San Francycle: Tour de Fat and a Sewer Ride

Categories: bikes

Welcome to San Francycle, a new SF Weekly series that celebrates the craziest and bestest way to get around town.

Ride a bike in San Francisco? Are you crazy?

The breaking point came sometime early this year. Remember when Muni was talking about cutting service? Again? I was shelling out fiftysomething bucks for a pass that would let me ride a bus that never seemed to come and I paused, looked at my life and my choices, and thought, "what, what, what am I doing? I simply cannot bear to spend any more money on this."

And so, after a nervous few bike shop visits, I bought a fabulous turquoiseish Bianchi, and I was off. And suddenly, I was getting to appointments on time. I didn't have to build in an extra 20 minutes to every trip just in case Muni had the flu. And, of course, I was saving the Earth.

If you have a bike, you know what I'm talking about. And if you don't have a bike, you are horrible. Horrible!

Now, wait. There's a fine line between bike ownership and bike douchebaggery, and it's hard to tell that you've crossed that line until you've gone way beyond it and vanished over the horizon. At times, it seems like bike culture is predicated on sneering at the rest of the world like a surly teenager. Or vegans.

But not all bicyclists are dicks, and not all bike events necessarily annoy the rest of the world. For instance, here's what a typical cyclists weekend might look like in San Francisco.

Matt Baume
The scene at Tour de Fat.

Tour de Fat is a beer-sponsored music-and-beer fest, sort of a tin pan alley version of Porchlight, or Prairie Home Companion for young drunks. It drew a crowd of hundreds of bikes last weekend to Golden Gate Park, and by noon the massive bike corrals were filled to capacity. (Although, most of those bikes didn't belong to children.)

I chatted with a handful of attendees. Ingrid had pedaled in from Foster City, alerted to the party by the SF Bike Coalition. Mark was a third-year attendee, and looked forward to the bands, costumed partygoers, and slow race. "It's a big celebration of bike and beer. Mostly bike. A little beer," he said.

Colleen came dressed as Marie Antoinette, because why not? Dressing as the Austrian Archduchess for special events is kind of her thing, going back several years. But biking is new: "I just bought this bike!" she exclaimed excitedly. "Look at the streamers!" She flicked the glittery handlebars.

"How long have you had it?" I asked. "About two hours!" she replied.

Matt Baume
Colleen in her royal duds.

Josh, Pony, and Sroothi came in a group. Josh and Pony live just five blocks away and have attended many a Tour de Fat, but it was Sroothi's first time. Josh spoke highly of the the event's friendly vibe. "It's not overly cynical," he said. "We're just having a good time."

Sadly, I had to cut out early from Tour de Fat to head over to the Mission for a very exciting bike tour of the sewer system. As I cruised through the Pandhandle, I spotted four hippies with a free lemonade stand, protesting Sit/Lie. We chatted for a bit, and since it was about a million degrees, I had a cup of lemonade. As I pedaled away, I thought, "Hmm, I just accepted a drink from a stranger. Maybe that was not such a great idea." But there were no lingering ill effects ... that I know of.

Over in the Mission, I rolled up to Work Space for the sewer tour, arranged by artist Miles Epstein and hosted by water experts Judy West, Joel Pomerantz, and a sewer historian named Greg. The plan was to cruise around the neighborhood, exploring the sites of important sewer milestones.

There were about 80 of us, if you can believe that. Eighty people, willing and ready to pedal around on a gorgeous Sunday and peer into storm drains! I told you bicyclists are crazy.

We rolled past the site of what was once a rural resort, before the city sprang up around it. (It's now a PG&E substation.) We checked out the site of last year's massive flooding. We rolled down weirdly diagonal Treat Street, following the path of the old Pacific Railroad. West is currently working on a proposal to turn Treat into a bicycle greenway (more on that plan in a future column), but for now it's a creepy abandoned pathway between the ASPCA and Best Buy.

I'd started the ride with a slightly stiff back, the result of a muscle that I tore while bending over to pick up one of my rats. I was worried that the tour would exacerbate the injury, but I wrapped up the ride without any pain.

Oh, but then. I woke up two days later -- why does it always take two days for these things to become apparent? -- and I could barely move. Done in by rats and sewers! Just my luck.

There's no chance of riding my bike until I heal, so for the next few days, it's back to Muni. Jeez, relying on Muni to get around San Francisco? Am I crazy?

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