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Length 42 miles
Time 5.5 hours
Total Climb 4200 feet
Fun Rating
8
Scenic Rating
8
Aerobic Difficulty
9
Technical Difficulty 
5


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The Geysers
1% FIRE ROAD99% ROAD






This is a road loop that's more challenging than its mileage might imply. The route takes you through a wide range of settings, from a flat wine-country cruise past pretty vineyards to remote mountain tops. Among the things you'll be seeing on the ride are a rugged river valley that almost brings to mind comparisons with scenes you would find around the Sierra Nevada; sightings of at least three geothermal power plants and their curiously meandering piping along a couple of hillsides; and what initially seem like rundown remnants of old mining operations, which I'm inclined to guess are actually older geothermal facilities at least judging by the fact that they usually contain long lengths of metal tubing arranged in tightly zig-zagging configurations. You can also add to that the wonderfully scenic and fun descent as Geysers Road winds back down to the Alexander Valley flatlands, which may even qualify as the highlight of the entire ride.

Needless to say, I'm not a frequent rider in this particular area. So it should come as a surprise to no one when I mention that I picked this ride from a book: 75 Classic Rides Northern California. It's one of my favorite road ride books by Bill Oetinger who also appears to be involved with the Santa Rosa Cycling Club. Judging by the fact that he's the club's ride director and newsletter editor of many years as well as being the writer of multiple biking books, I guess I can take it to mean that his description of this ride as "one of the best and most classic of all Sonoma rides" implies that it's a favorite at least among the experienced cyclists of the area. By the way, Bill's description of the ride is also available online.

There are two noteworthy climbs on this ride, one of them being particularly bad, but even the remaining gentler elevation gain on the ride adds up to quite a lot as you can see in the stats of the ride. There's no sugar-coating the fact that the bad climb of the ride is very serious. It's not exactly one for the record books, but it's bad enough to completely change the mood of the ride that you maintain from the beginning of the ride up to that point. The grade of this climb is very consistent and its overall average is more than 11% end to end. On the positive side, it's less than 1.5 miles long. So, whether you pedal, walk, or crawl up, taking as many rest stops as you need, you'll get to the top before too long.

The ride traverses some very remote areas with no settlements. Cyclists who enjoy seclusion and sense of wilderness are likely to get more out of this route. For part of Geysers Road, you'll see signs announcing 12 miles of a single-lane road. To be honest, this does not seem to be such a consistently single-lane road. Parts of it are wider. But it's a testament to how secluded the area is. I did see some cars pass by me on the most deserted part of the route, but no more than three or so. I encountered only six other riders (three of which were mountain bikers). One thing you need to be prepared for is the lack of water along this long stretch of backcountry. Although, when I did the ride during the wet season, there were plenty of rivulets streaming down toward the road and the ride follows creek beds relatively closely for some of its mileage anyway. So, if you have some means of water purification with you, water may not be something you need to worry about after all.

Seeing the ride is called "The Geysers", if you expect to be able to see some of these natural curiosities on the ride, you'll be disappointed. It appears that there was a resort around here somewhere at some point that was open to the public and made use of these geysers somehow, at least judging by the fact that one of the roads here is named "Geysers Resort Road". But now, all the geysers are used by geothermal power plants, which are not open to the public. So, if you want to see a geyser, you might want to extend your ride plan to include a driving side trip to the Old Faithful geyser near Calistoga.

The ride begins from the center of Geyserville. You use street parking here. This is such a tiny town that it couldn't have any kind of strict regulation of parking. So, what you'll probably need to find is any kind of roadside parking space on the main drag.

The first segment of the loop takes place on Geyserville Avenue and its direct continuation, Asti Road, which runs flatly along Highway 101 in Alexander Valley, connecting Geyserville to Cloverdale. This is effectively a frontage road to the highway, which means that the sights and the noise of the highway take something away from the otherwise nice setting of the road. Although, on the positive side, it also means that the road carries virtually no through traffic, so it's nearly deserted despite its relatively central location. The description of the ride in the book explains that, depending on the time of the year, you have the option of crossing Russian River on a temporary bridge before Cloverdale, by turning right onto Washington School Road, which should be better since it will move you away from the highway sooner. This temporary bridge was not in place at the time of my early April ride so I continued to Cloverdale and crossed the river via Crocker Road instead.

As the route passes by the outskirts of Cloverdale, the amount of traffic starts to pick up a little. Especially when you first turn onto Crocker Road and start heading away from the freeway, things get noticeably busy. But the "suburban" Cloverdale residences peter out fairly quickly and things become quiet again shortly.

