Tuesday, May 4, 2010

San Ramon to El Cerrito Plaza BART via Half-Happy

This route goes 30 miles from the San Ramon Peets (Crow Canyon at Camino Pablo) to El Cerrito BART station. We'll enjoy some long false flats and a nice gradual build up to the last climb over Wildcat. You can take BART to Dublin then ride the Iron Horse Trail to our start point for a 37 mile ride.

Click the picture to open an interactive map of the route

We start out riding Crow Canyon Place north from the shopping center, crossing Crow Canyon at the light by the Citibank, and continuing straight on Camino Pablo with good pavement until Greenbrook. Here we turn left and go over the freeway. Mount Diablo is prominent off to our right as we turn right into the bike lane on San Ramon Valley Blvd

We cross Sycamore Valley Road, and a few blocks further the Iron Horse trail crosses our path at it's own traffic light. We take the next left onto Railroad Avenue and continue straight, bearing left at the end onto Danville Boulevard at the light by a flower store.

After the light at El Cerro there's a long very slightly downhill stretch. Good times in the big ring, this long smooth straight has few cars coming from the right and I start ruminating. On most days we'll have afternoon headwinds thanks to California's central valley. I like to think about other, beneficial aspects of wind like clean electricity and cool air waiting for me at home as I bleed watts riding into it.

Through the light at Livorna and after a church on the left get into the center turn lane for Hillgrade Avenue. It climbs a steep little ramp before turning right onto rollers along Crest Ave. We go left at the stop on to Tice Valley.

The short downhill after the left onto Tice Valley is fast, be sure to get on the brakes through the sweeping left turn. The stop sign at the bottom of the hill has partially obstructed views and most traffic will cross your path.

The road flattens and is narrow, watch for small potholes along the shoulder-less edge. A bike lane starts about 3/4 of a mile along as you enter a more developed section. Tice Valley park on the left before the light has bathrooms and water.

To your left is Rossmoor retirement community so give drivers a lot of space, signal your intentions clearly, and assume nothing.

Roll down a fast wide descent and go left at the light on to Olympic. The bike lane is wide but heads straight into the afternoon headwinds. Continue straight through the first stop, then where Olympic ends at a stop go straight through the entrance onto the bike/foot path. At the end of that block go right and then left and enjoy the shady ride along Moraga Boulevard.

Moraga Blvd ends at a light. Going right on Moraga Road would take you to a Peets, Noahs bagels, taqueria, and grocery store. If you go right the sidewalk can be safer as the lanes are narrow and traffic is heavy.

Instead we go left 1 block and take the right at the light on Brook Street where we trade the little bump for fewer cars as we parallel the main street. We go right at the second stop sign and down to a light where we go left on Mt. Diablo Boulevard for 1 block, then right onto Happy Valley Road.

Bailout option at Lafayette BART station as we go under the freeway.

Happy Valley Road rises moderately for the first mile or two. There's a water fountain on the west end of the buildings, ride into the parking/dropoff area at the far end of the school and you should see it.

A little further up the valley we pass a plaque marking the spot of the first recorded housing structure in Lafayette.

The climb gets serious about 1/3 mile after the stop sign at Upper Happy Valley Road. The road turns sharply right then climbs a steep left hairpin and you start grinding.

The next corner is steep, but thankfully shaded, and we pass a long stretch of sweet smelling rosemary before the last third steep corner and a sun-blasted stretch. The left onto Sundown Terrace is welcome.

It does go through, despite what the sign says. This climb is called Half-Happy because if you continued straight Happy Valley Road road climbs steeply another 1/2 or 3/4 mile on good pavement then drops on rough, shaded pavement to the base of Papa Bear on the 3 bears loop.

Drop down Sundown into and through a park. There's a water fountain behind an oleander bush at the top of the park on our left as we exit. It seems to get little use because the water never tastes that good even after a flushing.

Left on Dalewood, then down Lombardy and Miner. There are lots of intersections but if you flow with the downhill you'll find the route. At the end watch out for the potholes coming off the narrow stone bridge before Camino Pablo, where we go right on Camino Pablo into the bike lane.

A bailout option here goes left on Camino Pablo about 1 mile to Orinda BART station.

There's a narrow section of road about 200 yards ahead where the bike lane dips right and down next to what looks like a big flowerless pampas grass plant. Pampas grass is a non-native plant which, like cane toads in Australia, was introduced by humans. In the plant case, when seeds spread from an ornamental nursery. It pretty much takes napalm to kill pampas grass, so there's no going back now.

