The bikes of San Francisco

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I’ve been up to SF plenty of times, but I’ve never just spent a day walking around the city. What did I see when I did just that this past weekend? Lots and lots of people using motorcycles and scooters as everyday transportation. Beat to shit scooters, Harleys, at least one SR500 cafe racer and plenty of old Japanese sportsbikes could be seen parked in the motorcycle-only parking, on sidewalks and splitting through traffic pretty much everywhere I looked. Riders were wearing gear. They were riding competently in traffic. In San Francisco, unlike any other American city, motorcycling is simply a daily way of life for a broad cross section of city dwellers. Here’s what my camera saw.

  • Devin

    I get a couple “Fatal Errors” on that photo gallery.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Looks fine to me. If this is a persistent problem, please email info@ with your OS and browser info.

      • Von Scotch

        Fatal Error here to. Bog standard old XP machine with firefox. Nothing esoteric, usualy works fine.

        • Devin

          Fine at home. My work machine runs Windows 7 and Internet Explorer. It worked fine previously, but I haven’t pulled up a photo gallery in a bit.

        • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1100]

           
          Fatal error: theme not found

          Happens consistently whenever you try to open the gallery page the first time, and apparently, the gallery plug-in can’t find its theme. (WordPress itself is rendering the container page correctly, but the plug-in isn’t loading/displaying.)

          The second time you try to load the gallery page, the plug-in works. Subsequent attempts work too…

          …until you empty your cache and try to load the gallery page again. Then the same error appears.

          Seems to be browser/OS independent.

          • pplassm

            I get the same thing, but only at work behind a firewall.

    • T Diver

      I get that too. It has happen for a while. I’m at work but will email you when home. (I’m such a good employee!!)

      • http://www.pedalgents.com holdingfast

        speaking of photogalleries, i miss the old photogallery where you clicked on the image to enlarge and then click on the images again to get to the next photo..

        • http://lightsoutknivesout.tumblr.com/ Scott Pargett

          +1

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          Well you guys were asking for it to display full-size images and this was the solution.

        • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben Incarnate

          The old style was slick. The new style is functional.

          Give me function first.

  • David

    I was in San Francisco for the first time last month for the 4th of July long weekend and this was by far the thing that surprised me the most.

    I’m from Vancouver, a city that I feel is deceptively similar to San Francisco in many ways but the very prominent love for motorcycles in SF made me consider moving.

    • Thom

      David ; Having spent some serious time in both Cities I’d chose Vancouver hands down over the two . Between the Bay being right there . mountains a short drive away , wilderness right in the city limits ( interior of Stanley Park) … well no contest . Toss in some of the best seafood in NA , chefs to rival anywhere in the World and then damn … the fantastic weather and its a no brainer .

      Fact is Dave , Vancouver is my #1 city in NA . This from an ex New Yorker

      • http://cynic13th.livejournal.com/ cynic

        I’ll take SF… It snows up there in Vancouver… Cuts into my riding.

        • Trevor

          Let’s not bullshit. It snows maybe 4 days max in Van. The rain however is a different story. I’m not sure what SF has for rain in comparison but this year we got rained on hard.

          • http://www.ninja250blog.com R.Sallee (Ninja 250)

            It rains a lot in SF, but rarely a heavy rain. More of a “the clouds got tired of floating” drizzle-mist.

            • Thom

              Still …. SF is a great city but Vancouver …………….. Well the views alone are unmatched , the weather from my experience is no worse ( I love snow by the way ) and damn ……….. anything you could want either out your back door or an hour or two away . Cost of living is better than SF as well .

              Add in that NW attitude ( with a CDN flair ) and I’ll hold to my guns on this . Vancouver . #1 City in NA .

              #2 NYC
              #3 Seattle
              #4 San Francisco
              #5 Montreal

              At least for my taste

              • Sean Smith

                I’m picking up the common theme of freezing your ass off ;)

  • Kirill

    I love that purple-rimmed FZR!

    I think bikes-as-transport would be more common in LA if there was more bike-friendly parking. Best approach I’ve found is taking up the empty space between cars at meter spots, which is handy if I’m going out to Hollywood or downtown and don’t wan to pay out the ass for a spot in a lot but not always possible.

    • http://www.twitter.com/wessilerfanclub the (unfortunate) roomate

      and if the roads were even somewhat flat. riding around hollywood is terrible between the potholes and weird bumps and ridges in the pavement.

      • Kirill

        I consider it an adventure. Haven’t been eaten by a pothole…yet.

