San Francycle: Local Gems at SF Bike Expo
Hey, I have an idea. Let's convene a vertigo-sufferers convention in the Swiss Alps. Then we'll hold a family picnic in an Alaskan timberwolf preserve. And finally we can organize an ocean cruise to Kansas.
But first, let's hold the San Francisco Bike Expo at the Cow Palace. It's the perfect location! The bike lanes all around it are a half-finished hodgepodge of vanishing dotted lines, and there are hills on virtually every side! Not to mention, it's not even in San Francisco.
Okay, okay, to be fair, there are very few locations that could have accommodated last weekend's event, which was actually quite lovely once you got there. Hundreds of booths, thousands of visitors, and an extensive race course that included huge jumps -- where in the city could they have held it? Golden Gate Park? Moscone? Treasure Island would be perfect ... except that it's even harder to get to than the Cow Palace
Hanna Quevedo Check out more photos of the SF Bike Expo.
The lack of alternatives notwithstanding, I was THOROUGHLY UNAMUSED as I pedaled over Golden Gate Heights, the seemingly endless Inner-Sunset hill that is kind of a third nipple to Twin Peaks.
But then, as I said, the show itself was quite nice: two giant rooms of vendors selling everything from knee-warmers to blinky lights to gears and axles and tools I couldn't even identify. Out back, there was a massive racetrack that led riders on a grueling circuit around buildings, over jumps, and even up a dirt hill so steep racers had to leap from their bikes, hoist them over their shoulders, and scramble furiously to the top.
Piles of dirt were set up at the bottom of a huge ramp down a tall hill -- and as I approached the track I could see bicyclists flipping around and upside-down above the crowd.
"Ooh," said the crowd.
Although the tricks were all very neat, for me, the highlights of the show were some of the awesome local bike vendors.
My first stop was at Public's booth. They design rides that are friendly for first-time commuters: a simple, high-quality bike that's lightweight, has a tidy fender and chain guard, and puts you in a comfy upright position.
"Anybody can ride a bike," said Starla Teddergreen, a rep for Public and a professional racer.
She started out as a bike messenger in Seattle, owned an all-girl courier company, and was eventually lured to Public due to its emphasis on crowd-pleasing design.
Public's great for folks new to riding (like me a year ago) and for folks who don't want to spend hours noodling with cable tension and sprockets (like me right now).
On the other hand, if you like nothing more than a good sprocket-noodling, Mission Bicycle's booth was the place to be at the show. Another local vendor, Mission Bicycle appeals to the techy nerd in all of us: you cherry-pick each part, crafting a ride that's personalized just for you.
If you know all about how chains and gears work, you'll be right at home amongst Mission's choices. And if you don't, that's okay: Manager Jefferson McCarley's only too happy to explain the difference between a freewheel and an internal hub.
At the Expo, Jefferson was still glowing from September's Mission Bike Festival. Concerns from neighbors prompted organizers to downside the fest, but ultimately that worked to its advantage: there was a really nice, friendly, neighborhood feel.
My attention was also caught by MonkeyLectric. They appealed to my Achilles heel: blinking lights.
MonkeyLectric makes little LED bars that strap onto your spokes and light up your ride. Founder Dan Goldwater had made his fair share of art bikes, and started looking in marketing arty accessories back in 2007.
His goal: make cool light shows accessible for regular consumers. And now they are, if you've got $55 and three AAA batteries. Or if you're got $2,000 lying around, you could spring for the pro version, which turns your wheel into a working video display as it spins.
DZR appealed to my other Achilles heel (you do have two heels!): pretty shoes. But they're more than just attractive footwear. Concealed in the sole is a cleat that can snap into a bike pedal, attaching your foot to to the bike.
It's a more efficient way to ride, since you can push down on one foot and pull up on the other at the same time. But it can be risky for inexperienced riders, since you have to twist your foot to the side in order to detach yourself. In a situation where you need your feet on the ground in a hurry, you might not have the time for such fancy footwork.
But on the other hand: they're really pretty.
Fabio Rattazzi, the founder, drew on his experience as a pro rider to design the shoes. The company launched in September after two years of research and design, and boasts some impressive internal science: though they look like normal sneakers, there's a sturdy plastic shank holding them together inside, and vulcanized rubber to withstand wear and tear.
DZR's based in Palo Alto for now, but they're looking at opening a shop on 9th Street sometime in the next few months.
As the sun started to set, I began to contemplate my commute home. There was a Bike Coalition booth in the parking lot (which was full of cars), and I asked if they could recommend a relatively flat route back to the Richmond.
"Hm," said one volunteer. "That might be tricky."