Marin at Its Most Effervescent

The non-cyclist's guide to biking the Golden Gate Bridge (with booze).

Barrel House Manhattan (Courtesy of Barrel House Tavern)

No one has ever accused me of being a “cyclist.”

I don’t own the prerequisite equipment. I have no idea how to use an Allen wrench. Exercise, in general, confounds me. Coupled with my casual disdain for tourists, it’s no wonder that biking over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito has never registered high on my to-do list. I was finally coaxed into it by one of those perfect San Francisco afternoons, and the promise that scenic bounty — and plenty of craft booze — awaited me on the north side of the Bay. Thanks to a number of key elements that conspired in my favor, not only did I survive, I thrived. And now I’m wholly qualified to present this non-bike-riders guide to biking the Golden Gate Bridge.

First and foremost: Avoid crowds by getting out there on a weekday, if at all possible. Obviously, that’s a tall order for many people, but if ever you’re going to take advantage of a sick day, this is the way to do it.

“Tourists suck,” says Sausalito resident (and avid rider) Bill Douillet. “But they are the price you pay to do anything cool on a daily basis. Go early. The rest of the day is jam-packed.”

The next thing to consider is the equipment. Even if you don’t own any Spandex, this isn’t something that you want to take casually. In my limited experience with bicycles, I always seem to have chain issues. (I’m also an idiot.) Thankfully, with a little help from the internet, I realized that fool-proof options exist.

NYC’s Priority Bicycles offers a chainless continuum-shifter. It might sound like something out of Star Trek, but it’s actually quite simple: Think of shifting as changing the volume on your stereo. A typical shifter is the one that you click up or down, one level at a time. Continuum-shifting is like that silky smooth analog knob that has endless gradients in between. On a bicycle it provides a seamless, intuitive experience going up and down hilly terrain. Priority didn’t invent the technology, but they were the first ones to make it affordable — their entry level model is $400 — which is why you can now rent them for $9/hour at Wheel Fun Rentals (2627 Taylor St., wheelfunrentals.com) on The Embarcadero — my starting point.

Passing thru Fort Mason and into the Marina was a breeze.

“Take your time,” Douillet advises. “It’s only about 400 feet of elevation change to the bridge from Crissy Field, so don’t worry too much about the climb. On the bridge, stick to your side and pay attention — there are lots of accidents due to people swerving because they’re looking at the view. Once you get across the bridge, take a sharp left and go down to Cavallo Point and ride into Sausalito on the less trafficked roads.”

It’s all downhill from here, as they say. With the hard work behind me, I rewarded myself with refreshments at the Barrel House Tavern (660 Bridgeway, barrelhousetavern.com), seated along the water in a converted ferry building. Remembering that beer has electrolytes, I attacked their array of microbrews, from Sierra Nevada’s Nooner Pilsner to Magnolia’s Prescription Pale Ale. Henhouse Stout, brewed with Hog Island Oysters, served as precursor to one of the bar’s modish cocktails — all named after icons of the Wild West. My favorite, The Wild Bill Hickok features a housemade fig-infused whiskey, combined with vermouth and quince smoke. It’s an elegant reimagining of a Manhattan best enjoyed while staring across the Bay, at the city the could be accused of the same.

Next door is the Sausalito Ferry, which departs approximately every 90 minutes on weekdays. $12 affords you a hold for your bike and unrivaled views of our ever-expanding skyline. You can even get craft beer and cheap whiskey on the 25-minute ride. (I went with a boilermaker of Jack Daniels backed by Lagunitas IPA.)

I arrived at the Ferry Building and grabbed a quick snack in the form of Prather Ranch Meat Co. jerky, because protein. Just outside, the designated green lane for bikers guided me on the mile-long ride back to the rental shop. Depending on how many cocktails you enjoyed at Barrel House, the entire circuit shouldn’t take much more than three hours. But if it does, Wheel Fun charges $37 to keep the bike for the rest of the day. By the time my adventure was over, I was even considering paying a few hundred more to hang onto the thing, indefinitely.

Inspired by my buzz — a healthy combo of whiskey and adrenaline — and a poetic embrace of the grandeur surrounding me, I was reminded of how easy it is to be a tourist in your own hometown. That doesn’t have to be such a bad thing — as long as you stay out of everyone else’s way.

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