Thursday, May 6, 2010

El Cerrito Plaza BART to San Ramon the flat way

This 34 mile route from El Cerrito BART to San Ramon is about as flat as possible. It starts out going 5 miles north to El Sobrante instead of east over Wildcat. The long warmup is good and I like the flat profile for the morning commute.

We start our narration at the Peets coffee near the El Cerrito BART station, on the corner of Carlson and San Pablo Avenue, across from the entrance to El Cerrito Plaza shopping center. Click the map below to see the whole route in an interactive mode.

Route map

Traffic is light on San Pablo Avenue before 7am, with super smooth pavement and favorable right of way. After 7am I would go east on Fairmount, L-Ashbury, L-Moeser, R-Richmond, Elm, and then Key Boulevard which goes along the east side of the freeway. I like the air better on the west side with the prevailing winds.

Just before Barrett we pass Huong Tra restaurant on our left, our neighborhood pick for Pho. La Bamba on the left just before the freeway has good papusas too. The murals under the freeway are a bright spot.

Cross the freeway now, turning right on MacDonald at the Arco. Left immediately past the freeway, build up a little speed for a little rise coming up after the school.

Up a junky shoulder on a little grade next to busy San Pablo Dam Road, then fly down the smooth grade. The road was repaved about a year ago but after the light at the end of the downhill it's narrow and dangerous through town. Consider the sidewalk at rush hour, it's only about 12 blocks before it widens out again after the Pedaler bike shop.

The road widens and low rise apartment complexes line the right side. Tons of cars parked in the shoulder. It's good to time this run with the sun. Come too early and you'll be riding straight into the sun (with impatient commuters blowing by), but come early enough and the low angle of the sun lights up the glass and plastic on the shoulder. It's like Christmas some mornings with a hundred yards of white and red and green spots twinkling ahead of you.

When you see this stretch narrowing by a fairly new housing development it's time to shed a layer if your warm cause you're going up a little hill in the sun.

The hill profile invites an attack, but if I ride like Jens! this early getting home is going to be a grind so I ease up a bit. For me focusing on high cadence is key to building endurance. By keeping the heart rate reasonable and staying below lactate threshold I feel fresher during long rides, and over time I build endurance faster. If you ride long frequently you'll tune into it.

The scenery and road improve quickly

I don't understand why cows can graze on watershed lands, and you can ride a horse, but you can not ride a bike.

You can seen pretty bad erosion at a spring just off the road near the top of Wildcat caused by cattle churning the meadow into mud. I can't imagine horses don't chop things up too.

The riding is good outside of the commuters whizzing by, most of the way the shoulder is wide and clean enough to be comfortable. After the light at Wildcat/Bear Creek you get into Orinda, a lush green neighborhood and one of the wealthiest zip codes in the Bay Area. It is surreal to ride in 30 minutes from Richmond's Iron Triangle homicide hotspot

SFGate news story

to the golf course next to Camino Pablo in Orinda

After cresting a long rise and passing the freeway on-ramp merge all the way into the left turn lane somewhere under or after the freeway underpass. Take the left at the light

Left at the stop sign at the top of the block, then right into the one-way alley and continue straight across the road towards the little Delaveaga train station shed on the left of the road. Go up on the sidewalk and look for the bike route signs for St Stephens bike path.

You go next to the freeway for a mile or so but it's not bad. It was seeing a road bike in this exact spot 4 years ago that inspired me to try commuting by bike again. I tried it on my mountain bike but it was just too slow, so I scoured used road bikes for a couple months until I got lucky and found my CT-1. Dude needed space in the garage, he had 7 bikes already with 2 new Specialized Tarmac S-Works coming from the team. I fell in love, got a deal, and 11,000 miles later and I still want to commute whenever I can. Brings a tear to my eye.

Hope someone on the freeway this morning is seeing me and getting inspired too.

After the bike path continue straight, then bear right at Hidden Valley. Choppy pavement at the top, then a bomber downhill followed by a knee-scraping right turn at the end of a flat section. Left at the stop, then another right hand knee-scraper onto Mount Diablo Boulevard. Up and over and fly past the reservoir into Lafayette. We jog right immediately after Moraga Road, and use 2nd Street to connect to Moraga Boulevard. Those Moragas can be confusing. The boulevard is smooth and peaceful, and I smile to see moms and kids pedaling to school together.

Right on Hawthorne and left onto the bike/foot path for 1 block.

Continue dead straight after the path onto Olympic. You can pick up some speed after the next stop sign. This is where I ran into the 2009 Contra Costa county commuter of the year a while back. We rode together for half an hour talking bikes. He's been biking to work for 30 years, doing a total of 146 days last year. Plus, he jumps on the tandem with the missus on weekends. Way to go Jeff!

Bear right on some lumpy asphalt at Saranap gas station and keep pedaling smoothly up the rise. Eyes open around here, Rossmoor on your right is the largest retirement community in the area. Through the light, and now on your right is Tice Valley park with water and restrooms. After the little downhill the shoulder disappears and the surface roughens for about a mile. Just through the stop sign the road lurches up, not quite the Muur but you will want a big gear in back for a spell.

Next stop go right on Crest and push through a few rollers. Bomb down the left and watch for cross traffic on the Iron Horse Trail. You can turn right and stay on the bike path all the way to our destination if you like. I find it more relaxing on the road though, and continue to the stop and take the right onto Danville Boulevard. Pick up speed slowly in the big ring, now we've got 20 minutes of straight ahead riding on a 1 or 2 percent grade.

We blow through Alamo and pass the gas station where I misspent the last year of high school working nights and weekends. There's the eight foot high cinder block wall over which I saw a 55 gallon oil drum arc gracefully after an M80 blew up under it. Dang I was a dumb teenager, and dang those things were powerful back then.

After we join San Ramon Valley Boulevard we cross a light for the Iron Horse Trail - another opportunity to take the bike path to our destination by going left. Continuing straight we cross Sycamore Valley Road and spend a mile or so next to the freeway. After a short rise we go left over the freeway on Greenbrook, then right at the light and speed along a nice wide road marked as a bike route. At the big light crossing Crow Canyon I like to start in the left turn lane and go up on the sidewalk for a short salmon, then cut over the grass into the Citibank parking lot to avoid the intersection inside the shopping center where everyone is in too much of a hurry.

Peets is in sight, and we are done with our morning commute.

Doing this as a 1-way trip:

You can access the Iron Horse Trail from Crow Canyon Road by going 1 block east of Camino Pablo, the road that runs on the east side of the shopping center. Take a right and ride the trail 7 miles to Dublin BART station. Alternately, go left and ride the trail about 12 miles to Ygnacio Valley Road, go left on YVR about 1 mile to Walnut Creek BART.

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