Berkeley Cycling: Riding to a Dangerous Place

The week before last, a cyclist was killed descending South Park Drive in the Berkeley Hills. News reports say the rider, Kim Flint, crossed the center line and hit the side of an uphill-bound vehicle. He was airlifted to a hospital in Walnut Creek, where he died.

Here’s the twist to the tragedy, as reported in a subsequent story carried on The Bay Citizen and in the Bay Area pages of The New York Times: Flint may have been attempting to set a speed record on the descent to maintain his first-place ranking on a site called Strava, like other sites, allows riders to upload data about their cycling performance and create publicly viewable online training and ride logs. Unlike other sites (that I know of), it keeps records of times for defined road segments. Until shortly after Flint’s death, there was a “King of the Mountain” ranking listed for South Park downhills.

What I find interesting about the Bay Citizen/Times article is the series of leaps it makes to more or less attribute Flint’s death to his activity on Strava. I say “interesting” because it’s from the same reporter who put together a complete, well-reasoned, and sensitive piece for the local news blog Berkeleyside then produced this second story that suggests Strava was an “obsession” for Flint, who recorded the fastest Strava time down South Park in early June. “But on June 15,” the second story says, “another rider bested his time by four seconds, prompting Mr. Flint to ride that stretch again four days later.” There’s no support in the story–statements from Flint or from his fellow riders–for the notion that Flint was “obsessed” with Strava or that his fatal ride on June 19 was driven by a hunger to reclaim his Strava record. In fact, based on the evidence available on Strava, there’s little to suggest that Flint or anyone else is particularly obsessed with the South Park descent. The site lists 71 total descents of the segment since the fall of 2007, with 34 of those this year. Flint is listed twice–once last August, and once during his “record” run in early June–before the ride on which he crashed. Just one quote from another cyclist about what sort of rider Flint was, how he handled himself on the road or on this hill, would be persuasive in helping us understand his “obsession.” The second story offers nothing; the first story includes a long quote from a friend and fellow rider who emphasized Flint was not a reckless type.

But the real point here isn’t whether someone’s sensationalizing a story by suggesting that a speed-crazed cyclist may have been driven to his death by a website that encourages dangerous behavior. No, it’s this: Cycling can be dangerous, and never is the danger more present (though perhaps not obvious) than during a steep descent. Strava or no Strava, the ride down South Park Drive demands skill and attention. Many riders, including me, have hit 50 mph on their way down. When I read that someone had been killed up there, I could imagine two or three places that could happen, including the spot where the accident occurred. All it takes is carrying a little bit too much speed into a corner, finding something in the road you weren’t expecting–some gravel or an animal, say–or a moment’s distraction, and you can be in trouble fast.

That having been said, the focus on Strava is misguided. The virtual competition encouraged by the site is simply another version of what happens whenever groups of fast, fit, competitive cyclists get together. They’ll often ride aggressively–on the climbs, on the flats, in sprints, and yes, on descents, too. Why? Bottom line, it’s challenging and fun. I remember seeing a couple of longboard skateboarders on Grizzly Peak, getting ready to go down Claremont. I followed on my bike to see how fast they’d go. I can’t really tell you, though, because my top speed, in the high 40s, wasn’t fast enough to keep them in sight. I did see the guys at the bottom. They were getting a ride back to the top to do it again. They were were doing something that was very hazardous and required a high degree of courage and ability, and they were having a blast.

None of which is to discount the tragedy of Mr. Flint’s death. Most of us who have ridden the roads hereabouts take an incident like this to heart. We can all too easily remember at least once when, whether through our own error or another’s, we’ve narrowly avoided serious injury or worse. Point is, it’s really the nature of the activity itself and the sum of all our habits, skills, and even emotions that lead us to this dangerous place, not the inducements of a Death Race website. That being the case, it’s important to ride with some discipline–this coming from someone who got stopped by the UC police for rolling through a stoplight on Friday night–and with a commitment to being safe.