      • Sean Smith

        Use the throttle to lift the front end out of potholes and stand up to avoid hurting your back.

        • http://www.twitter.com/wessilerfanclub the (unfortunate) roomate

          gee, thanks. wasn’t sure how all that worked.

          its not being eaten by potholes or my back that scare me as much as the ridges that push my pike into the cars im riding between. that section of the 101 by the police station is gnarly.

      • http://www.cdavisdesigns.com Chris Davis

        The roads of SF are not what you’d call flat.

      • http://www.ninja250blog.com R.Sallee (Ninja 250)

        In a battle over worse roads, I think SF beats LA.

        • http://www.twitter.com/wessilerfanclub the (unfortunate) roomate

          Where above did this get turned into a battle between SF an LA?

          • Kirill

            That always happens when either city is brought up. Its like a sibling rivalry.

    • pplassm

      Get a dual sport? DRZ400 makes potholes fun!

      • thejosh

        try NYC on a DR650 supermoto if you want some serious urban enduro riding. Commuting here is probably on par with the west coast plus you can change to your knobbies to play in the snow during the winter!

    • Thom

      I think the reason there are more M/C’s in San Francisco lies in the difference of the imbedded cultures of the two Cities ;

      LA has always been the HyperAmerican Hot Rod , Led Sleds , Cadillac Convertibles on Hollywood Blvd , Exotic European Sports/Luxury Cars on Rodeo Drive etc. e.g. LA has always been about cars .

      Whereas San Francisco has maintained a more EuroCentric mentality , what with Street Cars , Bicycles , Walking ( God forbid you walk anywhere in LA ) e.g. San Francisco has always had the more diverse modes of transport , including M/C’s .

      Thats my opinion at least .

      • kidchampion

        Cooler temperatures probably make a huge difference. It’s no fun wearing gear in 100 degree heat. I write this from Raleigh, NC. Rated the 3rd hottest city in the US this summer.

    • http://krtong.com KR Tong

      San Francisco doesn’t have that much motorcycle parking. Maybe in the financial district where they dont want you parking on the sidewalk. The rest of sf has only a little, usually between driveways that’re too small for a car, but not much. Car parking is such a problem in the city that the city has allowed motorcycles to park on the sidewalk, which we do. It’s the only city in CA that allows this, as far as I know.

      • Surj

        I live and work in SF – there’s tons of moto parking. Check out http://purplemoments.com/sfparking/index.html

        As for the city “allowing” parking on the sidewalks, that’s news to me. It’s tolerated in some neighborhoods, but it’s illegal and I know of lots of folks getting ticketed for it.

      • http://www.ninja250blog.com R.Sallee (Ninja 250)

        If you’re getting away with parking on the sidewalk, you’re lucky. It’s certainly not officially sanctioned.

        There’s not a ton of designated moto parking, especially on the west side of the city, but it’s still much easier to find a spot for a bike than to find space for a car. Parking between cars is a bad idea. Small curbs too small for cars are perfect.

        And comprehensive insurance.

        • http://krtong.com KR Tong

          Been “getting away with it” for seven years. If we’re talking in what neighborhoods, that would be hayes, haight, mission, west portal, and the tendernob.

          • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1100]

            The Richmond & Inner Richmond too. Sidewalks are very wide and a motorcycle barely impacts the foot and stroller traffic.

            And yeah, the financial district and North Beach seem to have the most metered motorcycle parking spots.

    • http://pinkyracer.com pinkyracer

      be careful doing that, I’ve gotten a red zone ticket for parking in one of those dumb little red zones between spaces. I pretty much avoid parking on the street whenever possible.

  • http://www.muthalovin.com the_doctor

    Artsy. I love that R1 LE.

  • Thom

    Love the Moped Marauder thing . So I guess that trend is elsewhere in the country and not KC specific

    • http://krtong.com KR Tong

      There used to be articles written about mock motorcycle gangs rolling 100 deep on mopeds in san francisco. You should check out 1977 mopeds.

      • Steven

        who are you calling mock? we’ll fuck you up.

        with snuggles, fuckface.

        • http://krtong.com KR Tong

          Yeah. That.

          • Thom

            Sheesh ! Wanna Be choppers Race Replicas , Cafe Racers and Attitude as well !

            Give it a break Steven . If the Moped Marauders in SF are anything like the crew in KC …… well kicking a Metrosexual 20 somethings ass isn’t even entertaining .

            But…… I still dig the way they modify the Hell out of a basic Moped ( as basic a motorized 2 wheeled vehicle as you can get ) turning them into rolling pieces of functional art .

