Solo Cycling in SF: Keeping Distance is a Challenge

Title Text: Shelter in the Greatest Place laid over an image of a cycling route on a map leading through Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, starting and finishing in Haight Ashbury.

This article was written by James Farinacci, bike department staffer at Sports Basement Presidio.

When the directives were given to shelter in place, the common refrain was that we can go outside for fresh air but we all must keep a safe distance from one another. It occurred to me that if literally everyone goes outside, then keeping a safe distance would be impossible. I thought I had the answer: a road ride! The roads are wide in the city and the traffic is lighter than ever. As mentioned in Michael Tanner's post, I wouldn't want to take the Panhandle knowing it would be packed, so I took a side road. How brilliant of me! I turned left onto Stanyan from Hayes St. and then entered John F Kennedy Dr. in the park. But then yikes! My fears were realized - there were people everywhere.

I thought I could avoid the walkers, but then I found them walking in the street because there were too many people on the sidewalks. I promptly turned off of JFK and made a beeline for the much less travelled MLK leading to the coast. Whew, it cleared up a bit, but wait - I see there are many other roadies cycling on this street. What if that guy's faster than me and wants to pass? What if I'm faster than him? What do I do? Well, I know I'm faster than all the loafers and cruisers. I gave them a ten foot wide berth and nodded while passing.

Now, that wasn't the only time I hit the roads, and I did see a noticeable difference between Friday and Saturday. Saturday was much more crowded, so I'd definitely recommend visiting the parks at off-peak days or hours if you can. When you come across other cyclists, judge the situation and either slow down and let the person create space between you or pass them with as much space in between as you can safely manage. Ride alone - you'll just have to sacrifice riding as part of a group or crowd right now. And definitely don't chase someone down for a perceived slight. Be the bigger person and let every issue roll away. It's no time for mano a mano.

Now, let's get into the routes you definitely should consider! Without the option of visiting the cycling paradise of Marin county for a really big ride, the two rides I'll describe are my standard Wednesday morning 20-25 milers (back in the pre-shelter days, I used to close on Wednesdays and I'd always look forward to one of these rides). Both of these routes start at the beginning of the Panhandle and continue the 4.5 miles until you reach the beach. On Garmin Connect I named them Merced Peaks and the Thinker Challenge. Sports Basement staffers will know that second one as the Escape from Alcatraz route.

For Merced Peaks:

When you reach the coast, turn left onto the Great Highway for two miles. As you hit the SF Zoo on your left you'll go over the hill and make a right onto Skyline.  I actually take Sloat and turn right onto Skyline a half mile earlier. Travel another 1-2 miles and make a left onto John Muir Blvd and ride the nice newly paved wide bike lane along the famous Olympic Club golf course. Two more miles and you'll make a left on Juniperro Serra. I take the multi-use sidewalk across the street because the road is a bit hairy, although lately I've avoided it and took the street. Call it how you see it. When you get to Ocean Avenue, take that nice 3% slope up to and across 19th Avenue.  Make your way over to Portola Drive and climb another mile or two up to the Tower Market area. Cross over O'Shaughnessy and make a left and you're on Twin Peaks Blvd. for a magical ascent to an altitude not many other cities can claim. What a panoramic view! Go back and make your way down to Laguna Honda, 7th Ave and back down to the park and Panhandle. Again, you'll want to avoid the Panhandle during the quarantine - take a side street like Hayes or Page.

For the Thinker Challenge:

When you hit the coast after Golden Gate Park, make a right up the Great Highway and climb one of SF's best bike lanes along Sutro Heights, across the road from the Cliff House. Make a left onto El Camino Del Mar and then a quick right onto Seal Rock Drive that turns into Clement Street for a short 18% portion. Continue on Clement until 34th Avenue and make a left onto Legion of Honor Drive. Climb up to the Legion of Honor and check out a casting of Rodin's famous Thinker statue in the Atrium. Descend the backside along Lincoln Golf Course through the mansions of Sea Cliff, and give a shout out to the the Bay Area’s own cycling aficionado, the late, great Robin Williams who owned the house on the corner. Enter the Presidio, taking the bike lane on Lincoln Blvd past Baker beach and climb that nice steep hill with the ridiculous views. That beautiful, iconic bridge is in view. Go over the crest and when the view opens up you'll see big ol' Sporty B Presidio in the distance. As any of us bike commuters knows, there is no way to wiggle around the Presidio like you can do downtown. Pick any of the steepies; Presido Blvd, Arguello, or Park Blvd to get over to the Richmond district and back to Golden Gate Park.

These rides don't take the place of Marin but for a US city, they're pretty picturesque with not too much stop and go, especially these days. We can all get in a 20-miler without leaving the city or needing a car!


  • Maurizio Bonacini says...

    A nice route is going south on 1, past Funston, then right on Westmoor and immediate left on Skyline, quiet street with a bike lane, 2 miles all uphill, then down to Pacifica and turn back at the bottom for another 1 mile uphill. Then return to SF, same route.

    On March 25, 2020
  • RS says...

    In the East Bay, the standard rides are pretty crowded but I’ve found that getting your butt on the saddle by 7 am beats a lot of people. Interestingly, the Bay Trail for flats sprints is pretty empty.

    On March 25, 2020
  • chris says...

    NICE JAMES!!! Thanks for the tips and routes!!

    On March 24, 2020

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