Long-Distance Riding: Behind-the-Windshield View

We drove up to Mendocino over the weekend using the easy route from the East Bay: U.S. 101 through Marin and Sonoma counties to Highway 128 in Cloverdale, out 128 to the coast and Highway 1, then up 1.

We weren’t in a big hurry, so we decided to stop in Cloverdale, the last town in Sonoma before you reach the Mendocino County line. The last several times I’ve been up there, I’ve either been on a bicycle or have been supporting someone else’s ride. In 2007, I remember going through Cloverdale twice: late at night near the northern end of a 400-kilometer brevet, shepherding a semi-lost and semi-lightless rider, then again passing through both ways on a rainy 600-kilometer brevet (I got doused on the way north; by the time I came back the next morning, the weather had turned and it was sunny and warm and a big tailwind was building–I smile just thinking of it).

All by way of saying that when we spotted several bikes at the gas station/convenience mart at the south end of town, it took me about five seconds to figure out I was looking at people on a brevet (the combination of the gear on the bikes and some of the jerseys–a California Triple Crown and a San Francisco Randonneurs–tipped me off). I asked and found that the riders were out on a 400-kilometer brevet from the Golden Gate Bridge up to Hopland. From where I met them they had something like 30 kilometers to the turnaround point and several hours of beautiful March weather to enjoy before the night leg back to San Francisco. On the way out of town and all the way up the long climb on 128 to Mountain House Road–the beautiful (and roughly paved, last time I was there) back-country link to Hopland–we passed riders plugging away in ones and twos.

Did I wish I was out there myself? No–not in my current non-riding shape. But I did have an audio recorder with me and considered for a minute whether I might wait at the top of the grade to talk to the riders coming past. Didn’t do it, though. I did give a wide berth and a wave to all the riders we saw. Bonne route, boys!


Coming back from Mendocino, we made the counter-intuitive move of starting the southward trip by driving north along the coast out of Fort Bragg on Highway 1, then crossing the Coast Range to Leggett, where we could pick up 101 south.

I’ve never ridden this stretch of road, but have driven it three or four times. In my memory, the stretch from the coast had organized itself into a long, straightish section from Fort Bragg to point where you turn east, then a long climb up the mountains and equally long descent to Leggett, an old, broke-looking logging town that boasts a famous massive drive-through redwood tree. What I saw yesterday was a little different from what I remembered. The section north of Fort Bragg was neither as straight nor as level as I remembered. Heading up the highway, you turn inland quite abruptly; as you leave the coast, what look like trackless mountains stretch away to the north, falling straight into the sea. The climb and descent to Leggett turns out to be two ascents and two downhills with a bit of mostly level road between them. Driving it, I was reminded of friends who had done a 24-hour Easter weekend ride back in 2004, starting in Leggett and ending in San Francisco. What a way to start out.

We had no traffic behind us all the way across the climbs, so I didn’t have to push my speed or pull over. When we had descended nearly to Leggett and it had started to rain, we spotted a single cyclist starting up the grade. I slowed to encourage him, and he stopped to talk. I wished I’d gotten his name: He was loaded for a tour down to San Francisco and was figuring on doing 60 miles a day to get there. He looked like he was prepared for weather, and I think he’ll see some this week with a series of storms expected on the coast.

Did I wish I was out there? Kind of, though my last long ride in the rain isn’t filled with fond memories. Instead of pondering that, we drove home. Total mileage for the weekend, about 29 hours on the road, was 380 miles. I did reflect briefly that during that 600-kilometer ride in 2007, I rode 375 miles in about 36 hours — including six hours off the road to eat and sleep in Fort Bragg. I’ll probably remember that weekend, at least the road part, longer than I remember the driving I did this time around.

