Living in Berkeley means I can be on my bike year round, whether for recreation, commuting or running errands. And for recreation, Berkeley, California has world class rides that take us up into the hills for both physical challenge and spectacular views of the Bay Area. I love both road riding and trail riding and living car-free for many years means most rides are a combination of both. Here is a great road and trail ride that blends both worlds seamlessly into a pleasurable outing any day of the year.
Starting the morning with a meet-up with friends at Peet’s on Solano Avenue, we head east towards the hills by cutting across Solano to The Alameda and up Los Angeles to pick up our first leg of the ride at The Arlington, alertly navigating The Circle, a hectic roundabout ala Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, with cars coming and going every which way. For a few miles, we’ll stay on this fairly easy climb into Kensington, a mild-mannered, academia rich hamlet just northeast of the Berkeley flat lands with street names like Oberlin, Cambridge and Purdue.
As a side note: Another option for a starting point is from the village here, grabbing a home spun breakfast with biscuits at the Inn Kensington.
Navigating The Arlington, one must keep their wits about them as it is a fairly busy thoroughfare through Kensington. A decent bike lane helps and most drivers are used to cyclists, nevertheless, stay sharp. At mile three, we pass the Kensington Park, a multipurpose recreation center, on our right where families gather on weekends. At mile four, we take a right onto Rifle Range Road, a wide and ambling upgrade through posh condo developments until it dead ends at the park entrance to Tilden Park and the trailhead for Rifle Range.
Get ready for some wild abandon as we cut loose on this downhill dirt trail, an introduction into Tilden Park via a lesser traversed access point. You might encounter a hiker or two, but it’s usually pretty barren. At the bottom of the trail we cross the idyllic bridge over the creek to pick up Wildcat Creek Trail just to our left at mile five at the cattle gate at Mezue Trail in front of us. Our road ride was merely a warm up to this grand challenge, so take a deep breath and put the pedal to the mettle!
This is the gateway to getting reacquainted with our grit and begins right inside the gate on an uphill slope. It’s truly meant for the seasoned trail biker as the climbs, the wind, the cows and the technical aspects are indeed rigorous. But if you’re able to take your eyes off the ground beneath you for a split second, you will feel like you are riding upward into the open skies of heaven, in between those gasps for air, I promise you!
I must emphasize the cows as they are not only part of this bucolic rolling hills scenery but trail gougers as they leave their mark in patties and deep, weathered ruts, grooves and cracks all about the trail increasing the challenge ten-fold. One second of losing your momentum here will drop you off your bike and leave you pushing it uphill until you can regain purchase to hop on and get rolling again, so stay grounded and push hard!
On one recent outing, a cow standing on the hill just above the trail suddenly came ambling down and onto the trail just directly in my path not five feet ahead of my front wheel. Luckily I managed to steer clear of her (pun intended) in the nick of time and stay on track. But forget about it, just test your mettle and get on with it. The scenery is spectacular as we get to the crest eventually, topping out with sweeping vistas and valiant, heroic euphoria.
While this area can often be windswept, finding a spot to tuck in for a snack or rest break is not without possibility as we do on this particular day, taking in the majesty of this Shangri-la and refueling for the next leg. And a pause to soak in the rolling hills and endless network of trails is worth a stop.
As we continue to amble onward through the hills, we find the connector Fire Trail Number 3 which intersects into Nimitz Way, which will eventually meet pavement again, and hence, the masses. After the solitude and concentration of the trail climb, the contrast is welcome. It feels like a roller coaster ride now with excellent payoff views of Mount Tamalpais to the west and Mount Diablo to the east. There is incredible beauty all around and a sense of once again communing with others out recreating in all manner of ways. Cyclists, roller skaters, hikers, kids learning to ride their bikes with daddy running along behind, dog walkers and runners are all on the wide paved trail.
At mile eleven, yes, mile eleven, we exit the park into the parking lot at the popular Inspiration Point, ride our bikes to the far side to take in the views again, a gathering spot for tourists and locals alike. They didn’t name it Inspiration Point for nothin’! After a chat with other revelers, we hop back on our bikes and turn right out of the parking area onto Wildcat Canyon Road to finish the ride back into town.
Recently paved, this road is a dream and the views are still amazing! Once we meet the five corners at the end of Wildcat, we continue straight away to pick up Spruce. It all seems so easy-breezy now and it is literally all downhill from there to complete this feat at 16.5 wonderfully diverse, challenging and gorgeous miles!
Such an accomplishment deserves a prize and re-entry into the flatlands will land you Shattuck and Vine to indulge your hunger at any number of great eateries in North Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto neighborhood. Or continue south on Shattuck to downtown for more options to complete your day, even jumping onto BART for further adventures in San Francisco of Oakland. This is just one of many great outings in our great town of Berkeley, a cycling playground.
For a map reference of the route starting from Peet’s on Solano, click here
(This essay can be found on Momma Wheelie, my website dedicated to the bike. Click here for more essays and information.)