            I get a kick out of their simulated Biker Gang rides they organize as well .

            An article needs to be done on this re emerging trend

            • Steven

              you’re tough; you fight; you win; so what?

  • Roman

    Reminds me of a recent trip to Spain. Except the bikes are bigger…

  • JonB

    Awesome.

  • wascostreet

    The pic with the green Bertone X1/9 — was that up on Skyline or in the city? I had one of those in high school and would race the sportbikers (downhill) coming down the Ortega highway into Elsinore. Fun, when it ran…

    • Sean Smith

      That was up on Skyline.

  • pplassm

    A bike friendly environment, and mild summer weather make all the difference in the world. Try finding a motorcycle only parking space around here! And the summers are really sweltering.

  • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

    Good to hear, the ninja will make it there on the 14th, then I won’t own a car for at least 3 years!

    FWIW, Boston may be the least two-wheel friendly city in the country.

    • http://twitter.com/metabomber Jesse

      True that.

    • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1100]

      Maybe for motorcycles, but LA is FAR worse for bicycles than Boston, if we’re talking about those two-wheelers too. I’d say Boston has gone from being THE WORST bicycling city in the US (even Bicycling mag and various courier associations agreed) to being one of best in the past few years.

      I’d even venture to say that Boston is a better bicycling city than SF.

      (…having lived/worked and commuted daily by bicycle in Boston, SF, LA, NYC, London, Amsterdam.)

      • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

        Boston has made leaps and bounds for our human-powered bretheran. There’s even been talk of installing curb-seperated bike lanes. God bless Mumbles. Cambridge is way more motorcycle friendly than Boston, but its smaller, so that’s natural.

  • Justin

    Hey, I recognize that Hurricane! That bike gets around the bay, see it in Berkeley and Oakland pretty frequently. Berkeley and Oakland are about as bike friendly. The motorcycle and bicycle culture here are one of my favorite things about being in the Bay Area.

    • dux

      My ‘cane has the same foibles – rashy fairings (which I threw away – it looks better as a semi-nude), broken right-hand side panel (recently fixed), and no bar-ends (the weights break off leaving no room for aftermarkets to fit).

      But the seat is still quite comfortable!

      • Justin

        That’s your cane? Sure looks better than my CBR 600F2. No fairings, dented tank. Actually it’s in pieces in the backyard of my last apartment and I’m waiting on some forks and front rotors to get it on the street again.

        • dux

          The one in the pics is very similar to mine, but I live in Australia. Apparently cbr f four forks fit with a few modifications.

  • http://greatjoballweek.blogspot.com/ Case

    Enjoyed that photo series very much. Riding in the city is no joke. I’ve never done it, but I don’t think I’d want to on a sportbike, especially not in the wet. I’d rather scooter or UJM, given a choice.

    • http://worldof2.com/ jpenney

      Dual sport. Seriously the best urban option. My BMW G650GS was much easier in city traffic than my Street Triple. I’ve not been on a DRZ400 … but those look like a blast.

      • http://www.karinajean.com karinajean

        they are a blast. I have the SM and it’s awesome on urban streets. nimble and with a nice suspension and lots of clearance, plus, you can stand on the pegs to go through potholes.

      • pplassm
    • http://www.twitter.com/wessilerfanclub the (unfortunate) roomate

      agreed. those rail and trolley tracks get suuuuuper slippery when theyre wet….which is often.

    • Justin

      Problem is that dual sports don’t lane split for shit, bars are too wide and just at mirror level, also are a little twichy with that huge front wheel and are slow enough to get in trouble with fast cars driven by cranky SF drivers. Sport bikes just brake, accelerate and lane split so much better that I’m always happier to be on one in the city. Also, the wind makes it a PITA to cross the bridge on one of those tall sails. To each his own though, just my 2 cents.

  • http://www.ninja250blog.com R.Sallee (Ninja 250)

    Rain or shine, bitches.

    Sean, which roads did you hit on your way to Alice’s?

    • Sean Smith

      All the fastest and most boring ones. I was in a 2001 Ford Explorer with a V6 and 5 year old all-season tires. ;)

  • http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=305107 stickfigure

    The downside of living in San Francisco is that it’s an hour of slab to get anywhere interesting to ride. More if you like dirt.

    Yeah, you can go north across the bridge and find a handful of nice roads. You can find another handful on the Peninsula. You can ride them all in a weekend… along with every other rider in the Bay Area.

