Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Nifty Ten Fifty Ride Description

The Nifty Ten fifty

The Nifty Ten Fifty is a difficult bicycle climbing route in the East Bay Hills, primarily in Berkeley, and Oakland, California. The goal was to fashion a ride with 10,000’ of climbing in 50 miles. The finished route comes close to that goal, with 10,050’ of climbing in just 54 miles. There have been other attempts at this sort of madness. Grizzly Peak Cyclists did a similar route annually back in the late 70’s and 80’s. I understand they may still be doing a similar route called “Vicious Hills”. And there is “The Berkeley Hills Death Ride” consisting of 5 very difficult climbs in Berkeley. All 5 of those climbs are included in the Nifty Ten Fifty, but there are, in addition, 5 more climbs! Part of the appeal of the ride besides the suffering on the climbs is the bay views, the nice roads through the parks, and the incredible tour of bay area architecture, from old Berkeley homes, to the new, modern, post fire Oakland hills homes.

Climb #1 Moeser Lane

The route starts at the corner of Moeser Lane and Pomona Ave. in El Cerrito. If you are a cyclist that needs a warm-up, then a couple of trips back and forth on Richmond Ave. (3 blocks east of San Pablo Ave.) will do the trick. The cyclist heads straight up Moeser Ave to Arlington. It’s a 700’ climb with grades up to 20%. The average grade for the final .8 mile is about 15%. The route then descends through El Cerrito neighborhoods going mostly down Stockton Ave.

Climb #2 Terrace/Edwin

The next climb is Terrace to Contra Costa Ave, Edwin Street, cross Arlington and ascend a short, steep (20%+) footpath to the Kensington School. The route ends up at Spruce and Grizzly. In total this climb is not terribly difficult, but there are a few very short steep sections. The route descends Spruce, then turns right on Montrose to Santa Barbara then passes by Indian Rock, a well-known Berkeley landmark.

Climb #3 Marin Ave

This is the big daddy. Absurd. Ridiculous. No matter how strong you are or what your gearing, you will suffer on this climb. It is, by far, the most difficult climb on the ride. It climbs city blocks one by one, with a flat section at each block where it meets a cross street. The first block is about 14%, then there are some “easy” blocks of 10%. Then it kicks up again to about 15%+. Once you cross Euclid you are in for a real treat. 3 blocks averaging 22% with sections of approximately 25%-26%. Fortunately, you have the luxury of catching your breath by circling the flat area at each intersection, thereby possibly avoiding the dreaded “topple”. The route then descends the East side of the hills through Tilden Park, down Shasta and Wildcat to San Pablo Dam Road.

Climb #4 El Toyonal/Lomas Cantadas

This a long climb on twisty, wooded, narrow, residential roads. It’s quiet and beautiful. This is a manageable climb, with a few steeper sections on the lower part. However, near the top, by Grizzly Peak Stables, the cyclist encounters some extended 17%. It’s difficult, but everything will seem easy after Marin Ave! The ride then descends residential roads back on the west side of the hills above the UC Berkeley campus. Avenida and Buena Vista are the primary roads traveled on the descent down to Euclid.

Climb #5 Centennial Drive

The route passes briefly through the UC Berkeley Campus, entering at Euclid then turning east near the Campanile,then up around the La Crosse field and football stadium to catch Centennial Drive. Centennial starts off gradual then steepens to about 11%. It goes for quite a distance at this pitch, then flattens out at Lawrence Hall of Science, then finishes with a less steep section, perhaps 9% or so. The route then descends through Tilden Park via Golf Course Drive and Park Hills. The rider continues past the Tilden Merry-Go-Round to the bottom of Canon Drive at the Tennis Courts.

Climb #6 Canon/South Park

Climb 6 is really two climbs separated by a more or less flat section on Wildcat Canyon Rd. through Tilden Park. Canon drive is a short climb of about .4 mile and boasts a 12% average grade. Then the rider heads east on Wildcat Canyon to the base of South Park drive. South Park is a beautiful road through the Park that is closed to vehicle traffic in winter (Save the Salamanders)! It has some extended stretches of 12-15%. The route then heads South on Grizzly Peak and Skyline Drive into the Oakland Hills. The cyclist gets a break from climbing for a while. Shepard Canyon is the descent. The pavement used to be horrible on this road, but it has recently been re-paved.

Climb #7 Snake/Elverton

Snake/Elverton is the next climb. Snake is not terribly difficult. It averages about 7% and has a few steeper sections but it’s really quite pleasant. You can even spend some time climbing in the saddle on Snake—a rare luxury on this ride! You will then go left on Skyline to Elverton. Elverton slices through a steep area of the hills where a few daring souls have built homes with spectacular views. Riders will still enjoy the views without the worry of their home sliding down the hill. A twisty descent down Thorndale and Thornhill follows.

Climb #8 Broadway Terrace

Broadway Terrace to Old Tunnel. This is a nice climb through the Oakland Hills. The 1991 fire destroyed most of the homes on this road so the cyclist is treated to some new and interesting architecture along the way. These are luxury homes with splendid views. Some are quite nice. The pitch on Broadway Terrace varies, and there are some steep sections, but it’s mostly pleasant.

Climb #9 Hiller Ave/ Norfolk

At the bottom of Tunnel road, the rider cannot miss Hiller. Tunnel is a very popular cycling route, however most cyclists avoid Hiller Ave like the plague. It’s pretty ugly to look at, sporting a straight-up .2 mile section of 20%. Fortunately, it’s relatively short, but tired legs will be a factor at this point. The route then winds through residential streets with a short descent on Charring Cross and some more short steep climbing sections. The ride then descends again through hilly residential streets to the Claremont Hotel. Next is the only mandatory rest stop. Peets Coffee on Domingo Ave!

Climb #10 Claremont/Grizzly Peak/Vollmer Peak

This is the longest climb of the ride with the most ascent. It’s actually three climbs but there are no breaks between the climbs. Claremont has some extended sections that are about 10% or so. Then Grizzly Peak is a relatively sane pitch of about 7%. The final climb is up Vollmer Peak on a foot path. This much discussed climb sports a 28% kicker at the top. It’s difficult, but the recently paved path is much easier than it used to be when it was horribly pot-holed and full of gravel. The Peets caffeine should be in full effect now. Just grunt it out for a short section and you’re done! Though the ride officially ends here, you have to coast back to the start (about 7 miles), and there are a few short rises, but if you’ve gotten this far, you’ll make it back.


  1. Just curious...in the past about what time does each group end up finishing the ride?

  2. H'mm. Interesting. I've done some hill climbing. These days, I ride a mountain bike, really light, and with a triple chainring, so I have really low gearing. Is there a route map available?

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  4. I think the steepest part of Centennial Drive is much greater than 11%. My guess would be 18 to 20