Bike Every ’Hood With Peter Curley
By Miles B. Cooper
Sometimes adventure lies right outside your front door. A little over a year ago, San Francisco cyclist and history enthusiast Peter Curley started what he calls his #BikeEveryHood project. Using Google’s 119 neighborhood designations for the city, he has completed riding every road in 41 of the 119 neighborhoods as of this writing. Peter, who grew up in rural Ireland, spent his childhood biking and playing around ruins. This translated to a deep-seated interest in bikes and history. Peter says, “Riding, walking, exploring — it is all just about stimulation. If you took away the visual, the experiential component, it would not be the same.”
A Strava heatmap shows Peter’s current progress.
That experiential component has continued during Peter’s 27 years as a San Francisco resident. “It’s an amazing city,” Peter states. “When I first started here, I would go walking every day during lunch with a friend, exploring the streets and alleyways.” That this interest would become two-wheeled seemed preordained. Peter rode 200-mile rides known as double centuries and eventually stumbled upon randonneuring, an eccentric bicyclist subculture. Randonneurs ride 200 kilometers or more, without support, passing through checkpoints, completing the ride within a specified time. The mothership event is Paris-Brest-Paris, a 1,200-kilometer event held every four years, which Peter completed in 2019.
Lots of mileage and experience with randonneuring’s rulebound riding led Peter to developing the #BikeEveryHood project. His rule is simple but consequential: he must leave from the front door and return to the front door of his family’s Nob Hill residence. For Treasure Island, a part of San Francisco which remains bikelocked from the city because bicycles are forbidden on the Bay Bridge’s western span, that meant biking all the way around the bay via the Golden Gate Bridge, San Rafael Bridge, and eastern span of the Bay Bridge. And then back again once done, over 106 miles at the end of the day. Along with the door-to-door rule is a healthy guideline: Peter, who has an affinity for dive bars, knows that a neighborhood with a good dive bar requires a hydration stop. He has watched with sadness as San Francisco’s fractal inequality has shuttered longtime dive bars that can no longer afford San Francisco’s rents or risks.
Peter with his son Senan.
Originally, Peter simply took pictures along a particular route. As time went on, he used historical images to add color to his narrative. He now prefers to do the historical work beforehand so that uploading his ride to Strava is easier. A favorite historical resource for Peter’s research when riding the west part of the city is The Western Neighborhoods Project and its folksy weekly podcast. Between that and the treasure trove of historic San Francisco images on Open History SF, recreational historians have access to tremendous San Francisco resources.
Peter firmly believes in the importance of a good hydration stop.
Unfortunately, there’s no eastern neighborhoods equivalent. On Peter’s most recent Irish Hill ride, he drew on a variety of resources. The Irish Hill area along the southeastern waterfront was a rough-and-tumble working-class neighborhood with upwards of 25 bars. If images from Gangs of New York flicker through the brain, one would not be far off. The namesake Irish Hill itself was 90 feet tall. Taken over time to fill in what is now Mission Bay, all that remains is a small serpentine mound behind a chain link fence adjacent to the city’s bustling Pier 70 revitalization project. Not one of the original 25 bars remains, limiting Peter’s dive bar options on that ride. San Francisco’s boom and bust cycles continue, constantly changing the city. Just as all the world constantly changes around us. Another reason why that adventure outside our front door should start today. Grab a bike or strap on some shoes, get outside, and absorb your surroundings!
And how does Peter recommend beginning that adventure? In the most Zen way. “Start by starting out,” Peter says.
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