Distance: 42-mile loop
Elevation gain: 3820 ft
(Note 11/12/20: Geysers Road, along with Chalk Hill Road and Pine Flat Road, was a victim of the Kincaide Fire. Richard (in his comment below) says the landscape is OK.)
Many areas have the “Big Ride,” the one you do on the day you want to put in some miles and do some work. In the Wine Country, the Big Ride is Geysers Road (when it isn’t Stewarts Point/Skaggs Springs Rd.).
When I reached the beginning of the Geysers Road climb, I was stopped by a group of road maintenance guys and we got to talking. Did I really want to do this?, one of them asked. Geysers, he said, was a mess. Long and steep, with a surface that was at its best broken pavement, at its worst full of gravel, rocks, and fallen plant material, with frequent stretches of dirt road and spots of minimally repaired earthquake damage where the road “just falls off.” Also no water or other reprovisioning opportunities, and little to no cell service.
As it turns out, he was absolutely right, but it’s a wonderful ride nonetheless and nothing to be feared. Except for one hard mile of 14-15% climbing, all the elevation gain (I recorded 4300 ft) is thoroughly manageable, and the scenery is stunning. As with all Wine Country riding, the road surface is indeed poor, varying from sorta OK to wretched, but the worst of it is on the ascent, when you’re doing 5-7 mph and it’s not an issue. I found the earthquake sections geologically fascinating. And the isolation is a large part of the appeal—after I passed the turn-off to the gravel pit 3 miles in I can’t remember seeing a single vehicle.
If you have everyone’s image of the Wine Country—vineyards, gently rolling hills, old farm houses, everything neat as a pin—forget it. Geysers is a wild and woolly climb up the side of a creek canyon, followed by a few ridge crossings and mad descents through more canyons, all barren of signs of humanity (one house, one thermal power plant). No wine tasting here. But you get that stereotypical Wine Country riding experience on the Geysers Rd.-to-Cloverdale connector.
You want to ride Geysers from north to south. The road is in two halves with very different characters. The north side (up to the Geysers Resort Road turn-off) is narrow, mellow of pitch, rough, and winding. The south side is steep, wider, straighter, and smoother (though not smooth). So riding from south to north robs you of most of the road’s rewards: instead of a charming, curious, and mellow ascent and a speedy, relatively smooth descent, you get a steep, relatively featureless slog up to the summit, followed by an unpleasantly rough descent. You’ll see riders beginning at the south end, but I suspect they’re riding to the summit and back. This is fine if all you want is a workout, but the north side is by far the prettier and more dramatic.
By the way, you won’t see geysers. You’ll see some developed thermal activity in the distance to your L, but it isn’t pretty and the resort itself is closed.
I would avoid this ride on a hot summer day, since much of it is exposed and there is no water.
The route is in the shape of a D, with Geysers being the rounded part and the straight part being Hwy 28/Geyserville Rd./Asti Rd. The latter is all gently rolling valley riding, so you could start anywhere along it. I like to ride a while before climbing, so I start in Asti, which gives 6 miles of warm-up before Geysers, though in fact you could start in Geyserville if you wanted to get all the flat/boring stuff out of the way.
Ignore Mapmyride’s route from Asti to Geysers. Instead, start at the intersection of Asti Rd. and unpretentious Washington School Rd. (there’s a small turn-out for parking). Ride down Washington School for a half-mile to River Rd…if you can. Washington School crosses a gully on a dirt bridge that is impassible in inclement weather, so WSR is gated off much of the year (which is why Mapmyride refuses to map it). Give it a try—consider walking the 100 yards of the bridge if it’s unrideable—because River Rd. is just perfect, an idyllic roll along the edge of the vineyards, with grapes on your L and woodlands on your R, on the only glassy road surface you’ll see today. It’s like the over-ridden Silverado Trail without the traffic and with more contour. If WSR is off limits, ride north on Asti Rd., which is merely OK. It will take you to the same place.
River Rd. runs into Geysers Rd. Geysers is narrow and rough at first as it follows beside and climbs high above Big Sulfur Creek, but the character of the road varies—from patchy one-lane to gravel to smooth two-lane with bright centerline. You will “climb” for the next 13 miles, to the Geysers Resort turn-off, but a lot of it is mild up and down and absolutely none of it is hard—mostly 4-5%, never more than 7%. This is the best scenery of the ride, particularly in the fall when the leaves are turning, and the road is constantly rising, falling, turning, so it keeps your interest. There are several short stretches of gravel, all easy to navigate on 23mm tires. Notice the earthquake damage—very short stretches of road where the surface has dropped a foot or so.
At the Geyser Resort intersection, everything changes. The road becomes a polished, wide two-lane with centerline, and the pitches are steeper. From here on the scenery is about big, open canyon vistas, and there are several places where the road skirts the lip of the drop-off vertiginously.
Immediately after the Resort Rd intersection, you will do the ride’s only real work, 1.5 miles of truly hard 14-15%. Then it’s an easy mile or two to the first of the ride’s two summits. Don’t expect to see the Hwy 101 valley when the view to the west opens up—there are canyons and ridges between you and it. Check out the perfect view of the next climb, a serpentining stretch laid out perfectly before you on the opposite hill. It looks like an utter bitch but isn’t bad.
A steep 2-mile descent reminds you that no descending in Sonoma County is really much fun—too rough, and the possibility of potholes, frost heaves, or even gravel stretches is always there. Cross the bridge and do the last climb, 1.5 miles that at first threatens to be ugly but soon turns moderate. Then substantial descending, which would be great if they’d just pave the damned thing, until you re-enter the valley.
Take Hwy 128, which is very pretty but a bit too trafficky, to Geyserville, then Geyserville Rd, which becomes Asti Rd., back to your car. This last stretch is on the very shoulder of Hwy 101 and thus is only OK riding, and it rolls more than your tired legs would like, so be prepared (or start your ride in Geyserville).
Shortening the route: I wouldn’t. You could ride to the first summit and turn around, but you wouldn’t save yourself much in the way of miles or work, and you’d miss some very good stuff.
Adding miles: Our Pine Flat Rd. ride is a short bike ride to the south of you. The Hopland Rd. ride is a short car trip to the north via Hwy 101. The Old Howell Mtn. Road ride is about 20 miles to the south.