Have Bike, Will Travel: San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge

I travelled to San Francisco, the city on the Bay, for the first time in early May of 2013. Now, San Fran may not immediately come to mind as a great city in which to bike – given the steep grade of many streets and the rolling topography from end to end that make this metropolis famous.

Nevertheless, walk around downtown and you’ll come across at least 5 rent-a-bike outfitters, with hundreds of two-wheelers in waiting.

You can see in the names and marketing of these rental companies that they’re targeting a specific type of tourist – defined by what interests them and the amount of physical activity required to fulfill those interests.


Downtown Dwellers

There are companies in the heart of downtown that will rent you a bike by the hour, which will give you the chance to visit points of interest in the core and along the Embarcadero.

As long as you don’t try to head up Powell Street or any of the others with cable cars, the whole route is quite flat.

Presidio Park

Park Peeps

Next are the companies that appeal to those who enjoy the greenest parts of town. These outfitters will give you the option to spend all day enjoying the landscaped leisure, full of hula hoops, botanical gardens and museums nestled into the foliage.

Don’t worry about the time or daylight slipping away because you can leave your bike at their satellite stations in Golden Gate Park or The Presidio, and take transit or a cab back into town.

Ferry with bikes, San Fran

Bridge Battlers

Finally, if you really want to break a sweat and get a great view of the city from a distance, there are companies that understand your desire to cycle over Golden Gate Bridge or Bay Bridge. Given the bike lanes along these mammoth structures, it’s entirely doable.

You can take the BART or a ferry back downtown.

One company even suggests that you can bike up to Muir Woods, an ethereal ancient redwood forest, on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge in a couple hours. Side note: I rode in a small tour bus through the stunning Marin Headlands to Muir Woods and unless you have a well-fitted road bike with a range of gears, a tube repair kit, lots of water and legs of steel, I wouldn’t attempt it.

In typical Aimee fashion, I charted my own course. I visited a couple local bike repair shops to see if they rented bikes. One helpful proprietor offered to rent me a bike whose owner had simply not returned to claim it following the repair. If I was a foot taller and 60 pounds heavier, it would’ve been a perfect ride. Despite the foodie delights littered throughout San Fran, this wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.

The Bike HutHe suggested I check out The Bike Hut at Pier 40.

This small outfitter provides rentals, repairs and training opportunities for young people. I loved that my dollars were going to more than silk-lined pockets and the service person was super friendly and helpful.

He gave me a cycling map of the city – so cool! It not only showed the bike lanes but marked the streets with different colours that pertained to steepness. This way, you could chart a realistic route.

Unlike the other companies that required me to return my chariot of tire by 5 or 6 p.m., I had a full 24 hours in which to explore the city on two tires. And it was cheaper. He also lent me front and rear lights. His only requirement: that I lock up the bike inside overnight.

The timing couldn’t have been better: the next morning was Bike to Work Day in San Francisco. More about this, where I biked and the cycling infrastructure in this city in an upcoming post.

All in all, renting a bike was one of the best decisions I made during my whirlwind 4 day trip to the windy city on the Bay. It allowed me to cover a lot of ground, feel like a local and get some great exercise.

The various rental options make it accessible for a range of people. Thumbs up San Fran!


  1. I was just in San Fran for the first time two weeks ago, and if I had more time to spend there (was barely 2 days), I think it would have been an amazing city to bike through! Will save your tips for my next visit there.

    1. It’s a great city! I was only there for 4 days and had the feeling that I could’ve used 44 to see it all. Thanks for your comments!

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