6 Tips for New Bike Commuters in San Francisco
More people in the San Francisco Bay Area are finding that it’s easier and faster to commute by bicycle than by car. The good news is that local leaders have recognized the popularity and have started adding infrastructure that makes it easier to make more trips on two wheels.
In 2021, the San Francisco added or upgraded 17.7 bikeway miles, and the Slow Streets program created 33.8 miles of low-stress, bicycle and pedestrian priority corridors on select residential streets. Bikeshare locations and more bicycle parking options are also popping up all around the city to make it easier for people of all walks of life to embrace cycling.
Even so, committing to becoming a bicycle commuter can be intimidating. There’s a lot to factor in and think about, like how to plan a great route, where to find resources and unexpected threats on the road.
If you’re a new commuter, keep these tips in mind before you hit the road.
One: Plan Your Route in Advance
The notoriously hilly landscape in and around San Francisco is one of the most challenging parts of commuting, especially if you’re not used to it yet. Fortunately, there are all kinds of mapping apps that can help you create a route that’s best for you and avoid steep inclines.
Planning your commute in advance can also help you to know whether there are bike lanes, busy intersections or road construction. Choosing a route with built-in infrastructure, like a protected bike lane, is especially good for new commuters because it allows extra room for cyclists on the roadway away from busy traffic. As those who bicycle San Francisco regularly know, “The Wiggle” will save you from treacherous hills if you’re heading from downtown westward.
Make sure to check whether riding on the sidewalk is allowed where you are. In San Francisco, it’s law that cyclists over the age of 13 cannot ride on the sidewalk. In Oakland, however, it’s all about the bike you’re riding: Wheels greater than 20 inches and frames larger than 14 inches are not allowed on sidewalks.
Two: Combine Your Commute With Transit
A bicycle will pretty much get you anywhere you need to go in San Francisco, but combining transit with your riding will take you even further throughout the Bay Area.
All San Francisco Muni buses have two front-mounted bike racks that are easily accessible to cyclists.
With BART, you can take your bike with you all over the Bay Area, from north San Jose, to Richmond, Millbrae, and Antioch. Bikes are allowed in train cars, but there are some rules to follow:
- During non-commute hours, bikes are allowed on all trains except the first car or any crowded car.
- During commute hours (7:00 to 9:00 a.m. and 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., weekdays), bikes are not allowed in the first three cars of any train.
- Folded bikes are allowed in all cars at all times.
- Regardless of any other rule, bikes are never allowed on crowded cars.
- Bicycles are not allowed on escalators.
Cyclists can also bring bikes on Caltrain cars, but may be “bumped” or denied boarding when it’s busy.
Three: Be Cautious of Rainy Weather
One of the best things about commuting by bike in the Bay Area is that the weather is great for it, but for new riders rain can present extra challenges. Wet roads — which can be extra slick if there’s a lot of oil build up from cars — may be harder to navigate in darker and dreary weather.
Always check the weather and pack necessary supplies, like a raincoat and make sure your bike’s lights and brakes are working properly. Cloudy weather during the day can present enough dimness to put you in danger among distracted drivers.
Four: Beware of Bike Thieves
Bike thefts are a major problem in San Francisco — local police say more bicycles are stolen than iPhones each year — so it’s just as important to have a plan for parking as it is for your commute.
If you’re riding to an office, local law now allows you to take your bike into the office. If you’re riding somewhere other than work, check ahead of time to see what your options are. Bike thieves have become masters of bypassing bike locks, but if you can’t store your bike in a private area, it’s a good idea to invest in a good lock.
Law enforcement reports that nearly half of the reported thefts take place downtown: including around Union Square, the Tenderloin, Civic Center, Market Street, South of Market and along the Embarcadero.
Remember to record your serial number so that if your bike is stolen and recovered by police, you can easily claim it. Registering your bike with safebikes.org, a program between San Francisco police and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, is also a good idea. You’ll have to provide the make, model and serial number along with a complete description of the bike, photos and a receipt.
Five: Watch for Doors
As Oakland bicycle lawyers, we get calls about cyclists being doored nearly every week. Being doored — when a driver opens a car door into a cyclist — can lead to serious injury. A fractured collar bone is among the most common bicycle accident injuries caused by doorings.
You may be more likely to encounter a distracted driver opening their car door into your path on streets where there isn’t any bike infrastructure and cyclists are forced to ride closer to parked cars, but it can also happen in an unprotected bike lane.
Although it is 100% the responsibility of anyone opening a door to check first for cyclists, since you can’t control the actions of others, there are some things you can do as a cyclist to reduce the risk of doorings. In unprotected bike lanes, ride in the lane as far away from parked cars as you are able to.
“On streets with sharrows (share the road arrows) ride through the center of the arrow. Sharrows are placed outside of the door zone, so if you ride through the middle, you’ll stay clear of swinging doors,” the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition explains.
Six: Join a Community
The Bay Area is a great place to find a community of cyclists. Whether you’re looking for classes for beginners or an after-work group ride, there’s plenty to choose from for every skill level.
These groups can help you feel more confident on the road, teach you skills (like bike maintenance) and give great advice on trails and routes around the region.