Surveys commissioned by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition show that the number of regular bike commuters has more than doubled in recent years. And that increase came even as a court injunction barred new bike projects in the city (see "Stationary biking," 5/16/07), a ban that likely will be lifted later this year, triggering key improvements in the city's bicycle network that will greatly improve safety.
Still not convinced? Then do the math.
Drive a car and you'll probably spend a few hundred dollars every month on insurance, gas, tolls, parking, and fines, and that's even if you already own your car outright. If you ride the bus, you'll pay $45 per month for a Fast Pass while government will pay millions more to subsidize the difference. Riding a bike is basically free.
Free? Surely there are costs associated with bicycling, right? Yeah, sure, occasionally. But in a bike-friendly city like San Francisco, there are all kinds of opportunities to keep those costs very low, certainly lower than any other transportation alternative except walking (which is also a fine option for short trips).
There are lots of inexpensive used bicycles out there. I bought three of my four bicycles at the Bike Hut at Pier 40 (www.thebikehut.com) for an average of $100 each and they've worked great for several years (my fourth bike, a suspension mountain bike, I also bought used for a few hundred bucks).
Local shops that sell used bikes include Fresh Air Bicycles, (1943 Divisidero, www.fabsf.com) Refried Cycles (3804 17th St., www.refriedcycles,com/bicycles.htm), Karim Cycle (2800 Telegraph., Berkeley, www.teamkarim.com/bikes/used/) and Re-Cycles Bicycles (3120 Sacramento, Berkeley, www.recyclesbicycles.com). Blazing Saddles (1095 Columbus, www.blazingsaddles.com) sells used rental bikes for reasonable prices. Craigslist always has listings for dozens of used bikes of all styles and prices. And these days, you can even buy a new bike for a few hundred bucks. Sure, they're often made in China with cheap parts, but they'll work just fine.
Bikes are simple yet effective machines with a limited number of moving parts, so it's easy to learn to fix them yourself and cut out even the minimal maintenance costs associated with cycling. I spent $100 for two four-hour classes at Freewheel Bike Shop (1920 Hayes and 914 Valencia, www.thefreewheel.com) that taught me everything I need to know about bike maintenance and includes a six-month membership that lets me use its facilities, tools, and the expertise of its mechanics. My bikes are all running smoother than ever on new ball bearings that cost me two bucks per wheel, but they were plenty functional even before.
There are also ways to get bike skills for free. Sports Basement (www.sportsbasement.com) offers free bicycle maintenance classes at both its San Francisco locations the first Tuesday of every month from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Or you can turn to the Internet, where YouTube has a variety of bike repair videos and Web sites such as www.howtofixbikes.com can lead you through repairs.
The nonprofit The Bike Kitchen (1256 Mission, www.thebikekitchen.org) on Mission Street offers great deals to people who spend $40 per year for a membership.