There are some sectors of dirt that belong in every cyclist’s lexicon and conquering Old Caz Gravel is a ride that should be in everyone’s vocabulary.
Starting off, Sonoma County is a special place to explore itself.
It seems just far enough off the grid from the Bay Area that keeps its country charm without feeling completely disconnected.
On the cycling end, it’s an area I’m not afraid to explore because it’s easy to feel remote yet you’re never too far from a spot to refuel.
Part of the mystic of the area stems from over two decades of the Grasshopper Adventure Series introducing so many people to the sport and locales
Our Old Caz gravel adventure basically followed their route subbing out the descent down Willow Creek for the Bohemian Highway for the start knocking off about ten miles.
Occidental is a popular starting spot for cyclists maybe because the hearty sandwiches that await at Howard Station Cafe named after one of the town’s founders (sort of).
It’s a quick seven miles down the Bohemian Highway placing you directly over the Russian River and the quirky enclave of Monte Rio.
While Old Cazadero Road lies east, the gravel play is to head in the opposite direction where in a mile you’ll connect with Duncan Road.
It’s only about 2 1/2 miles of dirt, but it has moderate grades of both ups and downs exiting you where the main attraction begins.
Surprisingly, be not unwelcomed, Old Caz is primarily paved for the first five miles which is especially helpful on the substantial 10% section.
The real joy is going around the gate at the top where the off-roading begins where to top offers hero views of the Sonoma hills.
Dipping into the trees gives you a guiltless mile of fun descending which abruptly ends crossing Austin Creek which flows at different levels throughout the year.
We initially missed went off route shunning the downed tree to the right, but after making our way under, it was a mile of climbing with a final reward of downhill of equal distance.
You exit out just north of the small town of Cazadero which has a lot of charm per capita as well as a good spot to refuel.
Resuming your ride takes you six miles down Cazadero Highway where the local move is to flip over to the quieter Austin Creek Road as you cross the waterway.
Jumping onto Highway 116 is a bit deceiving as you follow the Russian River towards the ocean, not receiving the downhill help you believe as the elevation loss is shallow while the headwinds are real.
With a quick touch onto Highway 1, it’s a immediate turn on the other side of the river as the Willow Creek return awaits.
The first three and a half miles is flat and relatively open to the elements, yet the gravel can be choppy in parts.
It’s easy to make out the next section of equal distance as you dip into the foliage as you wind with a climb where you avoid a number of downed trees ascending up a reasonable grade.
I appreciate ending the ride within the Redwoods, but was happy to perch out and get some rare open views right where you want it at the top.
Finishing off the road on pavement, it’s a not long enough jaunt on legendary Coleman Valley Road before you dip back into town.
With great dirt, a spackling of small towns, redwoods above scale and a moderate level of difficulty, Old Caz is a great ride that will make riders of all levels of experience fall in love with gravel.