SF Bridge Ride in Hail Storm

April 14, 2012

Last night SF was hit by big thunderstorm.When the rains and winds were still light, and the sun was still out, I decided to ride my newly built electric fat bike over the bridge into Marin, to my favorite bar at the base of the bridge.  I always prefer to ride my electric bike when i go out drinking in the city  because I don’t want to drink and drive, but am ok with drinking and riding since i am not risking anyone else’s safety, stay mostly off the roads, and am not faced with the same legal consequences if I got a DUI in a car. A DUI on an electric bike is the same as a DUI on a bicycle, which is just a ticket that does not affect driving record. Also riding around the bay area at night which tends to be windy and cold  on an electric bike is kind of an ordeal of an experience, and a lot of fun when you think back on it. So thinking back to my ordeal,  I rolled up on the Bar and locked the Pugsley to the rail outside the door. Rolling around on an  electric fat bike is like having a celebrity in your midst, and even when it is parked, people hover around it..even when parked outside in the freezing rain.

Here is a pic of my Surely Pugsley by the way:

It kept getting later, and the storm kept getting harder.  Lightning and thunder were in the vicinity. It started to hale big chunks from the sky.  I kept drinking pints of Guinness wishing the storm to go away.  i was dressed in water proof pants and a waterproof jacket, warm weather gear suitable for riding an ebike in the city.
Anyway when i rolled up to the marin side of the bridge i thought the storm had died down enough to make the trek into the city where i could get home to hot shower and bed….i was homesick and it is really storming this night. Also i was kind of spurring myself to do the wrong thing and do something i had never done before on my brand new adventure-inspiring fat wheeled ebike. I should have sensed the trouble when i hit the blue button at the access gate to the bikeway and the security personnel who sit in a warm office on the other side of the bridge looking at me through a video camera did not buzz me in. Then i did something i never did before, i hit the red emergency “i need help” bridge jumper button…i couldnt just stand there in the rain with my motor getting wet and frigid. The bridge patrol guy through the loud speaker said it was windy and it was hailing on the bridge. I told him look at my tires..i got snow tires for certain i will be ok. It had been hailing and i was pretty sure the worst was behind me and the ground was glazed with hail remnants that seemed a lot like little pieces of shiny ice…that in my mind was the biggest threat…slipping and falling kind of thing that is absolutely the worst thing that will happen i thought. And i did in fact have real snowtires on this bike..just look at them. The guy asked me something like did i have a place i could go…i yelled “no”. In fact i was determined..I had no place to go but home..i had already drank enough booze. The guy buzzed me and the buzzer sounded as the gate opened and suddenly i was free again ebiking across the bridge and finally heading for home but in challenging conditions . I hooted and hollered in a ebike war cry as i entered the vortex of the bridge. At first i hit full speed but had to slow down because the rain was hitting my face like needles. At mid bridge (highest point since bridge is arched) i found myself in 2 inches deep of ice from the accumulated hail and it looked like snow. The week before everyone had talked about snow possible hitting SF…and here i was in something that looked a hail of a lot like snow. Thank god i just bought this giant sand/snow bike with big fat snowbike tires. how clever i thought. This bike is only 2 weeks old..and who would have thought that the time in my life that i would really need those big awesome tires was upon me already. I thought i was going to have to wait for armegedon or the second coming and all of a sudden i was riding my snow bike through ice in treacherous life-defying slip-inspiring conditons. The bike left these giant tread marks and my treads were the sole marks on the usually busy pedestrian walkway of the golden gate bridge. I felt like singing..like what can go wrong..i got plenty of amp hours and i am dressed warm and with rain repellant gear. I thought i was on top of the world…and did i mention i was pretty high (i think about 1000 feet) and i was riding home from my favorite bar. But then these wicked winds hit me..the hardest winds i have ever felt on a bicycle… especially as i approached the towers they wanted to blow me over and blow me this way and that way. At one point i was full speed on the throttle and leaned over a little sideways and the bike was only going around 10mph (normally i would be doing 30 at full throttle) .Later i found out there was a tornado warning in SF and out in the ocean there was those tidal funnels or whatever you call them. Going around the towers this wind got really crazy and funky swirling about and slamming into me..at one point i thought i felt my front end raise (i got this giant front rack that was acting like a wing). This was night time by the way and there is this thunder, lightning, rain and hail..which i had counted on…but now there is this enormous wind that i start thinking is going to blow me off the walkway into traffic or worst yet over the bridge into stormy waters below…yikes i started to get scared but i couldnt stop…i was hooked to the thrill of being on this this adventure with this monster bike. And when you find yourself in the middle of a bridge there aint no stopping. Anyway i got to the other side of the bridge and reached to hit the blue button and before i even touched it the buzzer went off and the gate opened…the guy squaked something but i wasnt in the mind frame to comprehend..i felt my knees trembling a bit …and amazing once i got into the city the storm i felt was not near as severe.   The air felt warm, and the wind wasnt howling or blowing since i was shielded by city hills. I had a comparatively safe and quiet ride home through the streets of SF. I got home and man did that hot shower feel good..the adrenaline i felt that night had to be top 5 in my life…and im a pilot. i think that is why ebiking has replaced flying for me…ebike riding is flying. And that weird night last week i was flying alright.

That night i thought “i have to write this story down before i forget it” …I hope I never forget..that night was too surreal to ever forget without serious brain injury..but last night I wasnt really scared…i always knew my bmc powered pugsley would steer me through the storm, over the brige, across the city and back to my baby alright.

That night a photographer from his apartment window happened to snap a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge as it was being struck by lightning in 8 different points. By some miracle he got the picture right as the lightning was striking:

Eric has been involved in the electric bike industry since 2002 when he started a 6000 square foot brick and mortar Electric Bike store in downtown San Francisco. He is a true believer that small electric vehicles can change the way we operate and the way we think.


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