The Steeps of San Francisco…

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Scot Nicol started Ibis many years ago and is once again at its helm. He’s been taking part in a regular ride that attempts to take in most of the steepest streets in San Francisco in a single day.
Here’s his account of a hot, November day in ‘frisco. Now buckle up and get to do a LOT of armchair climbing…

For the last 18 years, a group of people have been gathering on a Fall Sunday morning in San Francisco and riding their bikes all over the city and up all the steepest hills they can find. If you Google something similar to 10 steepest streets in SF, you’ll see a few examples. The official steepest street is 31.5% and that’s Filbert up on Russian Hill. Well, by some accounts it’s tied with another 31.5% over in Noe Valley, but since it’s in an area called ‘valley’ I’m going to go to the one that has ‘hill’ in its name. It’s always good to question authority, so just because the Department of Public Works says a street is steepest you don’t necessarily accept that. Indeed, we found steeper streets that what the DPW claims are the steepest. And if you throw in the extra terrain open to you if you’re on a bike, you can shatter all the alleged records.

This year’s ride happened on November 14th. The average high temp in SF on this day is 64º, which is actually quite pleasant. Sunday as we were riding through the Mission, it hit 80º. Another search of the Googles showed me a weather page, and according to that, the highest temp ever recorded on Nov 14th was 76º way back in that earthquake year 1906, so I guess that means our ride was on the hottest day ever for a November 14th. Indeed, most of the way through the ride I was wiping a lot of sweat off the brow.

We meet out on the Marina for coffee and a 9 am ish departure. The guy who puts this very unofficial ride together–let’s call him Gary–has figured out a novel way to make espresso for 50 people. He’s thinking about commercializing ‘The Javanator”, but for now a small group of us will get to enjoy it, using the prototype made with a pressure cooker.

There’s a stainless screen and a filter, you put espresso grind on top, then pour water into it, cap it and pressurize it with a floor pump.

Pressurizing the chamber (me helping)

Soon you have espresso for 50 people

But that’s not what we wanted to share with you today. It’s all about the ride. My steed for the day, a clapped out old Bianchi road bike with miss matched everything, flat bars, fenders and a TRIPLE. The bike du jour seemed to be old hardtail mountain bikes with slicks. None of my hardtails had air in the tires so I opted for my rain bike (which explains the fenders).

Yes, that’s the Golden Gate Bridge back there.

Here we are gathering…

…and then looking at our first hill. Sure doesn’t look like much from this angle.

You get a better sense of it from the top though.

This particular location is Cow Hollow, not exactly the projects. Our first detour was down and up the Broderick sidewalk and a private driveway that’s just like Lombard Street in its twisty excellence. You can’t go on either of these by car. We measured this grade at 35-37%, a great start to the day. The driveway I think is for the Levi mansion (jeans, not Leipheimer).

Now it’s time to get out of here and find some more steeps. From Cow Hollow to Pacific Heights we go.

Octavia Street

Now it’s time for Russian Hill, and since Filbert is only two blocks away, we do the geeky tourist thing and go down Lombard.

And now, Filbert!

What goes up must come down

Going, going…

almost gone…

Now we continue to wind our way around Russian Hill on our way to North Beach and Coit Tower

me with Bougainvillea

A quick jaunt down Romolo Place and on to Broadway

Then back up again on Kearney, a dead end

Then a cruise through North Beach to find some pastries.

Down to the financial district for our cruise around town, the hilliest way of course.

Over to Potrero Hill, past Anchor Steam Brewing (we didn’t stop) and then down the other crookedest street in the world: Vermont.

And over to the Mission for some gut bombs.

After lunch, we hit Noe Valley and the longer and just as steep climbs there. That burrito tasted good both times!

Now we’re off to Diamond Heights and Mt. Davidson…

With a bonus of some single track, sorry about the giggly camera.

It’s Sunday, and the Church of Rotating Mass is in session.

Then another climb (!) over to Twin Peaks, and the impossibly beautiful view from there.

Back through the Haight…we think this might have the highest concentration of dreadlocks on white people in the entire world.

getting back in the car, still quite warm at 4:07 PM – in November!

Maybe next year we’ll get videos. In the mean time, the car scenes here are sort of what it was like:

This was an ideal day on the bike. 25 or so miles, and I’m told close to 5,000 feet of vertical. Looking forward to next year.

If you want an idea of some of the streets ridden… Rent Steve McQueen’s Bullitt…

And obviously, give if you’re ever passing for a little more of Scot’s dry humour…

Comments (13)

    Fantastic. A must do ride surely!

    I love a good hill. What ever happened to the world championship uphill? Bring it back!

    Hmm, what ratio to singlespeed up those hills – think I’d need a good run-up.

    what are these ‘double clutch’ gear changes all about? is it to stop wheel spins? they sound cool.

    never mind the hills, i want a gut bomb

    I love vespa’s, see you at the top, vvrroooommmm!

    tom84 said : “what are these ‘double clutch’ gear changes all about? is it to stop wheel spins? they sound cool.”

    Double-declutching on a non-syncromesh gearbox..

    I have only ridden the streets of SF once and can attest to the fact that some of the hills are crazy steep. After a 4 hour ride on the back of an 11 hour flight I felt like I might have to get off and push.

    mustang vs charger! thats almost like spd’s vs flats! 😉

    am sure there was a vid of a street rider stinking it down the hills there?? came out a while back??

    Reminds me of the SF grand prix (never mind ‘riding’ – try racing it) – shame it no longer takes place (finished in 2006).

    Looking at people climbing in the saddle with their saddles so low gives me a sore back just even looking. Why do they do it??? !

    Pics 19, 20, 21. Nice series 1 DS.

    Thems steep hills.. My knees throb just thinking about it..

    My old school friend who owns a bike shop there once sent me out on a similar sounding route, the climbs are great and huge and steep but with Tarmac the grip is like slick rock and it was a great hard day. This ride sounds ace!

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