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Tour de San Francisco: A Bicyclist’s Paradise

One of America’s most walkable cities is also a paradise for bike enthusiasts.

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San Francisco is famous as one of the most walkable cities in the world. But it’s also a paradise with those with a passion for pedal power.

Bicycle enthusiasts can enjoy easy pedaling along the Golden Gate Bridge or through the Panhandle. But if you appreciate a good bike workout, San Francisco provides the perfect uphill battle.

On any route, cyclists can take in colorful neighborhoods and spectacular views. With its scenery, flat areas and mild grades, this city of 47 square miles offers a variety of challenging courses for the beginner or advanced rider. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition offers a bicycle map with bike routes and hill grades. For more information, visit www.sfbike.org. San Francisco neighborhoods that are especially bike friendly include:

Golden Gate Park is off limits to cars on Sundays on John F. Kennedy Dr., allowing for 7.5 miles of cycling. Watch for roller bladers who share the road. Some points of interest include the Japanese Tea Garden, the deYoung Museum, California Academy of Sciences, the Dutch Windmill and Stow Lake.

The Golden Gate Bridge is more than a mile and half across. When the winds are brisk, the ride can be quite a workout. Monday through Friday, the east walkway is open to cyclists and on weekends, it's the west walkway. On the Marin side at the end of the Vista Point parking lot is a bike lane parallel to Highway 101, which then turns off to Alexander Ave. The road winds through Sausalito offering a beautiful view of the bay. The Golden Gate Bridge also links to the waterfront Bay Trail of Crissy Field and the Marina District, a four-mile, flat stretch of bike path set aside just for bicycles.

To ride to the Marin Headlands, ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and take Alexander Ave., under Highway 101 into the Marin Headlands. The uphill climb may be tough on the legs, but the spectacular view of the city, bay and Pacific Ocean will make the trek worthwhile. The one-way distance from the Vista Point parking lot on the San Francisco side of the bridge to Sausalito is about 3.5 miles.

The Marina District, in the northern part of the city, offers several residential, art deco buildings, the Palace of Fine Arts and the Exploratorium; the sidewalk in Aquatic Park offers a flat area for beginning riders. Keep biking west of the Palace of Fine Arts and you will find the 1,400-acre Presidio, converted in October 1994 from army base to national park. Several roads go through the Presidio's greenery, which offers a park-like atmosphere with large, thickly wooded areas. While riding along Lincoln Blvd. in the Presidio, check out the great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands.

With its three bicycle lanes, the flat three-mile sidewalk along Ocean Beach (Great Highway) provides a good workout and can be incorporated into a longer tour of the Sunset District. Ride south on the Great Highway for two miles past the San Francisco Zoo to Sloat Blvd. and turn right onto Lake Merced Blvd., then ride the five miles around the lake and nearby golf courses.

An added challenge for Great Highway bikers is to ride north from Lake Merced toward the Cliff House, and prepare for a 200-foot ascent. Veer right onto Point Lobos Ave. after passing Seal Rocks in the Pacific, then turn right on 43rd Ave. and coast downhill to Golden Gate Park and enter at Chain of Lakes Dr. East, which takes you back onto John F. Kennedy Dr.

For those courageous enough to venture into the bustling Financial District, weekends are best (when traffic is light). Bicycles with wide tires are recommended because of the cable car tracks.

Along Fisherman's Wharf on the northern edge of the city, riders can pass by tempting seafood stalls and retail complexes, then continue west towards Aquatic Park, with Hyde St. Pier and its antique boats. Be warned, though, that crowded conditions on weekends may force cyclists to get off their bikes and mingle with the pedestrians. Be sure to cross cable car tracks at a right angle.

For a whole day's journey, follow the 49-Mile Drive, mapped by the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau. Begin at the Civic Center and look for the "49-Mile Scenic Drive" signs, which will take you around most parts of the city.