Micro Tour de San Francisco 2014 – Seeing SF the Way Local Cyclists Do

Our second annual Tour de San Francisco started out at Dolores Park. A far more manageable group then last year, we would also be adding riders as we pedaled, John Erickson, on his RBR Hiwheel and his wife, Debbie, Phyllis and her 20-something, son, Devin, Kelly Nelson, myself and Carla Laser of the San Francisco Bicycle Ballet were sent off by Mary Ann Blackwell, who re-injured  her shoulder on the train ride In and her friend Kathleen.


Instead of working to get a large number of riders out there, Carla and I have been working on the recipe for this as a micro tour that can be replicated nationwide. Part of the bigger plan we foresee for showcasing the 19 major cities on our coast-to-coast route, we have used these last two years to experiment with starting times, number and type of stops as well as the mechanics for the ambassador program at each of them. The length of the ride and how best to accommodate all levels of cyclists, and whether to involve food and how long to stay at each stop, etc are also considerations we have to learn by doing.


Last year for example it was too big for everyone to hear the ambassadors as they explained  why we had stopped where we were. Do we handle this with sound amplification? If so, that would mean a permit and all the complications that that would bring. Or do we keep the numbers down? That would mean a charge to participate. Indeed this year was far more informative as well as intimate. But is that really how we want to go forward?


Soon, on a mix of hidden streets we headed for the hotel that anchors San Francisco and our route to Washington, DC. Down a long alley, a shimmering blue glass skyscraper predominated the skyline. It was the Eco-award winning Intercontinental San Francisco and our hospitality partner for the west coast starting point of our route. We gathered at the entrance to the hotel for a group picture.


The several nights that I would spend here make me so very excited  to think that the . stance they have taken for the planet has made them a leader other hotels want to emulate. And it is the sustainable footprint they are leaving on the planet that we want to hold up as a model for all those other  lodging purveyors that anchor the major cities that hold our route between San Francisco and Washington, DC together.  

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​Everything about my experience there was an exercise in the highest art form of lodging perfection. From the service to the extremely comfortable bed and room to the positioning of the light switches, even the phones, no detail was overlooked. I felt like I was in a plush, luxurious version of home where everything I needed was right where I expected it to be. Wow. I will have more to say about the Intercontinental in a separate piece but I need to get back to our ride.



​Riding the mountain bike that Mary Ann Blackwell was letting me use, we headed next to San Francisco City Hall. On our way to it, since streets were blocked off for blocks in all directions, Carla determined it was easier for us to walk through two blocks of the Folsom Street Fair. A celebration of gay men and women, with a focus on sadomasochism and leather, celebrants  were scantily clad in every type of animal hide dress-wear imaginable. Indeed we were seeing San Francisco from what seemed like every angle possible.
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By the time we reached San Francisco City Hall, it was visible but all the car traffic looked to be coming toward us on the street, Polk St., that led to it. Carla just kept pedaling. Soon we were on a two-block long contra-flow bike lane that placed us on Polk and then right in front of the center of local government!


Andy Thornley, a knowledgeable and powerful  voice in San Francisco cycling, was on the steps of City Hall when we arrived. As John Erickson let those interested try out his HiWheel, Andy and I talked about how he was making it easier for cyclists by getting cars off the street with the City Car Share people for whom he now worked. I recorded some of his insight  and you can hear below our picture here.



Then I watched Devin  as he got better and better on John’s bike. I thought back to 2004 when Joe Breeze, one of the main Marin County inventors of the mountain bike, rode mine on the same long sidewalk. A first-time experience for both of them, they both wobbled and shook at first, improving each time they got themselves turned around to roll past us.

Our next stop was Islais Creek. Near AT&T Park where the San Francisco Giants play their baseball games, it fed the Bay from as far away as the same Twin Peaks hill-top that Clint Eastwood made famous in the movie Dirty Harry. At one time, the main source of drinking water for the city, its mouth was once two miles wide. That was before debris from the 1906 earthquake was used to turn most of it into an underground culvert on which  at least five different neighborhoods sit today.


We stopped at at little park alongside the creek a few blocks up from the baseball park. There, on a park bench overlooking the creek sat two musicians playing next to their bikes. High above us ran an overpass. In a throw back to an era gone by, houseboats sat across from us on the other side of the creek.


Towering behind all this were several high rise buildings in various stages of construction. It only seemed fitting that the two music men who played their tunes at this peaceful sanctuary in the middle of a city that thundered all around them were bike messengers, Benjamin and Chad. After all, this is why we do these micro tours – to show the treasure only local cyclists know to exist all through out those big cities that anchor our coast to coast route to Washington DC.


After we listened to Benjamin and Chad for a short while and talked and laughed, the two bike messengers joined us as Carla took us on even more little traveled back streets to Lennon Studios.  A huge rehearsal studio that belied its storefront entrance, it ran deep into the lot it occupied near the downtown business district. In all, there were 12 separate rooms big enough to fit six and eight piece bands.


We got off our bikes and gave ourselves tours of this storied house of music where thousands of bands, big and small, including Cheap Trick and the Pretenders have all fine tuned their sound since 1992. Being a late Sunday morning only one studio was in use but the  blues tunes coming from it when we waked past its door told us big time professionals were hard at work. We all had the feeling this was a place for stars!


Our last stop would be the Golden Gate Park panhandle where Marcus, a SF Bike messenger was having a birthday party. There were not as many stops as last year but the route Carla selected let us see and feel San Francisco as we rolled along without having to be on the constant lookout for car doors or speeding vehicles. The streets she picked were all calm, relatively flat and there was just so much to look at!  Or as John, our HiWheel cyclist, said when he was enjoying the views from his high saddle, “I’ve been coming here for years and never have I enjoyed it so much!”


Not long after he said this, Carla introduced the only real hill we had to climb. Probably 12 or so per cent, John powered up its one block length just fine. He almost made it to the top when someone called out to Carla. She slowed down in front of John forcing him to dismount.


On our way to Marcus’s party, we stopped at a Whole Foods store. There are five such health food stores in San Francisco. Carla wanted to pick up a  bottle of wine for him. While there I bought a bottle of Kombucha. Wow. Here in the west of Ireland, Kombucha is an unknown. I could not believe how good it tasted!


More easy pedaling and sights took us to the 1904 William McKinley statue at the innermost tip of Golden Gate Park, also referred to as the Panhandle. There seated on the steps that surrounded the statue were probably a dozen bicyclists. A small barbecue cooker was hard at work.


People came and went. I led a Happy Birthday song for Marcus and our 2014 tour of San Francisco was complete. Maybe 12 miles in all, we had seen a San Francisco like few people see it.


There were no frazzled nerves. The whole ride was calm and peaceful. And we had not expended a lot of effort to get a genuine feel for San Francisco the way local cyclists know their city. What a wonderful experience!!


I can’t wait till next year!!


Awesome! Loved every minute of it. Can’t wait to ride with you all again.
Kelly Nelson, 1980s San Francisco cage dancer