    I envy the riding opportunities north and east of LA.

    • http://www.ninja250blog.com R.Sallee (Ninja 250)

      Santa Cruz mountains are 40 minutes of coastal Highway 1 away. North beauties are about the same, opposite direction.

    • Roman

      Did I just see a Cali rider complain about roads? FU man!! Sincerely, every east coast rider alive.

      • NitroPye

        Ya seriously. I’m a MA transplant in the bay and get to ride daily on some of the best roads I’ve ever seen.

        9? Skyline? Just scratching the surface.

        • http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=305107 stickfigure

          You’ll get over this after your third month here.

    • http://krtong.com KR Tong

      If you want to ride dirt you should try out for that club in Novato. Its a 3 year waiting list but their park is f’ing HUGE.

    • Thom

      @stickfigure

      You sure you live there ? Hell head due west from the airport and within a mile or two you’re crossing over the spine headed straight for Highway one .

      Jeeze I’ve just spent some time there and I know that route .

    • http://cynic13th.livejournal.com/ cynic

      Go north to the Panoramic Hwy… it’s 30 minutes MAX if you don’t lane split and are in traffic.

    • http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=305107 stickfigure

      Ok, I’m a whiny spoiled Californian but it’s still true. I’ve spent the last 10 years compulsively exploring every nook and cranny between Marshall and Monterey. There are good rides, but there aren’t enough of them, and the ones that are close (1, 35) are full of cars, squid ink, and – on a bad day – cops. The 9 is traffic hell most hours of the day.

      And there’s NO DIRT.*

      We have an ocean on one side, the San Joaquin Valley on the other (flat), and a huge urban sprawl in between. This compares unfavorably with LA – 1.5 hours and you’re in freaking Mojave. Or San Luis Obispo (where I learned to ride – sadly, not on a dualsport) which is surrounded with twisty mountain roads.

      If you like riding the same routes over and over again, sure you can have fun in SF. But this isn’t a riding Mecca, especially when you have to fight your way out of city traffic every time.

      * Buzzard Lagoon and Madonna are too short to count

      • http://pinkyracer.com pinkyracer

        “fight your way out of city traffic”

        hahahahaahahahahahaaaa! Having lived in SF, LA & NYC (among others) that’s really funny. Try fighting your way into or out of NYC and to a halfway decent road on any Sunday. Do it once, just to know how great you have it. Although, of course, LA is far superior to SF, I agree so wholeheartedly I’ve moved back here 3 times.

  • Benjamin

    I live in San Francisco and ride a custom SR500 I’ve built myself and recently took it 1700 miles to Baja and back(not the one pictured). There’s a lot of riders and a absolute ton of variety in this city. Best of all, everyone I’ve met rides and loves the hell out of what they got. That’s the thing I love, not a lot of trailer queens or part time riders. I see a lot of these bikes moving around town every day, rain or shine (which can be the same day in SF). It helps keep you motivated to ride more and wrench more.

    • Sean Smith

      What freaked me out more than anything were all the harley guys out riding their bikes to work, to lunch, to whatever. I’d never seen people actually use harleys as transportation before.

      • JonB

        Bay Harleys and their riders are often pretty cool. I sometimes get into a “I want a Harley” thing because of it.

      • Dumptruckfoxtrot

        There’s a 365 day rider in Bellingham, Wa that has a Sportster with an egg crate on the back. It’s the most beautiful Harley in town.

  • Adam

    That’s no delivery sled of an SR500. It looks like it’s got a Deus Ex Machina tank on it at the least… The guy probably has iPhone 7 in his back pocket. Ah, SF.

    • Sean Smith

      Ha, “at the least.” I love how some guys freak out over one-off or hard to find parts like that. All I see is a hipster-fied stock SR500.

      • Adam

        Come on, Deus makes some pretty nice stuff. I just moved from Williamsburg Brooklyn “ground zero for posers” to the OC. I’ve had quite enough of those dick heads too. If they could hang their rusted out CB350s with “clubman” fake clip-ons off their little feathered necklaces they would. But I’ll take a sissy on a “cafe racer” any day, over the stretched Big Dog uber-cocks that patrol the PCH down here. For real, it’s like 1998 forever.

  • Adrian

    Very refreshing to see. Ain’t it?

  • http://krtong.com KR Tong

    I love how this article comes out the day i was thinking about not renewing my subscription. SF’s my town so I gotta represent. Also Wes and Grant, you guys are pretty well known around here, in all the shops etc.

