Seven Hells of SF: The road to hell is paved with potholes

Pub date June 30, 2008
WriterMarke B.
SectionSF Blog

By Kat Renz

Rounding the peaks. All photos by Frank Chan. View more here.

“When gas is five bucks a gallon, I’m joining you!” An excellent sentiment shouted by a supportive driver on the afternoon of Saturday, June 21, from her idling car. And it was something I’d been thinking all day, that the three dozen other velophiles with whom I was riding the city’s most vertical inclines, officially dubbed “The Seven Hells of SF Bike Tour” were the badasses who’d easily contend with the realities – at least the personal transportation ones — of the fast approaching shitstorm called peak oil. Yet would the driver have expressed the same enthusiasm had she witnessed our collective past five hours – including the four blocks of Divisadero we had triumphantly climbed to the finish line at Sacramento five minutes before?

You’ll recall from high school lit class that Dante’s version of hell had nine circles, and they were cold. This unique tour’s organizers’, Dan Reider and Frank Chan, rendition had seven hills, all scorchers, exacerbated by the fact we rode midday on the tail end of the very un-San Francisco summer heat wave.


“Maybe I’m the only idiot who’s done this three times.” Chan remarked once we were relaxing back at our starting point, the daisy-dotted grass at the east end of the Panhandle (Chan was also the only one with a gigantic camera dangling from his neck, and he still roasted most of us on the hills in order to document our agonizing glory). There’s a reason why the tour’s only offered about once every two years, as that seems to be the average recovery time. Regardless of our recently burning lungs and wobbly legs, at least three-fourths of our group of 42 finished, and all were stoked. One rider said it was the most fun (Fun?! Yep, fun.) he’d had in a long time, and another dared to suggest the tour should be offered more regularly.

The torturous route

In case you can’t wait another couple years and want to try the hell ride yourself, here’s a lowdown of the route’s most prominent peaks.