Monday, November 10, 2008

Berkeley "Death" Hills Workout



The San Francisco Bay Area is really a wonderful place for cyclists. M. and I are in off-season mode; though we have aspiration to stay in excellent shape so we can participate in the upcoming 2009 brevet season, we haven't been able to get a ride longer than 60 miles within the last month. In an attempt to at least keep our climbing legs alive, we frequent what are referred to locally as the "Berkeley Death Hills". The term is probably coined by Tom Holub on his bicycle-related website where he has detailed descriptions of many nice rides in the Bay Area. The name "Berkeley Hills Death Ride" is probably a tribute to the more famous Tour of the California Alps (AKA the Death Ride) in Markleeville, California. Although there is no organized or supported ride on the course described by Tom Holub, one of the local cycling club--Grizzly Peak Cyclists--occasionally have the ride on its ride calendar, and I have encountered out-of-town passhunters riding the course as a challenge.

M. and I have done 4 of the 5 hills Holub outlined, with Marin Ave still to be attempted. We often ride Centennial Blvd in the morning as a short but hard workout before heading to work. We have also done South Park, Claremont, and Lomas Contadas for exercise and great view a few times. On this weekend, we did 3 of them, although on two days.

On saturday, we got on our bikes (my Rivendell Romulus and her Serotta CRT 650b) and rode through Tilden Park and descended on Wildcat Canyon Road to San Pablo Dam road in El Sobrante. We rode on the newly-paved and painted wide bike lane to El Toyonal, and we begin to head up. This ascent is steep at several places, and doesn't really let up except for one short stretch of descent. The good thing is that the streets are quiet and mostly without fast-moving vehicles and is generally shaded. We worked our way through 1.5 miles of moderately difficult climbing, only to get to the foot of the last pitch--Las Piedras and Lomas Contadas. M., being the better climber of the two, took off ahead of me, though she is also struggling to continue her upward journey without resorting to her granny gear. Today, my 36/28 gearing wasn't low enough for me so I went down to the granny chain-ring and use 28/24 for the way up the monster. The cool weather, light traffic, good vista helped some, though the climb was still difficult. It took me 15 minutes to go from where Lomas Contadas start to steam train at the summit. All for the name of a good workout. Here is the bikely route map for this ride. According to bikely, it was a 20-mile, 3700-ft ride. If you want compact, hilly training, this is an excellent candidate. My Romulus performed well, it felt responsive and not erratic, which was especially important for low-speed climbing. I noticed that when I am off my saddle for extended period of time, I sometimes knock my knees on the bar-end shifters. Should I go to downtube for my incoming Ebisu?

On sunday, after cleaning the house, we decided to get out for another heart-pumping workout. We rode through the Cal Berkeley campus to the football stadium, then turned left on Centennial blvd heading up. Centennial is a pleasant enough road, with good pavement and nice vista. However, because it's the shortest way from downtown Berkeley to the top of the hills, on a nice day many cars travel up on it. Centennial is one we are most familiar with, though the familiarity only lessen its difficulty slightly. M. thinks it's the most difficult of the 4 death hills we ride. There is a turn on the road after one passes the gate for Lawrence Berkeley Lab that is an absolute killer. There is a steep climb leading to the turn, and as you turn, it only gets steeper. Centennial really gets your heart pumping. I didn't need to go down to the granny today on my Romulus. We got to Lawrence Hall of Science and took a moment to watch the sunset. These hilly rides are not only challenging workouts, but also offer incredible views at the top and exhilirating descent.

After a moment's rest, we continued climbing up toward Grizzly Peak. At the intersection of Grizzly Peak, we dove into Tilden on Golf Course Dr. At the bottom of Shasta off Golf Course, we turned right on Wildcat Canyon road across from the Brazil House. Shortly after, South Park is on our right. During winter months, the road is closed to motorists and is great for cyclists and pedestrians with or without their dogs. The pavement is great and the road is pretty shaded. We worked hard going up, though I felt stronger than on Centennial and the day before. My romulus reacts to my pedal stroke well and kept a straight line easily when i want to. I zig-zag a few times to rest along the way, and got dropped again by M. half way up. I felt pretty good when I crest Grizzly Peak.

After watching numerous motorcyclists going by at speed far exceeding the limit, we decided to go back down South Park instead of descending via our usual route on Grizzly Peak. It turned out to be not that much better, as many pedestrians and dogs walk all over the road without fearing that a car will come through. I hit an object on the road which led my rear wheel to go out of true, though not serious enough to affect my ability to ride home.

We got home just before sunset. According to bikely, this (bikely route) was a 13 mile ride with 2910 ft of climbing. I have to say that I did feel stronger on the second hill today. M. and I agreed that we should attempt Marin in the near future.
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