    My daily is a stock CB900C, which the township loves so its a fun bike to ride. If you’re wondering why we’re so bike-centric, I think you gotta look at the current state of car ownership in the city. It sucks. There’s no parking, and the city makes a killing on street cleaning days to the point that they send three or four of those meter-maid tricycles leapfrogging one another as they pull over to write up tickets. $50 a pop right there, so nobody, and I mean nobody owns a car if they don’t absolutely have to. I used to have one so I could take my bicycles to the trails but now I just ride to them.

    We have so many bikes on the road that cars are very aware of bikers and will always move out of the way for you (except for tourists), and definitely nobody ever challenges motorcyclists. Traffic here is by far the kindest and most respectful of any city i’ve ever ridden in. (There may also be a correlation between respect and the number of banged-up side mirrors you see.) Cops are pretty laid back, and although they dont respect hoonery, the most they’ve ever done is honk and let us learn the hard way.

    Also im surprised you didn’t spot more CB’s. Maybe because all those pictures look like you were in the financial dist. You should’ve gone to the mission, haight, hayes, etc. where you would’ve seen ten CB’s and 3 bonnevilles parked on every block. I know you guys did an article about charlie’s place a while back.

  • Steven

    The best thing about San Francisco is that when you take a babe on a motorcycle date, she’s not sitting on your passenger seat.

    • http://pinkyracer.com pinkyracer

      hear, hear! AND she doesn’t constantly hear “wow, a girl on a bike?!? you sure you know how to handle that thing? that’s a mighty big bike for you, missy…”

  • Denzel

    I always appreciated the random Ducatis that populate North Beach, owned by loyal great grandsons of Italy…

  • JonB

    Damn how many HFL subbers are from the bay area?

    • Lili

      A bunch…

  • Duncan

    Plenty I bet ;)

  • Edward

    Looks like a cool place. How far is it from Laguna Seca or Infineon?

    Also, what are those lanyard things some people have going from the throttle’s to the brake disc? some kind of immobilizer?

    • Ken

      Its a disc lock with a reminder attached to the throttle

    • http://krtong.com KR Tong

      Infineon’s an hour, Laguna Seca’s 2.5

  • Andre

    its just the ” reminder” lanyard so when you are in rush you dont ride off with the disc lock still on…it happens, trust me
    ;-)

    • Ken

      Oops, yeah what he said. +1 to it happens.

      • pplassm

        Me three.

  • TheZakken

    Were you here on a Sunday? From the looks of it, that was a low bike day here in SF. Downtown on a weekday is bike madness! We still have motorcycle messengers in this town too. Those dudes are crazy

  • Brian

    Thank god there ain’t much Hurrleys there, if the pictures are indicative.

  • http://www.faster-faster.com fasterfaster

    One of the many reasons I love my town – you’ll find every genre of bike this planet has to offer, and if you head up to Alice’s they all get along with each other.

    Word to the wise as a daily SF moto commuter though – ride a bike without a shiny side. The drivers are friendly to motos, but totally oblivious. No one tries to merge into or park on top of your ride, they just didn’t see you there because they were busy texting, looking for a new vegan BBQ joint, or thinking about social media, the singularity, and comicon. They’re also still confused by white lines in the road. What the fuck are those supposed to mean?

    • Sean Smith

      “the singularity”

      Terrance McKenna reference?

      • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

        I think Kurtzweil.

  • miguel

    Just beautiful to see a city full of bikes of any kind and people enjoying the ride! motorcycling spirit at its best!!! and a refreshing picture gallery to enjoy! great job H4L!

  • http://pinkyracer.com pinkyracer

    gorgeous pics! Growing up in the ‘burbs there I never felt like riding was a “guy thing”. I went for a ride with a friend, knew I had to have one, worked my parents over till the relented, then rode. Daily. The most fun anyone ever paid me to have was working as a moto messenger in SF shortly before fax machines killed the biz. So many fond memories of the level of Hooliganism we could get away with there. Though I don’t miss living in SF, I sure do wish LA was as generous with moto parking as SF is.

  • http://www.tripleclamp.net Sasha Pave

    Thanks for the pics! I love this town and find it to have a collection of the most eccentric and diverse motorcycles anywhere in the world.

    Like in the photos, you’ll find a Creatures of the Night moped parked next to a KTM 950 SE with a 9 gallon tank. Walk down a bit and there’s a Norton and then a R1. It’s endless, and there’s no rhyme or reason.

    Plus we can ride all year and cops generally don’t care if you have no license plate or slicks. Gotta love it!