I gave up cycling towards the end of college, mostly due to my motorcycle and a knee injury that was caused by too much bike time. But as I shifted racing from 5ks to triathlons, I had to go back to it. The Bay Area has a lot of fun rides that work for either the bike or the motorcycle, with very good scenic vistas. For the most part, however, you need to be willing to ride up hills as well as down them.
Required gear: the bike. I don't know much about the rental market, but I suspect for most cases it's much better to own your own. (Feel free to send me info on good rental outfits/spots) You can get a bike for as little as $30 at a police auction to $7000 for titanium specials. For general use, $600-$1300 might be the range for good new bikes. It's a lot easier to buy a mountain bike than a road bike - the mtb market is far bigger. I had a very difficult time getting a road bike for my tri races. Even good shops might have only one choice (and perhaps the $2000 one instead of the $1100 one) in my size at a given time. I eventually gave up and took a chance on a $500 used deal on a trigear auction site. The key is to go to a specialty shop and try many models before you buy. Each brand has slightly different fit, there are choices in material, etc. Just don't overspend unless you know that bike is the one you want.
On top of the bike, you should strongly consider the helmet. They're much lighter and better ventilated than they used to be. Next you want either clips on the pedals, or a clipless system which will require cycling shoes. Do not ride a bike that has plain pedals, even at the gym. I spent a bit of last summer falling over on my Speedplay system, but they deliver a huge boost in performance, and allow my feet to rotate out a bit which is a godsend to the knees.
Required time commitment - as low as you want!
Costs: A big one up front, then lots of optional gadget and clothing purchases. The jerseys with the rear pockets are good, and bike shorts are nearly essential. The bike computer is a near must have, if only to record your mileage and to tell you the time. Once you have your bike, there is very little cost in using it.
Rides I like:
Easy SF ride: Chris and I would ride BART across the bay to the Embarkadero. From there, we would travel west along the coast, passing Fisherman's Wharf and Garadelli Square. You can stop there for a clam chowder lunch. As you ride past the beach of the Aquatic Park, you must do a short but steep climb to pass over Fort Mason. The other side is a more gradual descent to Marina Green and then Crissy Field. If you want to keep the ride easy, you can turn around at the base of the Golden Gate bridge and reserve the course. Normally we will climb up on the road that leads to the Bridge and proceed south along the coast. There are a couple decent climbs in the stretch of the Bridge, the Legion of Honor, and then the final descent past the Cliffhouse to Ocean Beach. Here we turn east into Golden Gate Park and take the mild incline through the park, ending at Haight Street. Here is another good snacking point, and then we continue east back to Market where we'd jump on BART for home. This is a great ride on a nice sunny day, and is very flexible. I find it nice just to meander along the general route, not worrying about the specific streets too much.
To start, you need to get up on Grizzly Peak. Many roads go up, with Marin being the absolute hardest while Spruce is the easiest. Unless Centennial is easier to get to, I'd go with Spruce.
At Inspiration Point, you have a road option, and an offroad option. road: descend down the east side of the ridge. At the bottom, turn left on San Pablo Dam Rd. This go north all the way up to San Pablo where the road turns nearly 180 degrees to the left, ending in Richmond. For here, you can jump on BART or continue on streets back to Berkeley. offroad: Take the paved Nimitz Way trail north for as far as it goes. Then take one of the offroad trails west down to the valley below. When you get there you continue north out of the park, where the road will drop to the west ending on San Pablo just a bit south of where the San Pablo Dam Rd ended. A bit shorter, but with a lot of dirt.
Leave Guerneville and head west on River Rd. At about 4 miles you hit Monte Rio where you'll turn left to cross the bridge in front of the old aluminum siding movie theater. The road now gently rolls up and down for many miles to Occidental. Might want to rest here as it gets tough quick. Turn right on _____ for the first of two major climbs. This stretch is short but dear and climbs xxxx feet. After the crest, it just as sharply drops down the other side into a small valley. You nearly coast to the other end where you will reclimb the same distance on a road that has several switchbacks. At the top of this is a large plateau that can be very beautiful in spring. Looks like Ireland, or at least what I imagine. Lots of cattle grazing and a few cow gratings on the road. A few miles later you approach one spectacular drop down which ends at a stop sign meeting highway 1. Be sure to stop! Just on the other side is a 40ft drop to the ocean waves. If the winds aren't howling (leave in the morning for this ride, don't wait till 10 or 11 to start), this is a nice lunch break. From here, you head north on PCH for 6 miles. This road does not have much of a shoulder and it has numerous bends inland and for me is not the highlight of the ride. The headwinds can be downright miserable too. But as you hit the turnoff for Goat Rock State Beach, it turns slightly inland and drops down to the Russian River. Here you meet River Road and head east to home. It is 13 miles home, with ____ and Monte Rio as potential stops for food. The first 'town' has a nice candy shop. This section is pretty easy, which is good because you might need it by here.
I have not done a cycling wine tasting tour, but it would be pretty easy to do from there. Head east on River Rd, with a potential stop at Korbel (Their beer is better than their sparkling stuff, in my opinion) and then onto ___ Rd, which heads north to Healdsberg with a dozen winneries on the way.
bart bike rules