By Regina Sinsky
This is our Bike About Town column, which appeared in the SF Chronicle.
Many cyclists in San Francisco go out of their way to avoid the city’s famous hills. Daniel Reider, 53, goes out of his way to ride them.
Reider invites cyclists to join him July 23 at the annual Seven Hells of San Francisco ride.
“It’s not for beginners,” Reider says. “In spite of it being a hard ride, this is the fourth year I’ve done this, and each year the group doubles in size.”
The Seven Hells ride began when a handful of Reider’s friends wanted to try a few hills with him. A bike commuter for 15 years, Reider knows the city’s hills well. While some people hit the hills for weekend fitness and training, Reider takes them on the way to work.
Reider’s addiction is contagious. Through word of mouth, the group of friends interested in Reider’s hill obsession began to include strangers, so Reider made an event out of it. The Seven Hells route was born.
Bring your own water (lots of it) and snacks. Also, bring your granny gear.
“Granny gears are absolutely necessary,” says Reider, who says there’s a 30 to 40 percent attrition rate on the ride each year. “This is for strong riders with some hill experience. You don’t have to be a professional cyclist, but you should be very willing. If you can’t go straight, you can weave. It’s not about killing yourself. We will wait at the top for you.”
The 30-mile ride begins at 10 a.m. (meet at the Panhandle statue on Baker Street, between Fell and Oak streets) and ends at 2 p.m. It links seven of San Francisco’s most famous hills: Twin Peaks, Mount Davidson (Reider’s favorite, because it is “dark and long and scary”), Diamond Heights (new to this year’s course), Castro Heights, Russian Hill, Nob Hill and, finally, Divisadero Street.
Reider adds extra-credit hills for “extra spiciness.” One of them, he says, is “the most horrible of them all. Right before the top of Divisadero, you can go up the sidewalk on Broderick, which has a 38.5 percent grade. Only three of us made it up last year.”
And that right there is why so many want to do this ride: bragging rights. It isn’t any fun to do this sort of thing when no one is looking (unless you’re Reider). Reider says it’s best to ride in a group for support. He also says he ends on Divisadero because tourists typically cheer as the Seven Hells riders crank up the hill.
“Last year a sports drink company randomly had a van parked at the top of Divisadero,” Reider laughs. “So random. They gave us drinks. It was perfect timing.”
At the end of the ride, everyone heads to Mojo Bike Cafe on Divisadero Street for beer and survival stories.
Now, before you go commenting on how the route doesn’t include the steepest hills in San Francisco (according to Reider, everyone has an opinion on this matter), Reider says this isn’t just about the steepest hills. It’s also about the longest hills.
“People will say XYZ street is the steepest, I go check it out, and the hill turns out to be really easy because it was only about 20 feet long. It was like riding up a driveway,” Reider says. “It’s more fun finding these long, steep secret slopes. I don’t think the people who suggest steeper hills have really tried those hills.”
San Francisco Bicycle Coalition recreational rides are free for SFBC members (a $5 donation from non-members is appreciated). Rain will cancel the ride. For more information, go to www.sfbike.org/?chain.
Bike About Town is presented by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, a 12,000-member nonprofit dedicated to creating safer streets and more livable communities by promoting the bicycle for everyday transportation. For more biking resources, go to www.sfbike.org.