SLAYING THE BAY

Making a San Francisco urban bike adventure with Hans Rey and Brett Tippie

Story by Hans “No-Way” Rey

Photos by Carmen Rey & Kyle Emery-Peck

We just concluded my fourth urban bike adventure. After Los Angeles, Napoli and Hong Kong, it was the San Francisco Bay Area that set the stage for a five-day traverse on mountain bikes and e-bikes. My partner for this NorCal adventure was Canadian freeride pioneer Brett Tippie, and we had also lined up some superstar guest appearances during the ride, taking us on some of the best trails, to iconic places and a journey through the history of mountain biking—from the beginning of our sport to its future.

For over three decades I have traveled to many remote locations, literally at the end of world, and some of those trips were planned before there was the convenience of the internet and when very little information was available. In fact, quite often nobody had ever even ridden a bike in some of the places. However, with the pandemic still in full swing, I thought it best to plan a trip nearby without travel restrictions and simple logistics. Little did I know that this would become one of the hardest trips to plan and to realize. 

Our final crew consisted of my wife, Carmen, who was one of two photographers and who also helped with many other aspects, such as script and producing. John Barrett was filming us, and Kyle Emery-Peck (aka “Cubby”) was our local photographer. Dave McLaughlin from Team Clif Bar, another person with deep roots in mountain biking, was our support crew and local fixer. 

DAY 1: PIONEER TIMES ON MT. TAM

Before the group assembled, I decided to start out on a solo ride in the bucolic town of Fairfax, which sits in the shadow of Mount Tamalpais. Known locally as “Mt. Tam,” this is the place where the sport of mountain biking was born back in the mid-’70s. Of course, that was before the bikes were even known as “mountain bikes,” as the locals instead referred the modified cruisers they rode as “klunkers”. 

“It was a lot of fun watching the kids and celebrating the transition from riding with the pioneers of our sport one day and now riding with the next generation of mountain bikers.” 

Of all the places to ride on Mt. Tam, it was the downhill fire road known as “Repack” that was the basis for the sport’s first official competition. To help me find my way, I had made arrangements to meet some of the very pioneers who originated the weekend pastime that would eventually evolve into the fat-tire sport that we all enjoy today.

But, before we all met up, I set off alone to Tamarancho where there are a number of great mountain biking singletrack trails and fire roads. While riding myself, I couldn’t help but contemplate just how much the combination of mountain bike technology, trails and the way we ride has evolved over the past 45 years. 

One of the highlights was riding the Flow trail, which is really fun and flowy with berms, rollers and jumps in a beautiful redwood forest. Sometimes I love riding alone to just soak up the nature, clear my head and forget everything else in my life. The opportunity to just be in the moment and be one with my bike, to feel the wind in my face, and listen to the sound of my tires touching the dirt as the birds chirp overhead—this is the treasure of mountain biking!

THE THREE AMIGOS

Soon enough, though, the solo tranquility was over when I was joined by Brett, along with some of the pioneers of mountain biking—Charlie Kelly, Joe Breeze and Otis Guy. These guys were all Marin County locals back in the ’70s and have contributed mightily to maintaining the sport’s history as founders/operators of the Marin Bicycle Museum and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame, a place every mountain biker should visit at some point in their lives. The museum is filled with many old and original bikes from past to present, stories, memorabilia and information.  

Making the ride even more special was that Joe and Otis were riding two of the original klunker bikes straight out of the museum. It was amazing to hear their stories and to ride this legendary dirt road with them. Amazingly, I learned that the Repack course record originally set by Gary Fisher in the ’70s had only been beaten for the first time in 2021! It seemed hard to believe, but I guess that’s what happens when you ride a bike with hardly any brakes as Gary did! 

Since all five of us have been inducted in the Hall of Fame, it was fitting to end our day at the museum. After some beers and laughs, Brett and I went to our hotel in Mill Valley to prepare for our first urban stage through San Francisco. 

