ever stolen.
#2: Ride At Off-Peak Hours
As I stated previously, peak riding hours in the city are between 8:30-10:30 AM and 4:30-6:30 PM. Riding at the least busy times really helps reduce my anxiety; I can ride without having to worry so much about being hit by a car, crashing with another cyclist, or hitting a pedestrian. An after lunch ride can be both relaxing and beautiful. Try riding along the Embarcadero around 2 or 3 PM on a weekday for a relatively mellow journey.
Do The Wiggle!
#3: Avoid The Wiggle
The Wiggle, a flat-ish path connecting riders from Market Street to Golden Gate Park and beyond, is a popular way to commute across the city. It is for this reason I suggest avoiding it if you are a new rider. Riders in the city can be extremely assertive, which can be intimidating for inexperienced cyclists. Instead, try riding on the streets parallel to the Wiggle:
- Instead of starting on Duboce, try 14th Street or Hermann;
- Haight is an alternative to Waller;
- Then connect to Pierce (rather than Scott).
If you must take the Wiggle, stay to the right of the bike lane, allowing faster, more experienced riders to move freely on your left.
Bonus Tip: Signal!
While signaling is not required by law, it is extremely helpful for people riding and driving behind you. Here are the three most important signals you'll need:
- STOP: Place a fisted hand behind your back;
- Left Turn: Shoot your left arm straight out a few meters before turning left - look before turning;
- Right Turn: Either make an uppercase 'L' with your left arm (right side up), or extend your right arm straight out before turning.
#4: Look To Other Riders
While other riders can be intimidating and distracting, they can also help you become a better rider. I often hang back behind seemingly more experienced riders to watch their movements, particularly observing how they navigate through and around obstacles like blocked lanes and traffic. You can also mimic the hand signals of others if you are unsure how to notify other commuters of your next action.
#5: Obey All Traffic Signals
Admittedly, I've run a stoplight or five in my day. However, I'd suggest obeying all signals for the following reasons: it's the law, and pedestrians have the right of way. Pedestrians - as erratic and unpredictable as they sometimes may be - are at risk of being hit by both cars and bicycles. In 2012, a septuagenarian was struck and killed by a cyclist at Castro and Market. The cyclist claimed he "was already way too committed to stop". He killed a man and was charged with vehicular manslaughter. Simply obey traffic signals and keep yourself - and others - safe.
#6: Avoid The Golden Gate Bridge
The first and only time I rode across the Bridge, I witnessed a fairly experienced cyclist taken down by a prepubescent child. Point being, the Golden Gate Bridge is often full of people (Exhibit A, the top photo on the right) - tourists and locals alike. If you prefer a calm - and uninterrupted - ride, I'd suggest starting at Fort Mason (2 Marina Blvd) and riding along Crissy Field. You'll get a great view of the bridge and a lot fewer people than you would encounter on the Bridge.
Bonus Tip: Keep Emergency Contact Info Handy
My new bike helmet includes a label with my name and my emergency contact's name and phone number. If your helmet doesn't come with a label, you can easily craft one using a label maker. If you're injured and cannot speak, this will help emergency personnel quickly reach your loved ones.
#7: Pack A Sack
...and bring a change of clothes in it. How do you spot a tourist in San Francisco? They'll be the ones wearing sweatshirts and shorts.
To avoid a similar fate, dress in layers. You'll likely get a "heat on" while riding, so peeling a few items off during or after your ride will keep you comfortable. Toss the clothing in your backpack and have a drink of the water you packed. If you're like me and sweat profusely, you'll want to pack a change of clothes as well.