Share the Road


I saw the license plate above on a car in our neighborhood during a morning walk, and it led me on a couple different exercises. First, how many states have Share the Road license plates? Second–a bigger topic requiring a lot more thought, time, planning, reporting, and analysis: What’s the correlation, if any, between Share the Road efforts like license plates and actual results on the road–as reflected, perhaps, in highway fatality statistics? Like I said, I think that second question is a major research topic, requiring you to consider state demographics, cycling participation, non-fatal accidents, overall traffic accident patterns, and do that all over time (for instance, compare statistics from periods before Share the Road plates were adopted and afterward). It would also be interesting to look at the impact of other Share the Road measures, such as sign-posting and driver-cyclist education. Anyone up for a project?

This is an odd collection of plates–some are widely available in states, some are very limited in issuance, some are being planned. You’ll notice West Virginia; they’ve had an apparently unsuccessful Share the Road plate effort; in the meantime, they have a plate that promotes what I suppose you could call “lane sharing.” The fatality statistics (the rate is number of cyclist deaths per million residents) are from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration’s “Traffic Safety Facts: Bicyclists and Other Cyclists” report for 2008 (the latest available). The numbers don’t mean much in and of themselves–see the research project proposed above–though one notes that Florida, a Share the Road plate state, has had a very high rate of cyclist deaths on the roads the last two years and that Vermont and the Dakotas, none of which have the special plates, have a consistent pattern of very low fatality numbers.

State Fatality rate U.S. rank License plate
Colorado 2.43 16
Florida 6.82 2
Georgia 2.06 21
Illinois 2.09 21
Indiana 2.82 10
Iowa 1.67 26
Kentucky 1.41 37
Maryland 1.07 44
Missouri 0.51 48
North Carolina 3.47 4
Ohio 1.57 29
Oklahoma 1.1 42
Oregon 2.64 12
South Carolina 3.13 5
Tennessee 1.13 41
Texas 2.18 18
Utah 1.46 35
Washington 1.37 38
West Virginia 1.1 43

On the Bike: Most Memorable Road Food

The Grizzly Peak Cyclists, a local club here in Berkeley, has a slogan: “Eat to Ride, Ride to Eat.” You’ve got both sides of the cyclist’s eating equation right there: you need to fuel up to do this calorie-burning exercise, and this calorie-burning exercise allows you to indulge in one of the major pleasures in life–good food. The GPC holds a century every May, a hilly tour of the East Bay, and it justly prides itself on offering the best spread of any cycling event anywhere. Lots of fresh fruit and roasted potatoes at every stop along with a wide assortment of home-made cookies and quick breads that would be really bad for you if you weren’t out riding your bike. The lunch and end stop are renowned for having all of the above plus roast chicken and salads and more.
But for cyclists, fueling up is often–nearly always?–a matter of bowing to the necessity for jamming calories down one’s gullet, not enjoying the experience of eating. The two main reasons: Time and convenience. To cover distance, you have to eat fast or on the bike. To eat fast, you eat processed, packaged items. To climb off the bike, walk in a cafe or restaurant and actually order something to eat? What an indulgence.

A good meal or a decent restaurant experience in the midst of a ride can be nourishing beyond one’s simple nutritional requirements. It can give you a break when a ride has become a grind. It can give you a chance to meet some of those strangers we’re always zipping past. And, if you’re lucky, it might even give you a chance to eat real, identifiable, tasty food that will give you a boost when you’re back on the bike.
I know everyone’s got their own list of favorites–tell me about them!–but here are a few of the rewarding food stops I’ve had along the road. Most are commercial ventures you can visit yourself; a couple are one-off food offerings that cannot be replicated unless you have some very, very good and dedicated foody friends.

