‘Veni, vidi, velo’

I think Julius Caesar said the above after winning Milan-San Remo in a bunch sprint. It came to me while I was thinking of descending Arlington Avenue (a.k.a, The Arlington) in Berkeley.

From north to south, the street climbs precipitously from the Richmond flats into the El Cerrito hills. It has a nice, looping descent into Kensington. Once past the Kensington village shopping area (and the only stop sign below Moeser Avenue, I think), the road begins a nicely engineered descent to The Circle in North Berkeley.

This last stretch has several things going for it: It’s short. The pavement is pristine. Traffic is light. And it features some nice, plunging curves on what is for the most part a gentle grade. It’s not an extraordinary piece of work to get my out-of-shape 55-year-old body moving fast enough to keep a little ahead of car traffic; or sometimes fast enough to pass a car or two.

So yesterday: I could see I was gaining steadily on a couple of cars. The lead vehicle was poking along downhill at or just above the 25 mph speed limit, the rear vehicle was tailgating. I could see I was going to catch them about the same time we hit a semi-dramatic right-left S-turn, a place where the street rises just enough to soak up some of your momentum and make you pedal hard for 15 or 20 strokes to keep things going.

The day was dry and clear and the pavement was clean. Both cars slowed a little going into the right-hand bend; both went across the fog line a little as they cut the turn, but they left plenty of room for me to dive into the bottom of the turn and go inside them. I flew by the rear car so quickly that I realized the only issue was whether I’d be able to keep up enough speed to go by the front car, too. As I drew alongside, I hesitated a beat to see if the driver would accelerate. By then I was back on the descent and accelerated as fast as I could (i.e., sluggishly), pulled clear, and within another 10 or 12 pedal strokes had enough of a gap that I could pull back into the lane ahead of the cars.

And that’s where I stayed until we all got to The Circle. I had an opening to fly through the yield sign and down Marin. An exciting short blast that I know could also be filed under “stupid bike tricks.” Pretty irresistible on that piece of pavement, though.

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