Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sightseeing on two wheels

Recently spent a week vacationing in northern California. San Francisco was home base, but we added a night in Yountville (Napa) and Monterey. As with last year's trip to wine country, I'd researched possible self-lead bike tour routes and bike rental options. We knew we wanted to bike across the Golden Gate bridge and down to Sausalito. Further south, I was intrigued by the idea of biking past the famous golf courses and ocean views of the 17 mile drive between Monterey and Carmel.

Our first adventure was the Golden Gate trip. San Francisco has several options for renting bikes, especially in the touristy Fishermen's Wharf area. My on-line research lead me to Bike-n-Roll, as I preferred their wide fleet of Trek bikes. I knew I'd want to rent one of their "performance road" bikes (Trek FX7.3 disc) vs. a "comfort hybrid" bike (Trek 7300). My mistake was not reserving the bikes on-line; partially due to their on-line system not working from iPad, iPhone or Android mobile devices, something I'd suggest they fix. I decided our best bet to get the performance bike would be to go to the main tour center location at Columbus and Mason. After filling out the paperwork and discussing possible routes, we were asked to wait 15 minutes for a couple of the FX's to be brought over from another store. When that didn't happen, the store manager offered to upgrade us to Madone 2.1 road bikes or switch us to their "performance" mountain bike, Trek4500. Anticipating (wisely) the crowds on the Golden Gate bridge we went for the upright geometry of the mountain bikes.
First part of the ride was along Fisherman's Wharf and the waterfront bike path. Tons of folks out riding and walking. Enjoyed riding past Ghiradelli Square and the views of the Presidio.
The climb up to the Golden Gate was a bit of a challenge. Hill weenie that I am, I was surprised when I found the perfect spinning gear and navigated myself up the hill.
 The bridge was crowded, particularly at each end, very middle less so, as I suspect many folks walk part way and turn back. Extreme care is needed riding across. Lots of folks walking 4-5 people wide, taking pictures - nose buried in viewfinder, being typical tourists with no care or even awareness of others. Yes, I realize I'm also a tourist, but do try and respect other tourists. Still the views were stunning. This is something everyone should do. Once. Once and done.

Off the bridge there's a fun descent down to Sausalito. Sausalito is a charming town, full of cafes, houseboats and gorgeous water views,and tons of clueless tourists. We were tired of weaving (or walking our bikes) through crowds, and decided to ride on through.
We foolishly did not stop to refill our water bottles or grab a snack in Sausalito. Not smart. Our water bottles were less than half full, we hadn't packed any energy bars, GU or other fuel. This came back to haunt us later. We both were out of water before, and starting to bonk going into Tiburon. I know better.

At Tiburon, views across the bay to the city were stunning. And the Blue Moons (and food) at Sam's were a perfect reward for a good ride.
The line of bikes waiting for the ferry back to San Fran was surprisingly long. Lucky we put our bikes into the queue when we did - by the time the ferry was loading there was probably 50 more bikes behind us. The ferry only allows 80 bikes per trip. We were # 75 and 76 for this trip. Lots of folks were turned away to wait the two hours for the next ferry. Loved seeing all these bikes on the ship!
Th short ride from the ferry terminal back to the shop concluded our 19mile trip. One I highly recommend. And know even with my once and done comment about riding over the Golden Gate - this is a trip I'd do again. As to Bike-n-Roll, was impressed with their fleet, the well-kept bike conditions and the general bike advocate nature of the staff. A business worthy of your (and my) business.

Trip 2- Monterey to Carmel via the 17 mile Drive

Wow, wow, wow. When planning this trip, I'd originally thrown out the idea of a night in Monterey to possibly explore wineries south of San Francisco. But then I realized folks biked the famous 17 Mile Drive past the infamous golf courses of Peeble Beach, Spanish Bay, and Spyglass, and the winery visits went away. For this trip, I decided to rent from Bay Bikes, utilizing their on-line reservation system to reserve a couple of Specialized Sirrius flat bar road bikes.

Bay Bikes is located on Cannery Row the main tourist area of Monterey. They stock many Surrey style bikes and comfort type hybrids, along with some traditional road bikes, mountain bikes and flat bar road bikes. Their fleet seemed a bit older than I would have liked. Nonetheless, they are a great option for renting bikes in Monterey. The employees are quite helpful in determining routes and helping with directions. In fact when I said we were planning on riding into Carmel for lunch, they questioned how often we rode, and suggested that most folks turned around about 10 miles into the ride. Once they were confident we rode (and even seemed impressed that I bike commuted), they offered suggestions for riding around and sites in Carmel.
Monterey has an excellent bike path running along their waterfront, providing a great 6-8 mile area for surrey bikes and less adventurous families to ride. One of my favorite things about it is the clear delineation between where bikes should go (in each direction) and where pedestrians should walk.
Upon leaving the bike path, there's 3 miles or so of road with bike lanes until entering the 17mile drive, where bikes can skip the toll booth, $10 per car charge, and ride for free. Views all along the drive are stunning - both ocean and golf course. We pedalled leisurely, stopping often for pictures.
Once past Peeble Beach the road narrows, and there's a fairly steep descent down into Carmel by the Sea. Followed by a corresponding ascent into downtown. Nothing someone comfortable on a bike can't handle - but made me realize why the shop suggests casual riders turn back at Peeble Beach. Enjoyed lunch at Flaherty's Oyster Bar, taking advantage of their yummy oyster selection! They were great about parking the bikes, refilling our water bottles and getting us back on our way.
On our return trip, we spent some time looking around Peeble Beach, including enjoying a drink in the lodge overlooking the famous 18th green.
Before we knew it, our 30 mile ride came to an end...which of course meant a stop for a beer. Cannery Row Brewing Company was a perfect place to try a few different beers, along with grabbing a bite at the beer while listening to live music. A great day, and a must do bike ride! Who needs to tour wineries, when there's bikes and beer, right?


  1. This looks so fun and scenic. I've done a similar trip in a car, but biking it sounds even more fun!

  2. You'd enjoy it Monica. Can b done at a nice leisurely pace in order to take it all in. And there's beer at the end!

  3. Biking is a good way to get around and experience of the city. Now bike rental reservation system can run smoothly by accepting online reservations from one single control panel.