A Tale of 2 Cities: Renting Bikes in Vancouver & San Francisco

“It’s like riding a bike”, they say. It’s a common phrase, one I’m sure we’ve all heard and perhaps used. But until recently, I never really criticised the message behind it.

Let me explain. When I was younger, my dad and I would go for bike rides around our local park. All was well, but sadly I grew too big for my bike and we didn’t bother getting another one as my interests diversified (i.e. became a moody pre-teen). Fast forward to a year or so ago in the Netherlands when my boyfriend Alan and I visited our friends Milan and Harm (who we met when we lived in Australia) and riding a bike took a strange turn.

Trying out Milan’s bike, I couldn’t get my balance, I shook, I wobbled and I swear, it was impossible to steer. The seat was too high even though I’m a similar height to Milan (and the majority of my height is made up of legs) and I barely even cycled 2 metres. To sum up, it was a complete disaster. Milan of course found it hilarious, and we put it down to her having a very very good, sensitive bike (she is Dutch, after all. They live for these contraptions).

Oh, the shame...

Oh, the shame…

From that moment on, I thought I could no longer ride a bike. I looked enviously on other people, thinking how a part of my childhood had been cruely snatched away from me. If you learned once, you remembered forever, right?! Like swimming, or skiing. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since I’ve skiied, it’s second nature to me. But apparently not riding a bike…? What had happened to me?!

Vancouver, August, 2014: my Canadian friend Monika suggests Alan and I rent bikes and ride on the Sea Wall. Alan thinks this is a good idea. Immediate panic descends on my fear-stricken face. But I can’t ride a bike anymore, what do I do??

Alan says of course I can… so it’s time to conquer my “irrational” fear (totally not irrational: have you seen cyclists in London? They’re constant death traps).

Is it weird I was more nervous about the idea of riding a bike again than at the idea of skydiving on that same trip?

We walked our bikes down to a car park near where the bike path joined and had a few practice laps… 10 year old me would have laughed her little head off.

After a while I got the hang of it, and it was time to play with the big boys. Apart from a few panicky moments where a massive crowd of cyclists would zoom past me, or the times where I didn’t know if Alan was still behind me or not (I felt like a lost duckling), I actually felt ok. It was peaceful, and the views of Vancouver were beautiful. In fact, this was the time where I went from just liking Vancouver to loving it. The city is so varied and laidback, and seems to have everything you could possibly want: a city vibe, a beach vibe, a woodland/park vibe. Stanley Park was a highlight with its Totem Poles and bike trails veering off to little lakes and through woodland (where I saw my first ever wild raccoon). Sometimes it didn’t even feel like I was riding a bike – until my bum started hurting from the seat…

So… fears conquered, I can ride a bike, right? Well, yes, but cycling in San Francisco is an entirely different story. Whereas Vancouver is leisurely, San Francisco is hard work. We did the ride to Golden Gate Bridge, but as it was later in the day and we had already been to Sausalito, we decided against crossing the bridge towards it.

The first thing you should consider if riding a bike in this city are the hills. Never, ever underestimate the hills of San Francisco. Seriously. There are also a lot of cyclists on these paths, some reasonably hardcore, and it can get crowded. For me, it was all a bit overwhelming. The lost little duckling feeling came back strong, and I essentially just wanted to hide in Alan’s bike’s bumbag thing at the front, let him take me home and call it a day.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

I admit, I was not on a bike for this picture…

Of course, there were parts I enjoyed, mainly when we had an awesome view of the Golden Gate Bridge or the beaches, but I didn’t feel I needed to be on a bike for these moments. It’s for practicality’s sake more than anything as San Francisco is huge, and it’s definitely a great way to get to Sausalito. In hindsight, I think I would have loved to cycle more around one of the parks, like Presidio or Golden Gate Park rather than a beeline towards the Golden Gate Bridge.

Give me a peaceful time on a bike through parks and past beaches any day. Get me to cycle up and down hills shared with cars, in crowds, and I’ll turn into the mess I was in the Netherlands, start hyperventilating, sweating, and very happily claim I can’t ride a bike. People will laugh, but sometimes we just need to risk these things for our own sanity…

 

How comfortable are you on a bike? What cities would you recommend cycling in?

 

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