By Laura Frank
When I asked Dan “the Hill Man” Reider if my old 19th Avenue commute to SF State would be included in his Seven Hells ride, he looked confused. “That’s not a hill,” he said flatly. “Who would ride that, anyway? It’s so dangerous.”
He probably wouldn’t have approved of “Frankenstein,” my $40 craigslist bike constructed with parts scavenged from Golden Gate Park. I’m pretty sure neither Frankenstein nor I would make it up the first leg of Reider’s third annual “Seven Hells of San Francisco.”
The aptly-named bike trek starts in the Panhandle at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow, Saturday, July 17 (ride details). “My intent isn’t to have a race, but it is a pretty serious urban ride. I make a disclaimer as we’re gathering,” said Reider. “We’ll be going at a moderate pace and will wait a reasonable amount of time for you to join us at the top of each hill. Otherwise, thanks for the effort and we’ll see you next year.”
That might sound harsh, but Dan the Hill Man knows what he’s talking about. He’s been a committed bike commuter for 15 years, and rides 125 – 150 miles every week. “I take the hills pretty seriously,” he said of the San Francisco terrain. “I enjoy riding in the city so much, though; I wanted to share what it’s like to go up and down the hills—instead of avoiding them.”
This year, Reider expects at least three times as many participants as the inaugural event in 2008. The ride is geared towards strong riders, but anyone can give it a try. Reider said mental strength plays a large role in pushing through the pain, but physical strength, technique and experience are key components to get to the top. Having a lightweight bike doesn’t hurt either.
Bikers often size each other up by checking out chain rings. Fixed-gear bikes have one chain, while others have two or three. “The younger dudes sport two chain rings in front,” said Reider. He’s got three chains, the smallest fondly dubbed a “Granny Gear.” “With all that climbing, I gotta save my 52-year old knees somehow,” he said.
After meeting at the statue on the east end of the Panhandle, (Baker, between Fell and Oak), bikers will have time to stretch and get a rundown of the itinerary. Reider makes sure to remind the group about safety, staying hydrated, and of course, having fun. Then, the group is off. The ride is structured around steep hills, as well as scenic views.
“A few of the hills will be high visibility. For example, we’ll take California Street where we can go by the tourists and cable cars, rather than Sacramento, which is technically steeper and longer,” said Reider. At the top of each peak, the riders regroup and are reminded of the route to their next hill-challenge.
The Seven Hells ride wouldn’t be complete without conquering Reider’s favorite hill: Dalewood. Stretched up the backside of Mount Davidson, Dalewood looks foreboding and forbidden. While it’s not the steepest hill in the city, it’s lined with trees, is shaded, and looks really daunting. “It’s beautiful,” said Reider. “It continues on up without a break in the slope. It’s my favorite.”
About four hours and 30 miles later, the group will end up back at the Panhandle, where they’ll have time to stretch before heading to Mojo’s Bike Cafe. The locals-mostly bike cafe will be celebrating with happy hour beer prices for those who complete the ride.
If you plan on joining the group, remember to drink plenty of water, and indulge in a nutritious breakfast beforehand. “Bring your helmet, sunscreen, common sense…and granny gears,” said Reider.