This Sunday I was able to scratch another line off my list of things to do, and completed another one of my goals I’ve had since living in San Francisco.
Since I moved to the city about four or so years ago, I’ve often gazed up at the green hills from the freeways, and poured over them on Google maps. With all the green I was seeing there, some of it had to be ridable. Some of it I know; I’ve searched out almost every corner in Golden Gate Park, and ridden around in Bernal Park. Wandered the hills of the Presidio. One of these days I thought, I’d ride it all, and see all that San Franciso had to offer; most likely via motorcycle.
That was until I got wind of this event the boys from the Soil Saloon were putting on. The Soil Saloon is known for holding underground outlaw bike races on throughout the city of San Francsico. This was to be their most ambitious effort to date. They called it the SF Flow. I had no idea what Dayton was refering to, so I keyed in the Soil Saloon URL, and received the answer I was looking for. The SF Flow was a ride loosely defined as a race: 30 miles all over San Francisco, linking up all the legal sections of dirt on all the mountains the city had to offer.
This was perfect, and exactly what I’ve wanted to do for quite some time.
I emailed a few friends about it, and we posted a note on ihatebikes.net. It was game on, but it’s always way more fun to do this kind of thing with a group of like-minded friends. At this point the hardest part was picking out a bike from the quiver: was this a ride for the single speed hardtail, or the all mountain bike? After a few emails back and forth, and referring to Dayton, who actually had ridden the course the weekend previous, I was convinced that riding a rigid single speed would have been the less than fun way to go. Riding a bike with gears much more appropriate. Somehow the guys decided it would be much more manly to do the ride on big bikes. That’s right, they all wanted to ride their downhill bikes for this one. Being of an equal mind, I reluctantly agreed. It would be pretty funny to line up at the start with all those dudes on their road bikes with knobby tires. They might be the fastest ones to the finish line, but they would look pretty lame carrying their bikes anytime the dirt became challenging. And since we’ll all about the love for the downhill part of the ride, we were planning to have a lot more fun. And since that is what we’re all about, that was the plan. (Plan: hills, heavy bike, pain and pride)
Unfortunately, after reinstalling my 1.5″ Totem fork on my Specialized Demo 7 Freeride/ DH rig, and pounding it down the hills of Pacifica on Friday, I found my oversized 1.5″ Chris King headset with issues as it wouldn’t stay tight. After calling King and discussing my woes with a rep, and having some parts sent out, I realized my DH bike was out of the picture for a few more days. That left my new Intense Tracer all mountain bike.
Of course the all-mountain bike, as the official Swiss army knife of the off-road world, was the perfect tool for the job. And so we departed on that Sunday, not so bright, and not so early. We made our way up the Wiggle towards the start in Golden Gate Park. Sadly Inga and I were both feeling quite under the weather- the night previous was spent downing Bombay and Tonics, as well as various other cocktails, while enjoying her friend Danielle’s incredible appetizers. While we were feeling it, a hangover is never an excuse to punk out; the MTB world is well known for over-indulging and performing in a lack luster fashion the next day, and we were going to be no different! As we made our way to the start, we were presented by the sight of dozens of cyclists making their way through the wooded trails. We had missed the start. Moving off to the side, we watched the procession go by, waving to familiar faces until we saw the SF Dirt Lab regulars Mitch, Matt, and Jesse ride by. Mitch and Jesse had indeed “manned up” and were aside their over kill rigs, an Intense Socom (Mitch) and a Santa Cruz VP Free(Jesse). I mumbled something about my nagging headset issue while we joined the peleton and got on our way through the city.
We quickly passed through GG park, and made our way through town and onto the next section where one by one, we dismounted, and began the hike-a-bike up a long flight of stairs. -Lots of stairs. I’m ashamed to say I was not missing my downhill bike one bit. The stairs were followed by a climb up a rather harsh concrete grade. I stopped for a few minutes and waited for Inga, as she was struggling with her hangover. At this point though, we had lost touch with our group, and it was time to play catch up. Climbing up the road to the trail, and we made our way up Mt. Sutro to the first check point. Quickly slamming some food, we managed to begin the descent before any of the ‘cross bikes could, and avoided being trapped behind a much slower descender. The trails were actually full suspension worthy, and the descent was such that a smile quickly formed on both our faces.
There was a very wide range of skill levels as well as bikes chosen for the days ride. Cyclecross bikes, while popular with previous Soil Saloon gatherings, were woefully under suspended, and while they obviously made fast work of the paved sections, ended up simply being traffic on all the single track descents. (see the video at the end of the article for footage of the various blunders and crashes) Regardless of the skill level, everyone we saw appeared to be having a ball. Except for us, when we were caught behind someone descending painfully slow.
At this point it was clear that most participates had no idea of the terrain we would actually encounter. This a harsh contrast from the dusty and loose fire roads of Golden Gate Park, and the CX events that were held there. This stuff was actually fun as well as challenging, and we were aside the perfect tools; our all mountain steeds lived up to their names today. After making our way down from the top of another mountain park, we regrouped and attempted to determine the next direction to travel. At this point, riders had already spread throughout San Francisco, and were riding their hearts out while seeking out the next spray-painted blue arrow on the pavement. Taking yet another food break, and after becoming frustrated with the extremely slow load times of my iPhone, we waited for a group more wisely prepared with a map to catch up, and tailed them. The group quickly grew, as we encountered a number of similarly confused riders.
We followed this group until the way again became obvious, and when the ‘Cross bikes skipped out on the next dirt section, followed the blue arrows up the trail to the top of Twin Peaks. Dirt trail led to a road crossing, which again led to dirt, until we reached the top.
The best part was next; the ride back down. Over and over I marveled at the fun we were having, while enjoying the view of our city. On our way to up the hill to Mt Davidson, I spotted the SF Dirt Lab crew coming down. Quckly doing an abrupt u-turn, we followed them back down the hill, and to our next unofficial check point, the grocery store. After refreshments (Tecate and juice) were procured, we were back under way in earnest.
And so the rest of the afternoon went.
At various points we would come to check points where a task or challenge awaited. In the above image, Mitch attempts to hit a plastic dinosaur with a sling shot. A few of us came quite close.
There were many times when it was hard to believe we were still in San Francisco city limits, until the view opened up, and we were presented with incredible panoramas of our city.
From time to time, although the group generally knew the direction to head next, we did refer to a map, as at one point we stopped off to check out trail features like the jumps we found in Mclaren Park.
When we finally made it to the final check point in Bernal Park and began the final climb, it was a happy sight to behold.
After the final ascent, we finally wrapped up our day with a descent from Bernal Park to the after party. Beer was flowing, and hamburgers were on the grill. It was a great way to end a fun day exploring the hills of SF. The Soil Saloon crew had planned for about 100 riders, but apparently they ran out of number plates and supplies after rider 140, and lost count. As for how many finished, it was hard to say, but the energy was high, and everyone appeared to have had an incredible time.
Parks ridden: Golden Gate Park / Mt. Sutro / Mt. Davidson / Glen Park Canyon / San Bruno / Mclaren Park / Bernal Park
Underground bike racing is alive and well in the Bay Area.
Keep up on future Soil Saloon events here: SoilSaloon.com