1. Marshall Store/Marshall, California: Go for the chowder, stay for the Sierra Nevada. The Marshall Store is on Highway 1 in Marin County, on the eastern shore of Tomales Bay. It’s also on the route of some of the brevets put on by the San Francisco Randonneurs. My very first 200-kilometer brevet with that club, in 2003, began as a rainy day and then turned blustery and cool. The route included a 10-mile leg north along Highway 1 from Point Reyes Station into what had built into a pretty healthy headwind that had whipped up whitecaps on the bay. I’ll ever forget getting to the store, where we had been told they’d have extra chowder ready for us. I got a cup, some bread, and a ginger beer. Wow! Restorative! Also exhilarating: The knowledge that heading back south I had a tailwind waiting for me. I’ve stopped here many times since and on one wet ride even had a Sierra Nevada pale ale along with my chowder (across the table from me: one of the brewery’s sales managers).
2. Pete’s home-cooked soup/Calistoga, California: Again from ’03. I did my first 600-kilometer brevet that year. That’s 375 miles in the course of a weekend, and while I was in good enough shape, I was barely prepared for the lack of sleep or the misery of a night and morning of cold rain on a tough climb. Come to think of it, I had a series of bad and good food moments on that brevet. Early on, I went into a state where I found food very unpalatable, almost nauseating. As I failed to take any significant calories on board, I started to fade and struggled out to the turnaround point, situated in a sodden campground in the redwoods along Highway 128 west of Boonville. It was pouring rain out there, and I stood under a tarp and unenthusiastically ate a Cup o’ Noodles. I got back on my bike wondering whether I really had another 190 miles in me. Then, a roadside apple cider stand appeared. I stopped and got some fresh apple juice, which somehow went down with no complaint. I had a second glass, and got on my bike. I made it to Boonville, where I passed a restaurant called Horn of Zees (that’s “cup of coffee” in the local argot, called Boontling). Suddenly I was hungry. I parked my bike, took off all my wet stuff, went in and ordered eggs and toast and potatoes. It tasted great. I still had a big climb ahead, on Highway 253 between the Anderson Valley and Ukiah. But the food was working, and I managed to grind up the ascent, taking my time but not stopping. The weather was improving — some showery rain on the descent. And by the time I got in and out of Ukiah, it was a sunny, warm May afternoon with a freshening northerly wind. I hit Calistoga, about 75 miles from the finish in Davis, just after dark. My friend Pete drove up from Napa to meet me. In addition to moral support, he brought some outrageously good split pea soup, some home-made bread, and a big cookie he had whipped up. I don’t think anything has ever tasted better. As it happened, I had a long night ahead of me, but that food and the gift of bringing it to me on the roadside kept me pushing.
3. Cook’s Station/Pioneer, California: Another memory of 2003. My friend Bruce and I took on an epic training tour of the northern Sierra as our final training for that year’s Paris-Brest-Paris. We took the train up to Sacramento on the last Wednesday night in July, then hit the road at 6 a.m. Thursday morning bound for South Lake Tahoe–about 145 miles and 13,000 feet of climbing away. Bruce had a rack and bag mounted to a seatpost, I was carrying clothes, supplies, and water in a large Camelbak. We fueled up at a Denny’s in Fair Oaks, then headed up HIghway 16 to Plymouth. I remember passing through Fiddletown and riding up something called Shake Ridge Road. Given the season, it was blazing hot. We emerged onto Highway 88, and started riding east and up. At about the 5,000 foot level, and I’m guessing maybe 80 miles or so into our ride, we saw a cafe: Cook’s Station. All I remember is hamburgers and fries and Cokes with lots of ice, and friendly service and more ice to go into our water bottles and Camelbaks when we left the place. I have no idea how the food would taste if I pulled over on a car trip, but on this day, it was an oasis, and one still fondly remembered.
4. The Polka Dot/Quincy, California: On Day Two of our Sierra epic, Bruce and I rode up along the west side of Lake Tahoe, through Truckee, then up Highway 89 to Sierraville. Right at the crossroads there–89 meets 49 there–we ate at the Round Up Cafe. Perhaps we weren’t in desperate-enough straits to love the place, but the memory is: decent food, very long wait.  We rode north on 89 through Graeagle (ice-cream stop) and on to Quincy. For some reason, the heat really hit us there. Luckily, as we came into town we passed a drive-in, the Polka Dot, which advertised “Frosties.” Don’t know what Bruce had, but I had a big root-beer float. Like every root-beer float on a hot day, it was the best one ever. What may have given this one the edge: the presence of a little picnic area next to the drive-in that had a small irrigation ditch with ice-cold water in it. Without a doubt the best float/foot-soak combo ever. Come to think of it, this day ended with another food experience: We wound up in a battered little motel in Greenville, cleaned up, then hopped on our bikes and the six or seven miles back to the hotel in Crescent Mills for a great dinner. Sadly, the hotel and the restaurant have shut down since our visit.
