11-5-2021-Basch-Biking the Golden Gate

Biking the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is a quirky and memorable experience. (MARTY BASCH PHOTO)

SAN FRANCISCO — Otis Redding sat on a Sausalito, Calif., dock by his rented houseboat more than 50 years ago a few blocks away from where my wife and I were having a couple of beers.

The story goes he was having a bad day and began to scrawl what would become his posthumous classic “(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay.”

Redding may have left his Georgia home for the Frisco Bay to waste his time watching the tide roll away.

However, we left our valley home for the City by the Bay and wasted no time in renting a tandem bicycle to roll over the Golden Gate Bridge for a classic 8-mile spin from San Francisco to one of Marin County’s seaside towns in the shadows of mountain biking’s birthplace Mount Tamalpais.

Before having those well-earned brews, last week my wife Jan and I chose a bicycle rental company from a saddlebag full of options in the heavily-touristed Fisherman’s Wharf area — think Left Coast Faneuil Hall — with its lounging sea lions and far-ranging views of the East Bay including the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge and infamous Alcatraz Island.

Bicycles area plentiful in San Francisco, with commuters using them to get around and recreationalists pedaling away for fitness. The delivery economy uses them as do parents ferrying their kids to school on cargo e-bikes (a big plus on the steep streets) outfitted with runner boards on the rear for their children’s dangling legs. Ride share bikes and scooters are ubiquitous. There are even digital bicycle helmets with directional signals on the back.

But we were obviously low-tech by settling on a four-leg propelled tandem instead of single bikes or e-bikes for the coastal cycle dressed in street clothes on a partly sunny day with temperatures in the mid-60s.

The trek from Aquatic Park near a turnaround for one of the city’s three famous cable car lines ($8 a ride) runs through a scenic sliver of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area including Fort Mason, the Presidio and Fort Point before reaching the bridge and the dramatic cliffs of the Marin Headlands prior to descending into Sausalito.

A popular drawing point of the tour is the novelty of taking a ferry back to the city, which we planned to do to allow for the unrestricted consumption of adult beverages.

Following the bike path is easy — just keep the water to your right. Walkers and runners share the route, with some stretches having designated lanes for each. Anglers fished from the piers and surfers rode the breaks in the waves under the brilliant skies. There’s no shortage of viewpoints or spots to rest. It’s not a flat way either, with a couple of granny-gear type of hills, including the one right before reaching the bridge.

Cycling across the blustery bridge more than 200 feet above the water is a quirky and memorable experience. Cyclists and pedestrians use the nearly 10-foot wide sidewalks on the east and west sides of the six-lane bridge. Users are regulated to which side to use based on the day and time.

With giant cables and towers overhead plus jaw-dropping looks out to the Pacific Ocean to the west and East Bay on the other side, the wow factor is tremendous during the 1.7-mile bridge crossing. Thankfully, the fog was at bay. But it doesn’t take long to see that the sidewalks aren’t wide enough to accommodate meandering tourists stopping everywhere for photos, locals enjoying a spin and the maintenance crews painting the bridge.

The crews are out daily, applying more of that international orange colored paint to the 887,000-ton bridge with about 88 tons of steel. So just like driving through a construction zone, cyclists must contend with equipment on the sidewalk, and crew members holding those slow and stop signs along the way.

The bridge yields to a 2-mile downhill into Sausalito where we found ourselves enjoying those celebratory brews.

Before returning we watched a youngster haul in some crabs he baited with raw chicken in a net at the docks.The ferry had bicyclists boarding first and disembarking last with cyclists leaning their bikes against each other in a selected area, versus them using kickstands and such on the ever-shifting sea.

Once off the boat, we stood on a dock of the bay, watching the ships roll in and the sea gulls fly by in what definitely is no waste of time.

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