Tuesday, May 11, 2010

El Cerrito Plaza BART to San Ramon via Pig Farm

This 37 mile ride traces a northern route around Briones before dropping down Danville Boulevard/SRVB to the Peets in San Ramon (Crow Canyon at Camino Ramon). Can easily be extended 7 miles from San Ramon to Dublin BART on Iron Horse Trail.

Click the map for an interactive map of the route.

The first 9 miles are different from the El Cerrito Plaza to San Ramon the flat way route since I avoid San Pablo Avenue after 7am

We head right towards the hills on Central Avenue on the north side of the station to catch the bike route. After a left at the top of Central we pass a high school and continue to a left on Moeser at the El Cerrito Swim Center. The right on to Richmond puts us on a long straight section.

We continue straight through a light and come to a stop sign as the road changes names to Elm street. If you continue straight the next stoplight is not bike friendly. The light is on an uphill slope and has a short cycle, so if you try to start back from a flatter section you may not make the green.

Going left at the stop sign is a safer option, with a right turn onto the Ohlone Greenway bike path 2 blocks west. Go straight past El Cerrito del Norte BART. If you continue straight across Knott it is flat, if you go right on Knott and then left on Elm you climb a short hill. Both options come together in a 1/4 mile after the downhill on Key Boulevard. In the picture the bike path option rejoins after the houses on the left, and yes I was on the wrong side of the road.

Cross MacDonald, the asphalt is lumpy for about a block and then there's a big double-dip across the road. The road gets smoother and we cross the busy Barrett Street. Key ends next to Tiller Park playground, where we go right on McLaughlin with the freeway over the big sound-wall to our left.

After McLaughlin curves towards the hills we go straight at the stop, then left on Kern. The bike route stays next to the freeway, but I usually take Kern and/or Yuba to be a block or two further from the freeway and away from frontage road traffic. The route map is on Amador for simplicity, there's a lot of intersections on this route if you are doing it the first time so I kept the map simple.

Amador passes a school and heads up a short incline. We take a right at the stop sign on to busy San Pablo Dam Road. The pavement is choppy near the stop sign, but gets smoother as you go up the little hill. The shoulder is wide and you can usually find a clean line.

After the fast downhill San Pablo Dam Road is narrow and dangerous through town. You might consider the sidewalk at rush hour, it's only about 12 blocks before it widens out again after the Pedaler bike shop.

If you ride to the right of the line parked cars will push you out into traffic, I prefer riding just to the left of the line and in the lane but it's nervy sometimes. This mile is not a great section.

Left on Valley View Drive and then right on Olinda and the road starts to open up for the first time.

The next 8 to 10 miles gets baking hot on a sunny day and we won't see water for a while, stop at the school at Castro Ranch and Olinda or the gas station at Valley View/SPDR if you are going to be short.

Left after the school onto Castro Ranch Road. Castro Ranch takes us up a hill hidden around a right bend, the shoulder is littered with gravel and glass. Over the top we roll down a little section with a muddy shoulder, a 200 yard section on the right is covered with a layer of slick mud through the wet season. There's a divider in the road making the usable lane very narrow.

We push up a little uphill section through Carriage Hills neighborhood, the last residential area for another 8 or 10 more miles. There's a bike lane on the long, fast downhill, and we fly into the right turn on Alhambra Valley Road.

The road is just short of smooth but it doesn't matter as the country is now wide open, the hillsides are flocked with grazing cattle and gnarly old oaks stretching out twisted limbs. It always makes me smile to think I'm riding Pig Farm to work. We climb steadily in the big ring for 5 miles, straight through the intersection with Bear Creek Road.

The road pitches up for about 100 yards around a curve just past the vineyard on our left, a harbinger, and we snap a picture of some emus (ostriches?).

The grade stiffens a bit again, but we're still not near our lowest gear. The grade pitches up seriously now as we do a left-right S next to a ranch on our right, and Pig Farm Hill opens up before us with looming menace. I love this ride, but I don't particularly like climbing this hill from the west because I'm sharing a narrow lane with fast moving cars and farm trucks while grinding uphill in my lowest gear. Here's a profile of the steep section, starting from the last driveway on the right.

View off to the right as we pause at the base of Pig Farm Hill.

Here's the view up Pig Farm Hill. The climb ends up by the oaks on the ridge to the left of the telephone poles.

It eases slightly after the first ramp but then it pitches up again and doesn't let up until the last telephone pole. It's hard early in the morning, but once it's done there's no real climbing left to the finish.

Looking back west from the top.

Zip up at the top while you catch your breath next to the old pig farm.

The grade on the backside is not as steep but still very fast, it's an easier climb from this east side. After the first big right we pass some goats on our right, then zoom through a cold pocket of air where the trees close in on the road. The easy riding continues for a few miles as we leave the cattle behind and the scenery becomes more residential.

At the intersection with Alhambra Valley Road there's a christmas tree farm on our right as we continue straight on Reliez Valley Road. We enter suburbia on a fast downhill and the mile after the stop sign features a couple of rolling hills. Take a left onto Grayson with the cemetery on your right. (Flattest route is left on Blue Ridge, right on Virginia Hills, right on Pleasant Hill, rejoin route at intersection with Grayson).

We continue across Taylor at the light then turn right on Pleasant Hill for a straight stretch with small rollers. As the road veers slightly right we take a left onto Oak Park Boulevard at the stop sign across from a school. We roll past one of several Contra Costa Canal Trail access points. The bike paths out here are fairly uneven and bumpy, and quite heavily used by joggers, dog walkers, and kids on bikes. I've tried a few sections but it's not good riding even with nobody on the path. Further into Walnut Creek the bike paths become the only decent option, but for now we'll stay on smooth, wide boulevards.

We take the right onto Putnam and pass the canal trail again, then cross Geary and the road changes names to Buena Vista. The Larkey swim center on our right has a water fountain out front. The Briones to Mount Diablo Trail connects from the sidewalk to our right (starting from south side of 1st Avenue), running along the west side of the park up to the Acalanes Ridge Open Space. It's not paved all the way, but passable if it's dry. You can see a corner of the open space high on the ridge to the northeast as you are driving on Highway 24 nearing the 680 interchange.

We continue straight and the surroundings become more urban. We ride around the Walnut Creek BART station, then go right on Oakland Boulevard (bike path under the BART tracks). Here's a picture from the top of the block, looking back. There's never much traffic on Oakland Road.

We cut through the backstreets of Walnut Creek to avoid some heavy traffic downtown. Once we reach Lilac it gets mellower, and Lancaster is quite relaxing with smooth pavement.

Once we're on Danville Boulevard it's smooth sailing all the way to San Ramon. For more details on this last section see the last section of the EC Plaza to San Ramon the flat way post.

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