5. Veronica’s house/Marin County, California: In 2007, I did a 24-hour event called a fleche (French for arrow) with a squad of like-minded long-distance cyclists (each group in the event is limited to five riders). The challenge in a fleche is to set a schedule that lets you comfortably cover the required minimum distance (360 kilometers, about 225 miles) without working too hard or not hard enough. It’s a different mindset–this is a 200-mile ride! gotta take care of business!–than the one that takes hold when you have a long way to go. There’s time to socialize, there’s time to stop and eat, and there’s an enforced halt that bars you from being closer to 25 miles to the end with two hours to go (why this requirement? Ask the French). On the ’07 fleche, we started from Berkeley, rode up to Winters (which has two fine eateries for cyclists–the Putah Creek Cafe and Steady Eddy’s Coffee), then headed over to the Napa Valley and from there into Sonoma County. We ate dinner in Healdsburg, then commenced our leisurely nightlong leg toward the Golden Gate Bridge. One of our teammates, Veronica, lived along the route, and we made her house our last stop). She had prepared some dishes and enlisted her two teenage kids to get everything ready for us when we arrived–I think she made a call home to them at about 4 in the morning to alert them of our arrival within the hour). I’ll be honest–I don’t remember what I ate, other than the fact it was breakfasty, hot, and good and with plenty of juice and coffee. But the experience, having the kids take care of a pack of strange, smelly, cyclists in the middle of the night, was one of the best I’ve ever had on a ride.
6. Motel cafe/St. Francis, Kansas: How good is the food in St. Francis? While doing a 1,000-kilometer brevet that ran from Boulder, Colorado, out to north-central Kansas and back, I rode for a while with the ride organizer, John Lee. As we neared St. Francis, on U.S. 36 just east of the Colorado line, he waxed enthusiastic about the culinary choices ahead: “They’ve got pizza,” he enthused. So I imagined … pizza. What he had in mind was the quick-stop market that included a row of molded plastic booths and display cases of pre-fab, foil-wrapped food items kept hot under infrared lamps. “Pizza” turned out to be one of those pre-fab items. I think I opted for “cheeseburger.” Eventually I washed the taste away with a Bud imbibed in a cinder-block bar along the highway in an even smaller town, McDonald. The ride grew tougher after that. A strong southerly breeze was blowing by the time I hit the road at my overnight stop, Acton, Kansas. All day long, I fought a 25 mph crosswind. The first open cafe we came to, in Norton, was lousy. The turnaround town, Kensington, had a town market with a cafeteria-style lunch counter. It looked like great food, a bunch of townspeople were there for lunch, and the other riders all raved about it. But I was in one of my “can’t-eat, don’t want to eat” moments and rode on without lunch. Instead, I ate at a fly-blown McDonald’s back in Norton. Bad news, and more to come in Oberlin, where I ate the gas-station quick mart (more Kansas “pizza”). The wind seemed to drop a bit on the final leg back to Atwood, where, with about 470 miles in my legs in 40 hours, all I wanted to do was sleep.
The wind was blowing the next morning, too, where the first open cafe we’d find would be in St. Francis. I can tell you that it took about four hours to go fewer than 50 miles and that the stars out there on the Plains were incredible. St. Francis is nestled in a narrow valley created by the Republican River, and on first sight looks green and welcoming, an oasis. Up close, it’s a little harder on the eyes, but rolling in after a long battle with the wind was a relief. John Lee had advised there were two cafes in town and recommended one–I honestly can’t remember which now–maybe The Dusty Farmer. Another Bay Area rider and I stopped there. The food–just eggs, bacon, toast and coffee–was actually pretty tasty. I commented on that to the owner, and asked why the place was empty at 7:30 on a weekday. Well, he said, he was new in town, and had bought the cafe and an adjoining motel as an investment. He thought he had an inside track for local business–his son was the town football coach. But he was finding that even though he’d gone out and found a good cook, no one would give the place a chance. Most of his business was coming from crews drilling for oil nearby. It was a sad scene–the guy had egg on his shirt, as I remember, a couple days’ growth of beard, and was missing his upper front teeth. Would I go back? Next time I’m riding through Kansas in a wind storm.

