Mr. CiclaValley Returns for East Bay Cycling: Part 1

Mr. CiclaFornia? That has a nice ring to it.

Traveling to San Diego last month might not be enough to qualify me for this new moniker, but Mr. CiclaVALLEY is fresh back from a new excursion from a different part of our Golden State.

BerkD130This time I headed up to Berkeley combining all of my favorite things: Zachary’s Pizza, The North Face Outlet,Cal sporting events, Cal tailgating events, Yogurt Park, Acme Bread, craft Brew(s), Cafe Strada, Basil Thai and Top Dog just to start. You would think that with this intense training regiment, there would be no time for cycling, but alas, this wasn’t a spa weekend.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m a proud graduate from the finest public university in the world and lived in the East Bay for six years. I know what you’re thinking, so let me clarify first: I never wore a tie dye t-shirt, played in a drum circle, enjoyed recreational drugs, kicked a hacky sack or owned any other vestige from the 60’s.

I was just a regular guy who spent a lot of time in architecture studio and blew off steam here by listening to 90’s Alt-rock and playing a little basketball and hockey here and there. There was also a bike in my life, but in those days, it was used for short trips to and from school and a lot of sidewalk riding.

Now that cycling is playing a much larger role in my life, I feel like I missed out all the great riding right in my former backyard.

My goal for the weekend was to cram as much time on the bike as possible in between all the extracurriculars. It sounds simple, but I had not been back to Berkeley in five years. I had a lot of making up to do…


I drove in Friday afternoon getting in right before traffic takes it’s grip on the region. What do I see my first minute into Berkeley? A unicyclist! This better not be a weekend of stereotypes.


Not Amsterdam, but the bike parking at the North Berkeley BART Station. Please Metro, take note.


I started my ride not far from Zachary’s Pizza on the northside, the just behind these two guys. I believe those dolls were being held hostage against their own freewill.


I headed up Arlington Ave., a street that would make Frederick Law Olmstead proud. It’s a great route with few stops signs and friendly drivers(there’s no bike lane pictured here, just a cyclist in the shoulder).


Once you move past Kensington into El Cerrito, the road loses its rustic landscaping and takes on a more suburban feel. The tradeoff: more sweeping views of the bay.


I started making my return turning east onto San Pablo Dam Road in El Sobrante. I’m going to guess that this city ranks low for cycling friendliness. No bike lanes across this stretch and crappy road surfacing makes you rubberneck until you make your way out.


Suburban sprawl eventually makes way to open space, albeit next to near-freeway speed traffic. But hey, who texts and drives anymore nowadays?


Contrary to popular opinion, I’m not a cyborg, that’s just the reflection of my flash going off in my sunglasses.


Just over your shoulder is the San Pablo Reservoir. You can make a nice 19 mile loop around it if you like. I brought my lights holding outside hope I could fit this ride in, but didn’t want to taunt Murphy’s law.


I turned up Wildcat Canyon making my way into Tilden Park. It’s a steady 2.3 mile climb averaging 5% as it meanders up the hill. There were easily more cyclists here than cars.


The further up you go, the higher the reward with sweeping views, including now the Briones Reservoir on the right.


Once you’ve peaked, you are greeted by stretching eucalyptus trees lining Tilden Park. It was around here that I dove off my mountain bike as I flatted out on a trail during my descent. That probably set cycling back for me a few years.


Out of the park, Grizzly Peak Blvd. reminds me a bit of Mulholland, in that it’s the main thoroughfare straddling the hills, but with bus service.


I should have taken some sweeping views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge coming down Centennial Drive, but the sun was reflecting directly into my camera. Instead, I made the unnerving descent negotiating steep grades, blind corners and warning signs(yes, actual signs) about the shoddy road conditions.


It’s a chilly, fall afternoon, but the campus is alive with tons of students blowing off steam at the end of the week. And of course, frisbees are involved.


One thing about living in southern California is that there are very few signs of fall, something you can’t miss around here.

Another noticeable point, Berkeley’s improved bike infrastructure since my time here. It was already ahead of the curve back in the day, but they’re definitely stepped things up creating more of a network of lanes, paths and boulevards making the bike the easiest way of getting around, especially considering the city’s dearth of parking.

Part two of my East Bay adventures will be coming shortly. I’m still digesting this trip and I don’t just mean spiritually…