Almost immediately after leaving Cloverdale behind, Geysers Road runs through a steep-sided canyon carved by a river that rapidly flows at its bottom. This is a part of the ride with a very pretty setting and it's the kind of sight that you don't get to see that frequently on Bay Area rides. This stretch lasts less than a mile, but it's still a nice perk. The road does go through tight squeezes in the valley one or two more times a little further up, but those are even shorter.

In the early part of Geysers Road, there are actually some segments that have wide, smooth, and well-engineered road surfaces. The fact that these are intermixed with rough, narrow, and cheaply done stretches leads me to the conclusion that, at some point, one segment of this road was such a smooth and nice one from beginning to end. And after repeated repairs due to slides and so on, ultimately the nicer parts became a smaller fraction of the road's mileage.

The landscape flattens relatively as you go further up the valley, but the road keeps following the river bed for at least nine miles before it begins to inch its way up and away from the water. Along the way, you start catching the sights of grassy hillsides on your left. Around the 23-mile marker of this route, this hillside is where you start seeing the largest concentration of geothermal facilities that you will get to see on this ride.

When the narrow one-lane Geysers Road widens after meeting with Geysers Resort Road, it changes character drastically. It becomes a wide two-lane with a good surface and usually decent shoulder space. However, this also happens to be where the worst climb of the ride begins, which I've already described. So you don't feel too celebratory about the improvement in the pavement quality.

As soon as this tough climb ends, you'll find yourself on a stretch of the road that follows along the ridge relatively levelly. There is still some pedaling to do here, but not very much. At the same time, views open up to the other side of the ridge that you've just climbed, though this doesn't include views of Alexander Valley. Still, this breezy part of the route with reasonably nice scenery feels like heaven after that brutal climb and gives you an appropriate sense of accomplishment after having finished the toughest part of the ride.

After a winding descent and the crossing of another creek via a concrete bridge, you start the second major climb of the ride. This has a much more moderate slope on average, although its early stretches have a couple of curves that are very steep. This is less of a pain than the ride's worst climb and is also much shorter, but it's still no joke. It lasts for one mile, but the slope varies almost constantly. Those steep curves that I mentioned top out at an average grade of 11.5% over about 1/8th of a mile. And even after you finish this climb, the elevation gain is not entirely over. There is another couple of blips you need to get through before you can start an unbroken descent in earnest.

The moment when the ride's last significant climb ends coincides exactly with the opening up of expansive views of Alexander Valley as well as the returning sight of vineyards along the road. This is the beginning of the wonderfully scenic and fun descent back to the valley floor. This unbroken descent lasts for about 4 miles, over which you lose a touch over 1800 feet of net elevation. The first half of this descent is open to virtually uninterrupted panoramic views of the valley. At some point in the second half of the descent, trees begin to surround the road, which interrupt much of the views. The residences you encounter on the road also begin to multiply as you get further down, but you don't enter any dense area of settlement even when you reach the flat valley floor, or until you return to Geyserville for that matter.

As you start getting closer to the flat lands, the traffic also ratchets up noticeably. Things become moderately busy at the intersection with Red Winery Road. If there's any part of the ride route where the interaction with traffic starts feeling a little hairy, it's the stretch of Route 128 at the end of the ride where it skirts flatly along the vineyards on the valley floor on your way back to Geyserville. There is no shoulder space here. The traffic is at least of moderate density and the cars often drive fast.

It's worth pointing out that the backcountry part of this route is dotted by cattle guards and short stretches of gravel. So, especially during the fast descents on the ride, these are things to watch out for and they are good reasons to limit your speed. I noted six gravel stretches, though they do add up to just enough mileage to account for the 1% fire-road mileage I show on the ride type breakdown bar, as you can see. (As far as that breakdown is concerned, I consider any surface that's not paved and that's not a singletrack trail to be a "fire road", to keep things simple.) These are perfectly rideable on any road bike, but I wouldn't want to enter one of them at high speed. Meanwhile, I lost count of the cattle guards somewhere around 12.

I should add a note here that the route shown for this ride in Bill's book actually involves a 7.5-mile extension of this route after you return to the flat Alexander Valley floor near the end of the ride. This little sub-loop tacked on to the core loop appears to be aimed solely at paying a visit to Jimtown Store. This cafe/giftshop is a very popular rest stop for cyclists, as far as I understand. If you feel you have enough time and energy left near the end of this ride, this is a pleasant stop that's easy to recommend. On this particular ride, it felt more natural to me to leave it out after nearly 40 miles and more than 5 hours on a tough ride, so I headed straight back to my car in Geyserville instead.



© Ergin Guney


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