‘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.

Short Sunday Ride: Quotes from the Road

Three things people said to me while I was out riding yesterday (a 1.5-hour loop from North Berkeley, up Tunnel Road, down Grizzly Peak):

*”Hi.” (One of four cyclist who passed while I was dropping off something at a friend’s house).

*Be careful!” (Another cyclist on Tunnel Road warning me about a car approaching from behind. I was in an awkward spot on a curve, trying to turn left. Everything turned out fine.)

*F— you! You punk!” (A driver on Euclid Avenue in Berkeley. He had pulled his aged white Mazda in front of me when I was doing about 30 down the hill. It was an oblivious move, but didn’t result in too close a call. Within a block or two, he put on his turn signal to go right, and was staring at me as I passed him (I knew because I looked over at him). I said, “Honest to God …” in a sort of resigned way, and he responded with the above. It came out in an enraged scream that made me realize 1) he probably didn’t hear what I said and 2) he had worse problems than careless driving. I was relieved he didn’t follow me.)

We’re Back

I’ve neglected this little blog–partly a symptom of neglecting something far more serious: riding. But I won’t go into all that just now. For the next three weeks, anyway, I’m back.

In just a few hours, the lads will start clicking in and another Tour will be under way. There may have been a time earlier this season when I felt I had some idea of the shape of professional cycling this year; I mean, as much an idea as I ever have. I don’t have that sense now, and I haven’t been reading the racing media. In the U.S.A.’s general media–the San Francisco Chronicle, for instance, with its story today from a Hearst reporter somewhere–the Lance Armstrong fog has set in and set in good. Meaning that if you’re following the race from North America, it’ll be hard to see around the Lance legend during the Tour, or at least until it cracks, if it does.

Personally, I find it hard to imagine he’ll win this one. Even getting onto the podium will be tough. The competition on his own team is tough, let alone what the rest of the peloton will throw at him. Still: Contador had a low moment during Paris-Nice. Leipheimer has had some wonderful rides this year, both in California and Italy. But he didn’t produce the sort of indomitable performance in the Giro that might make you think he can break Lance.

No predictions, anyway. Except for maybe a couple non-racing ones:

–Cadel Evans will sulk, throw a memorable tantrum or two, and finish out of the money. Crikey. Even the guy’s Twitter feed sounds whiney and fussy.

–The race will be rocked by news that one of the riders was caught doping. I hope it’s Cadel.

–Paul Sherwen will not announce he’s retiring the “suitcase of courage.”

–No one will “turn themselves inside out” during the prologue Saturday. Sunday, riders might start doing just that during the first long breakaway.

–Untold numbers of riders will “dance on the pedals” shortly before experiencing “a spot of bother.” Phil Liggett says you can count on it.

–Sheryl Crow will knock Lance off his bike just as he’s about to win the Mont Ventoux stage. All she wanted was to have some fun. …

Former Bike Rider Reminisces

As a former bike rider, I still remember how to balance a two-wheeler and sometimes venture out into the world to remind myself what it feels like to roll along the local pavements.

This morning I had an appointment over on Solano Avenue, a couple miles from home. I rode over. Then afterward, I rode up Solano and wound my way into the hills. Just to remind myself what that uphill trudge feels like.

I got to the top of Los Angeles Avenue, which is short and no big deal though it has a semi-steep pitch at the end. I was taking it very easy and riding in my lowest low gear.