DAY 2: RIVETS AND SHIPWRECKS 

We started at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge on our pedal-assist e-bikes. I rode my GT eForce and Tippie his YT Decoy, both equipped with Shimano STEPS EP8 drive units and SR SunTour suspension. A shout out to Stan’s for providing my tubeless wheels that prevented any flat tires during this adventure. 

Since we knew we would face some long stages that could empty our batteries, we carried spares on some of the days. The first thing we did that morning was cross the Golden Gate Bridge, but beforehand, I was lucky to receive a super-cool souvenir. I received an original rivet from the bridge—many of the over one million rivets used to hold the bridge together are currently being replaced. 

The Golden Gate Bridge is such an iconic landmark and spans the entrance to this incredible bay that was first discovered by Europeans 252 years ago when the Spanish Portola expedition accidentally found it. Of course, Native American Indians had lived there already for a long time before. Due to the notorious Bay Area weather and fog, the entrance to the bay was never seen by any passing ships for hundreds of years until 1769. Apparently, there are over 300 shipwrecks on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean right at the mouth of the bay, not far from where we rode our bikes on this beautiful morning. 

Since we had decided to do two city stages, once we arrived, we rode in a clockwise direction and visited places like Fort Point, the Presidio, Fisherman’s Wharf, the famous curvy Lombard Street, Embarcadero all the way to the Oakland Bay Bridge, and many ’hoods and parks in between, with some rather sweet trails and playgrounds along the way. This city offers so much diversity, views, sights and people. It was such a contrast after our first stage, I truly believe there is no better way to explore and feel this town than by bicycle. 

“While it was beautiful to see the San Francisco skyline off in the distance, truthfully, I was so tired from the ride that I wasn’t exactly looking forward to another big stage the following day.”

It goes without saying that the streets in San Francisco are filled with an amazing array of interesting characters and sights—from the iconic cable cars, Chinatown, the infamous Alcatraz prison, hippies, tourists, bike messengers, or the constant parade of 50,000 Uber/Lyft cars congesting the streets.

Seeing it all had an impact on Brett who, despite his renowned bark of a laugh, million-dollar smile and positive attitude in life, told me his story of when he’d actually hit a low point in life. Brett and I had known each other since the mid-’90s when we were both pioneering the freeride movement. However, during a dark period, he withdrew from the bike scene and lived on the streets for nearly two years before he had his incredible comeback. It showed in the emphasis he had for the many homeless on the streets of S.F.; often he would give them some dollars or an energy bar as we were passing through. 

DAY 3: ACROSS THE BAY

Our third day started across the bay on top of Mount Diablo (3849 feet) from where we were to traverse the East Bay via Oakland Hills all the way to the Oakland Bay Bridge. Once again, we chose our e-bikes, partly because we had quite some distance to cover this day. The views from the top of the peak made us overlook the entire territory of our tour on Mt. Tam to San Francisco and the mountain ranges to the south. Brett found a very steep and technical line near the top to get us started, and on the way down we enjoyed some great trails surrounded by oak tree groves and panoramic views. 

After stopping for lunch in the town of Walnut Creek, we hit some of the classic East Bay trails at Joaquin Miller Park above Oakland and traversed the Skyline until our final descent into UC Berkeley. The quality and quantity of trails have really improved over recent years. It wasn’t until it was dark that we finally arrived at the bike path that would take us across the Oakland Bay Bridge to Treasure/Yerba Buena Island, which is located in the middle of the bay. While it was beautiful to see the San Francisco skyline off in the distance, truthfully, I was so tired from the ride that I wasn’t exactly looking forward to another big stage the following day. 

DAY 4: THE FRISCO FULL-PULL

For our second urban stage we would explore the other half of the city, from Presidio, Lands End, Golden Gate Park, Twin Peaks to the Castro. We got a proper dose of San Francisco. It was amazing how many parks and green spaces there are in the city and how many people exercise everywhere. 

Some of the old fortresses and batteries proved to have some incredible lines to showcase our love for riding steeps in an urban environment. We passed Baker Beach, where the first ever Burning Man festival took place back in the mid-’80s, and we rubbed elbows with golfers, frisbee players and roller skaters as we worked our way through the three-mile-long Golden Gate Park. 

