The Best Bike Cities in North America: San Francisco, California

You don’t have to give up the amenities of a large urban environment just because you prefer traveling on two wheels over four

San Francisco, California.     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Wiggle says it all. This mile-long switchback bicycle right-of-way leads from the popular Market Street bike route to Golden Gate Park. Like many aspects of San Francisco bike culture, art and green living intersect at The Wiggle: there’s a Wiggle mural at its starting point on Duboce Avenue between Church and Market streets and even a jingle. (The video also captures much of the spirit of the San Francisco cycling culture, which can best be characterized as fun, passionate and hip.)

The local cycling organization, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, has around 12,000 active members and was instrumental in spurring on the development of local cycling infrastructure projects, such as the Market and Valencia street bike lanes and bike corrals. Additions to the bicycle lane network, including physically separated lanes on Fell and Oak streets, are also in the works, according to SFBC executive director Leah Shahum.

The first Critical Mass—a large and controversial group bike ride that often takes up entire streets—took place on September 25, 1992, in San Francisco. This city is also where legends Gary Fisher and Joe Breeze first experimented with riding old paper boy bikes down the steep Mount Tamalpais, which led to the creation of some of the first mountain bikes, and certainly aided in their popularization.

You can take a ride over the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge and experience the incredible views. For a longer ride, you can hop onto the Butter Lap, which skirts around the city from the Ferry Building into the Presidio and along Ocean Beach up to Mission on a 17-mile loop. You could also stay at the Good Hotel, where guests can loan Globe bikes from the lobby. PUBLIC Bikes, the premier urban/lifestyle cycling brand, has its headquarters here. And don’t forget to check out Balmy Alley. It’s a hidden gem where you’ll find the most concentrated collection of murals lining an alleyway parallel to Treat Avenue and Harrison Street between 24th and 25th streets.

Beyond that, what makes San Francisco a great bike city is the fact that there is so much culture and so many activities involving the love of cycling here. Whether it’s the monthly SF Bike Party rides; Winterfest, a large bicycle-oriented festival and fundraiser for the SFBC; Bicycle Film Festival screenings; Tour de Fat; or the ever-popular Sunday Streets, in which car traffic is cut off to allow mass bike rides and celebrations on city streets, life really does have a two-wheeled flavor in this city—and it shows all signs of getting even better in the near term.

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