I like the bit about "you might need a backhoe too". The leaves do not cut me when I brush by so hopefully I'm wrong about it being pampas grass. Where the path rejoins the road drivers can get surprised by you coming up out of nowhere, and the trajectory of the path combined with your speed tends to launch you towards the road, so be mindful.

The pavement gets really smooth as the road widens before a left turn lane onto Wildcat Canyon at a light. We take the left and immediately start climbing. There's a total of about 650 feet to climb, with seemingly half of the vertical in the first third of the climb. In the lower section each of the hardest ramps is followed by a recovery section, although it may not feel that way without a 25 or 27. After the last hairpin at El Toyonal you could push the big ring the rest of the way up to Inspiration Point, but it's hard on the knees.

At the top we pause at Inspiration Point, there's a bathroom but no water. At the north end of the parking loop there's an overlook of San Pablo reservoir and Mount Diablo with some benches where you can layer up for a cool evening descent. As I was layering today I got chatting with another rider about here Marinoni Piccola bike. I ride away and think I should have taken a picture of the bike for the blog, then reach for my camera to discover I left my fanny pack on the bench. After riding back I make sure to snap a picture in BSNYC's "disembodied hand" tradition, but I'm a photo phred and get a leg too.

From Inspiration Point it's 1.2 curvy miles downhill to a fast S-turn at the bottom. Watch for gravel around the blind corner entering the S, especially if it's rained recently. The left side of the lane is clearer. Carry speed straight up the bump to the Brazil building parking lot, or take a right just after then botanical gardens onto Anza View, a flatter one-way paved road around the back of the Brazil building. Water and bathrooms at the NW end of the Brazil building parking lot, on Wildcat Canyon Road.

Wildcat Canyon is fast but rough pavement for the next 1 1/2 miles. The road is slightly downhill and sinuous, and it's fun to push hard as we're done with climbing. Be aware, joggers and hikers use the road as there's no shoulder most of the time.

We go straight at the stop at the end of Wildcat and start down Spruce. A vista opens up to our right just before the first house, spanning Mount Tamalpais to San Bruno.

It's a bomber drop after the stop sign and a very fast sweeping left after the downhill by the park. I do a little left-right-left using the 2 painted road signs as virtual cones to line things up at high speeds. On wet days be aware there's a painted crosswalk on the corner

(To end at North Berkeley BART continue straight another mile or more on Spruce to the right turn on Virginia which takes you across town to the BART station. Virginia is a Berkeley "bike boulevard" with some protections from traffic)

After Spruce flattens out turn right on Montrose and continue 2 blocks downhill then bear right at the tee with San Luis. Left on Arlington and swoop downhill to a right turn on Thousand Oaks. This turn comes up fast. You reach maximum speed on a steep downhill past San Antonio and San Fernando, then Thousand Oaks comes up around a blind left. The road slopes away pretty drastically on the corner, do not overcook it.

Take Thousand Oaks down some steep sections all the way to the end. Right on Key Route/Ashbury, left at the light on Fairmount, and you'll run into the El Cerrito BART after about 8 blocks.

El Cerrito Plaza shopping center to the left of Fairmount has food, Starbucks, and a Peets (by SW entrance to plaza, cross the parking lot and other side of San Pablo).


The Iron Horse Trail bike path parallels the first 8 or 10 miles from San Ramon start, it's an option to avoid traffic if you don't mind a slower pace, all the curb cuts, etc. Iron Horse trail access point is about 3 blocks east of Peets on Crow Canyon. Join our primary route at Danville Boulevard or Hillgrade Avenue.

The above route is my primary choice for getting home on a bike because Happy Valley is scenic. There's a slightly flatter option using the St Stephens bike path on an interactive map here. The map includes a 3/4 mile detour around Hillgrade and Tice Valley using Castle Hill, Lancaster, Lilac, and Newell, which are flatter and calmer.

St Stephens bike path variation (flatter)

Getting to San Ramon Peets:

From Dublin BART

The shopping center where you start has more options including Jamba Juice, a taqueria, deli, 360 burrito, and Luckys market. When riding I like the salt bagels from Levys across the freeway. To get there take Camino Ramon south to Norris Canyon west to San Ramon Valley north and take a left at the light into the shopping center, past the fast food place and then bear right. Look for Levys Bagels on the end of the main block of shops, around a corner facing north. You can take San Ramon Valley Boulevard north to regain the route at Greenbrook.

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