For the past 12 years I’ve had a dream to build a Flow Country trail through this park, and what a location it would be right near the birthplace of our sport! Generally speaking, mountain bikers have had many access issues in the Bay Area, and there aren’t as many trails as one would imagine.

Still, owing to the efforts of organizations such as Access 4 Bikes, SF Urban Riders, IMBA and CAMTB, the riding in the Bay Area is getting better every year, and there are now even some legal singletrack trails in the middle of the city. Both local riders and visitors should appreciate that progress has been made thanks to these dedicated organizations. 

We climbed up a trail on Mount Sutro to one of the most iconic viewpoints over the city, Twin Peaks. And, the Troop 88 trail was the latest example of a perfectly built flow trail—until I hit the ground hard at the end of it. 

After shaking off the crash, we continued to Dolores Park where we met Polo, a member of Team Se7en, which is a group of bike riding kids who can pull some fascinating combos of wheelies. We had an evening wheelie session planned at Dolores Park, Valencia Street and some of the graffiti-painted back alleys. It was a lot of fun watching the kids and celebrating the transition from riding with the pioneers of our sport one day and now riding with the next generation of mountain bikers. 

DAY 5: SCHOOLED BY THE KIDS

Early the next morning we met the newly crowned Junior Downhill world champion, World Cup overall winner, and fellow Adidas Five Ten athlete Jackson Goldstone in Pacifica, which is less than 30 minutes south of San Francisco. Some of the best trails are in the hills surrounding this coastal town. First, I was teaching them a little history lesson, because it was on top of one of these hills—Sweeney Ridge—where the Europeans first discovered the San Francisco Bay when Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola accidentally came upon it on the first ever land expedition in 1769. It took them one year to get there from Spain, via Mexico, by boat and on foot and mules up the California coast. 

Little could they have imagined at the time what this area would eventually turn into (the ports, tech industry, tourism) and that one day there would be—right below the discovery site, San Francisco International Airport, where 250 years later—flying objects that could take them back to Spain in a mere 11 hours. 

With the history lesson concluded, Jackson insisted on a detour through the local skate park before hitting the countless trails at Montara Mountain, which is located on top of the St. Andreas earthquake fault. “Planet of the Apes” is the old coastal route that now serves as a popular bike trail to access all the purpose-built singletrack. Boy Scout trail was where Jackson could show off his skills and put us old-schoolers in our place. For this day I decided to park my e-bike and roll out on the new GT Carbon Force. 

“Apparently, there are over 300 shipwrecks on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean right at the mouth of the bay, not far from where we rode our bikes on this beautiful morning.” 

Although Goldstone is still only 17 years old, he actually first made himself famous at the age of 5 when his parents posted a video of him on a balance bike that went viral. Ever since, he’s lived up to his reputation with an array of incredible skills that includes everything from pulling double backflips to World Cup racing. 

Despite our own talents, Tippie and I were pushed out of our own comfort zones more than once, which to me is one of the perks of riding with others, because you can always learn and get inspired by getting pushed by your peers. Tippie, however, still had some tricks up his sleeve and impressed everyone with a big road-gap drop. For his part, Jackson had no hesitation hitting everything the locals had built. 

No matter where in the world, it always amazes me how high the level of riding has become on local trails. I guess someone had to do it first, and little could we have imagined back in those early freeride days that it started with our videos, which were long before the internet even became popular. 

After breaking a sweat on the final climb, we got rewarded with the ultimate downhill on the Two Pines trail, which has an old-school layout filled with many switchbacks and technical sections. Far below us, a fog layer prevented the breathtaking coastal views of the Pacific Ocean, but, hey, that, too, is part of San Francisco’s charm. 

Looking back, this fifth urban adventure was especially rewarding, not only due to the diverse rides and cityscapes, but also because of the opportunity I had to ride with the actual pioneers of mountain biking and gain a better appreciation of how the sport actually began! It was an incredible week, with lots of laughs, riding and memories, and by the end of 2021, be sure to check out the film of our adventure on my YouTube channel.