The normally high pitched snarl of the rented V Star 650 motorcycle escalated suddenly to a raspy scream, signaling an RPM way beyond a healthy range. The dramatic change in pitch shouted to my muscle memory “You’re revving way too fast! Shift up!” Reflexively, my left hand pulled in on the clutch as my toe slipped under the gear shift lever to move to a higher gear. At the exact same moment, my steady climbing movement up the steep hill slowed dramatically, giving my body a competing message. “You’re moving too slow for this gear. You need to downshift!” In the tiny fractions of a second that seemed to persist much longer, both hands and both feet performed an awkward dance trying to use the clutch, gear shift and brakes in the right combination to subdue the inner conflict.
As quickly as the emergency response got started, it vanished in the realization that the only action that mattered right then was holding tightly on the brake lever with my right hand. I didn’t need to shift up or down because I was in no gear at all. The racing engine and lack of movement confirmed the bad news. My clutch was fried. Not the best of moments for that to happen as I was about half way up one of the steepest streets I’d ever been on, a straight stretch of San Francisco’s famed Lombard Street between Polk and Larkin Streets. The only thing keeping me from rolling down the hill backwards was the firm grip on the brake, yet I needed to let up to gradually roll into a reverse turn so I could head back down the hill forward. Even the light weight of the V Star made it impossible to push up the hill. The trip back down to the flat intersection of Polk and Lombard was an interesting balance of more and less pressure on the brake.
I really didn’t want to be on that part of the Lombard Street, but it was the only way to get to the part I wanted to descend, the one-block, eight-curve, brick-paved section that the street is famous for. I didn’t get to ride it on that trip, but will return some day. I can chuckle about it now, but I was cranky then from the jolt of my fried clutch. I chuckle sometimes too at the thought of my friend who did ride it, but got stuck behind a group of tourists from Korea in a rented land yacht who stopped periodically to take pictures.
What follows is a picture of the curvy part of Lombard Street, and links to google maps for the curvy and straight parts of it. The google items should be interactive so you can move along them up or down. The featured image above is me sitting on the bike as a tow truck driver attaches it to his truck.
By The original uploader was Y6y6y6 at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons