October 3 update: Reports, Photos and Video from Levi's Inaugural Granfondo

Cycling King Ridge & Meyers Grade, Sonoma — Granfondo Preview

Meyers Grade Rd looking down the coast to Jenner and Goat Rock State Beach. This may be the best view of the Pacific Coast for a cyclist. (March 2003)
21 Photos from past rides in Northwest Sonoma County (2003-2008) — steephill.tv

September 29 update: Now seems like a good time to post a long overdue ride report of one of California's best cycling areas as a preview for this weekend's Levi Leipheimer's King Ridge Granfondo. Sonoma County has some the best cycling you'll find anywhere. In one day you can ride past vineyards, wind along the Russian River through old-growth redwood forests and cling to the famous Pacific Coast Highway. If you get off the main roads, you'll encounter many peaceful, but challenging roads that seem built for road cycling. (Many were once logging roads). The best of these secondary roads is King Ridge, the name pro cyclist Levi Leipheimer has given to his inaugural Granfondo, a day for thousands of competitive and recreational cyclists to test themselves, enjoy the scenery and raise some money for good causes. (The Italian term Gran fondo loosely translates to "big ride")

King Ridge Road is a narrow, twisty backroad without markings. From the Cazadero side, it's a very challenging 10 km climb to the top of the ridge. Instead of reaching a definitive summit, riders are rewarded with a fun roller coaster ride along the spine of the ridge with great views on either side and few signs of civilization. It's a very peaceful area and it's no wonder a Buddhist monastery exists nearby. (You can often find monks at the best cycling destinations around the world).

The intersection with Tin Barn Road marks the north end for those doing the full route. Grandfondo riders will head back from the top end of the loop along a rolling sometimes difficult stretch of road where the name changes several times without any turn-offs. Most people know this section as Seaview Rd although there is no view of the sea (or the coast) until it turns into Meyers Grade Rd. And what a view it is. Thankfully, you'll be going down this road as it pitches up to 18%. It's so steep you have to crane your neck to get a view of the Highway 1 coastline. Hopefully, the fog doesn't impede your view, but don't be surprised if it does. The ride then traverses the hilly, coastline cliffs, south to Jenner where the ride joins up to the medio fondo route and continues down the coast, past picturesque Goat Rock State Beach before turning inland on Coleman Valley Road, a road used several times by the Amgen Tour of California. This is another short but steep climb that separates the men (pros) from the boys (amateurs). From the top, the road meanders through more ranch land before descending into Occidental. Occidental was one of the stops on the North Pacific Coast Railroad during the logging area and later brought vacationers from San Francisco. In the '60s, it was the center of the "neo-hippie" movement in Sonoma County. Today, "Occidental is unique for its high concentration of visionaries and famous artists" and supposedly its Italian restaurants.

Granfondo variation for campers

From Occidental, the Granfondo then heads back to Santa Rosa. For logistical reasons, Levi's Granfondo starts and finishes in Santa Rosa, but if you are driving up from the San Francisco Bay Area on any other weekend then you are better off to start closer to the coast. Occidental, Bodega and Guerneville are popular spots if you are staying the weekend. Towns like Monte Rio and Duncan Mills are often used as a starting point for those just visiting for the day.

My favorite variation of this route (when I'm fit) incorporates the awe-inspiring Armstrong Redwoods Reserve and the steep finish to the Austin Creek Recreation Area where there is a good campground. The road to the Bullfrog Pond campground is so steep and twisty, you won't see any large camper vans (buses) at the top. Unfortunately, there are no showers either. Bring a portable Sun Shower or shower at one of the campgrounds off of the main road (Highway 116) or bring some Action Wipes.

Also follow steephill on Twitter for the latest race info and video updates.
Sadly, both Armstrong Redwoods Reserve and Austin Creek are slated for closure as a result of the State of California's $14 million budget cut to State Parks. Maybe next year, some of the funds raised by Levi's Granfondo will help support the Sonoma state parks that are on the cutting block right now. (Sept 30 update: CSPF Statement on the Governor's "plan" to keep state parks open)

Enjoy the ride. And check back for a collection of photos and video from the event. — Steve

Post Granfondo Photos and Videos Links

photo: Ken Conley

November 13 update: A really nice final recap with a Levi interview and helicopter shots of King's Ridge:

October 3 update:
No better way to pedal cycling than going for a ridepressdemocrat
  Grandfondo start, 30 minute stream of riders@Gbcue
Harper kicked ass at the Gran Fondo; narrowly edged out Leviflickr
Four Hours Of Bliss In Santa Rosa (With Some Suffering Thrown In)roadbikeaction
  9 year-old Liam's training videoblogfathersontour
Photos with Levi: Aaaaaawesommmme day! (tweathers), Post-event press conference, Scott Nydam finished first in 4:48, Levi post-event press conference, Sonoma coast with bonus hurricane-force tailwind! Beautiful day, 9 year-old Liam at the finish, cyclefilm, ncjack
  Grandfondo start, Top of Coleman Valley Road: pictures set to music — youtube
Lots of rider photosgranfondo.smugmug
More rider photosken conley
Ride report with photosroadrashcycling
  Next day, post Granfondo thank you from Leviyoutube
A celebration of cycling @ Levi's GranFondopodiuminsight
More than 3,500 hit the roads of Santa Rosa for the first Levi Leipheimer Gran Fondovelonews
  Watch this 9 yr-old hammer it up Coleman Valley Rd Next year, the granfondo — Fathersontour
  Medio Fondo Helmet/Chestcam clipsnoodle
... more to come ...

Related Links

Santa Rosa Cycling Club King Ridge Ride Description: A detailed report from those who know the area best — srcc
21 Photos from past rides in Northwest Sonoma County (2003-2008) — steephill.tv
Levi's Granfondo Site: check out the blog and photo gallery — levisgranfondo
  Official Video Promolevisgranfondo
Anticipation builds for Levi's 'Big Ride'pressdemocrat
How Sonoma County became hotbed of the cycling worldpressdemocrat
Northwest Sonoma County Visitor Information russianrivertravel
  King Ridge Cycling Footageyoutube
  Recon Videoyoutube
10 Great Sonoma County Ridessrcc

Saving Armstrong Reserve and other Sonoma parks

   Video 1, Video 2