Turning uphill on Spruce, perhaps the most popular way into the hills on the north end of Berkeley, another rider appeared alongside me. He was going faster than I and was visibly fitter, too. We said hi and wished each other a good ride, and within a few seconds he was pulling away. As I got ready to turn uphill on Keith Avenue, a quiet and steepish side street, the Other Cyclist was maybe 100 feet ahead of me.

I stayed in my low gear up Keith and crossed Euclid Avenue. Then I started a sort of side-step up the ridge toward Grizzly Peak Boulevard. From Keith, which has a gentle grade east of Euclid, I turned on to Bret Harte Way, which probably has a 16 or 17 percent grade (and grade is a measure of a road’s slope: 10 percent means a 10-unit vertical change for every 100 linear units; 10 feet in 100 feet, or 10 meters in 100 meters. Given my out-of-shape linebacker physique, which my legs have to carry up these hills, I regard 10 percent as pretty steep. In Berkeley, Marin Avenue climbs into the hills with gradients of roughly 20 to 30 percent, and the steepest street I’ve heard of in town is said to be 31 percent. That’s another way of saying darn near impossible for mere mortals and former bike riders).

At each corner, I tried to turn uphill. The way it worked out, I alternated between steep eastbound pitches like Bret Harte Way and flatter south-trending pieces like Cragmont. And so it went, up Bret Harte Road (steep again, and different from B.H. Way), Keeler Avenue (flattish), Twain Avenue (steep), Sterling (gentle), Whitaker (steep), Miller (easy), and Stevenson, a short street that I knew topped out at Grizzly Peak. And that was as far up as I intended to go.

I finished the climb and turned left on Grizzly Peak. As it happened, I was about 100 feet or so in front of the guy who had just passed me down below. We waved at each other, and I called out that he could have taken the short cut, and he laughed. It was a lovely piece of symmetry in a short ride into the hills, but the neatness of the coincidence made me want to try to account for it.

So here’s some arithmetic. The corner of Keith Avenue, roughly where the Other Cyclist passed me, is at an elevation of 499 feet if online sources are to be believed. The corner where we met again is at 1,082 feet. So both of us climbed 583 feet. Now, how far did we ride in linear distance? Again using an online tool–Gmaps Pedometer, which you ought to try if you haven’t already–my ride was 1.21 miles. His: 2.47. That’s another neat coincidence: His route being twice as long and the net climb being the same, his net grade (4.5 percent) is half of mine (9.2 percent). He also had to maintain an average speed roughly double mine, which would have been no problem since I was probably poking along at about 5 mph or less when the road got steep.

So those are the numbers. Interesting, but they don’t quite sum up that moment of delight when I saw the Other Rider again.

Lance and Us

Lance Armstrong is a renowned champion bicycle racer. Lance Armstrong is making a comeback this year after several years of celebrity and celebrity hangover. Lance Armstrong crashed earlier this week during a race and broke his collarbone. And now Lance Armstrong is starting his recovery training regimen. Today, and perhaps today only, Lance Armstrong’s workout routine resembles something I might recognize as human. Here it is, as reported on his Twitter stream: “Got on the spin bike for half an hour today.”

(And here’s the link to the Twitpic of Lance on said spin bike:

Svein Tuft: Coming down from the mountain

From the Globe and Mail in Toronto, another (very badly formatted) Q and A with  Svein Tuft:

Coming down from the mountain.


Lance Armstrong retired in 2005, but he’s back this weekend for the
California tour. How do you feel about racing against a seven-time Tour
de France winner?

You know, as much respect I have for him as a rider, it’s a very
top-calibre race and there are going to be so many other world
champions there. We [as a team] don’t look at just one specific guy –
we focus on what we’re here to do.

A day after your silver medal at the
2008 Road World Championships in Varese, Italy, an Italian newspaper
dubbed you the “Canadian Rambo.” What’s it like to be Rambo?

I cracked up when I read that.