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The other day I was running errands in SOMA on my bike when a man in a pickup truck stopped next to me at a red light and rolled down his window to ask, “How do you get around San Francisco with only one gear?”

I mumbled something about living in a flat neighborhood and knowing your way around hills, but frankly, I’m still learning. I grew up riding in Seattle, where there are streets at least as steep as here, first around Beacon Hill on a used BMX and then further afield with a 10-speed road bike and 21-speed mountain bike. But after searching high and low, the lightest, most reliable bike I could afford after moving back to the Mission was 2008-model Draft from SE Bikes that was on sale at Valencia Cyclery. And though I have since inherited an 18-speed Raleigh cruiser that rides like a Cadillac, it’s a pain to lug up and down stairs and lock up, what with the quick-release, shock-absorbed everything.

So on Thursday, when a perfectly fine misty day turned into a humid scorcher in the Mission, it was the SE that I chose for a ride to Ocean Beach, where I figured it was at least going to be a bit cooler. And so it was off to do the Wiggle.

Really guys, blowing through a crosswalk just past a stroller? Such behavior does not help sell votes for bike-friendly city planning.For those of you unfamiliar, the Wiggle essentially starts on a little path behind the Castro Safeway at the corner of Market and Duboce. From there, just follow the bike path signs as you “wiggle” from Duboce to Steiner to Waller to Pierce to Haight to Scott to Fell, where after a few nerve-racking blocks competing with fast traffic, you’re connected to the sylvan paths of the Panhandle. And at rush hour, there was practically a peloton — making for a couple of Critical Mass-type moments where bicyclists simply crowded past cars and through intersections.

I was riding flat-out, since my justification for spending as much as I did on my bike was that it was cheaper than three months of Muni Fast Passes and a gym membership, and I’d binged on In-N-Out after picking up a friend at the airport the night before. This was a ride for the sake of my health — and I wanted to see just how fast I could get to the beach and back. But you can only go so fast on city streets if you’re actually obeying signals and posted signs, so from the panhandle it was on to John F. Kennedy Drive through Golden Gate Park.

Where, again, there are stop signs and “careless pedestrians” like the woman pushing a stroller that I stopped for, even if four others flew by. Really guys, blowing through a crosswalk just past a stroller? Such behavior does not help sell votes for bike-friendly city planning, and who knows, that kid might grow up to be the next Greg LeMond, so be nice!

Once you get about half way through the park, the stop signs thin just as the incline starts returning to sea level, and man, is that fun. I was easily breaking the posted 25mph speed limit, just so you don’t think I’m a total stickler for the rules of the road.

After rolling across the Great Highway, I check my watch, and damn if I didn’t make it from my apartment to the Pacific in less than half an hour — or considerably less than half the time it normally takes me on Muni. And the weather was just what the doctor ordered — pea soup fog, with maybe twenty feet of visibility and a good twenty degrees cooler.

Sadly, there is hardly anything at all to lock your bike to by the seaside (and for the sake of your ball bearings, carrying your bike across the sand is not recommended). Though it didn’t take long to find something, especially since there was hardly anyone there, it doesn’t actively encourage bike trips.

On the way back, I decided to take Lincoln Way just for a change of scenery, and that is one long, slow pull for thirty blocks. Once on Oak, however, I was cruising along at the speed limit and almost made it to Divisadero without missing any timed lights. I wiggled right back through the Lower Haight and Duboce Triangle and was cracking a cold soda only 90 minutes after I left — subtracting 20 minutes for my time at the beach, and using Daft Logic’s handy Google Maps Distance Calculator, seems I averaged probably a bit over 10 miles an hour.

Again, twice as fast as Muni. And with only one gear.

Photo: nickboos

Jackson West has ridden a bike around the San Juan Islands, up and down the Cascades, in Vancouver, Seattle, Brooklyn, Austin and all over the Bay Area. He’s already got another ride mapped out for next week. Have any bike-related questions? Send an email!

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  • friscolex

    This piece just rocks. The writing flows like it’s been lubed with Rock and Roll, but also the balance between I-kick-ass-on-my-bike and I-generally-want-people-to-like-cyclists-so-I’m-not-going-to-be-an-asshole is key. I could never give up my cassette, but this makes it sound good!