Berkeley Hills Road Race

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Promoter: Berkeley Bike Club

Course: A Hilly 19 mile loop around Briones and San Pablo Resevoir’s.


Course Description: There are three major climbs in the space of about four or five miles. The rest of the course is either flat or down hill. The climbs are named and come in the order of: Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and Baby Bear. Their names reflect their difficulty. The finish comes at the top of Mama Bear. The officials rarely need to use the finish camera here if you know what I mean.

Road Surface: The roads are all in good shape.

Gearing:  With modern drive trains and hilly races I always start my gearing discussion with the question, “Is there any reason to NOT use the 12×27?”  That means that the first sub question is “Do I NEED an 11?”  And I mean REALLY NEED it.  For this course I think that the answer is no.  So then you need to think about the climbs.  You can get around that course in nothing smaller than a 21, but the question is SHOULD you.  I like to be able to sit and spin up the climbs and save my legs for late in the race when it matters so I end up using the 12×27.

Facilities: Restrooms and water are available at the start area and there are grocery and convenience stores in Orinda a couple of miles from the start area.

Weather: Expect cool temperatures due to the early start and also the proximity to San Francisco Bay. The western side of the course on San Pablo Dam Road seems more likely to stay foggy and cool that the eastern side of the course.

Feeding: The feed zone has been located on “Papa Bear” the last few years.

Rules Specific to this race: No Crybabies!

Race Advice: This is a hilly race, but the decisive moves do not necessarily happen on the climbs. The first climb is Mama Bear. This is a fairly tough grinder of a climb, but not long enough to really shatter a field. The group will get strung out, but then regroup before Papa Bear. Papa Bear is the hardest climb, but once again it’s hard to really shatter the field. After a quick descent you get to Baby Bear. With your momentum you can just about go over Baby Bear in the big ring. After a long descent and a short steep climb you turn right onto San Pablo Dam Road and start a long gradual descent.

Surprisingly things sometimes happen on San Pablo Dam road. Lots of riders are tired from the three bears and nobody thinks anything will happen on the descent. But, while the pack is cruising along taking it easy, a break away group has a lot of time to gain an advantage before the pack wakes back up on Mama Bear.

There is a nasty little bump in the road about one mile after you turn onto Castro Ranch Road. It’s pretty short, but steep enough to make your legs hurt because somebody will always want to put the hammer down here. It doesn’t usually work, but it does hurt.

There is also ample opportunity on Castro Ran Road, Alhambra Valley Road, and Bear Creek Road leading up to Mama Bear to form a break away. I’ve seen the winning move go on the last lap on Alhambra Valley Road in the Sr. 1/2/Pro race on two different occasions. Especially late in the race if you can time a good counter attack most of the other riders will be either tired or trying to rest before the finish climb.

Somehow while you’ve racing the promoters have been stretching Papa Bear. When you get to the bottom on your last lap and look up for the finish it can be a REALLY long way away. Try and wait as long as possible before making your big finish effort. When you go, dig deep and get ready to suffer.

Corrections and additions, please email me!

Kevin Metcalfe

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