Rider Information

Greetings to Riders in the 4th Annual Sonoma County Backroad Challenge to be held Saturday, May 16, 2015

We are glad you have chosen to ride in our event and we are working hard to make it an extraordinary event that you will want to return to year after year. Below is information you need to know for our ride. Please read it so that together we can make the Backroad Challenge a fun and memorable event for all. It's going to be a great day on the bike!

Who we are

The ride is sponsored by The Petaluma Sunrise Foundation and administered by The Petaluma Sunrise Rotary Club. We also receive support from other community groups and from our wonderful sponsors.  We appreciate their support and ask that you choose their products and services whenever possible. The proceeds from the ride go to support those community groups who are helping with the ride and the humanitarian projects of the Petaluma Sunrise Rotary Club.

What are those projects and who are these community groups?  The Petaluma Sunrise Rotary Club supports many humanitarian projects, both local and international, including:

The community groups that are supporting us and sharing in the benefits of the event are

We know you will have a great day on the bike.  Your participation ensures that, together, we will provide support for these wonderful non-profit groups and noble causes.

The Ride

The Sonoma County Backroad Challenge on May 16, 2015 will start at Penngrove Park near the intersection of Old Redwood Hwy and Main Street in Penngrove. If you are arriving by car take the northernmost Petaluma exit from Highway 101, labeled Petaluma Blvd. North and Old Redwood Hwy, turn east on Old Redwood Hwy.  Proceed until you see Main Street in Penngrove on your right.  Take Main Street and you will see Penngrove Park immediately on your right where our flaggers will be.  The weather has held, so we will be able to park everyone right there this year.

Registration will be fast and efficient, with some light breakfast available. Be sure to bring your picture ID. You will need to sign the waiver forms available on tables near the registration area. Present your ID to our volunteers at the registration tables and you will receive your route maps, wristband and other important information. Have a quick bite from our concessionaires, then you are off and on your way to a spectacular and scenic ride - the Backroad Challenge.

Your wristband will have tabs attached. Each tab may be turned in at the Festival in order for you to pick up your meal, beverage, and t-shirt. If you are under age, your beverage tab will be removed at the registration table before the wristband goes on your wrist. Soft drinks and water will be available at the Festival.

The Courses

We are once again planning on three courses for riders.

  • The Full Century ("GREEN" or "Long") Course is approximately 100 miles. The start window is from 7:00am to 8:00 am.
  • The Metric Century ("RED" or "Medium")  Course is approximately 70 miles. The start window is from 8:00am to 9:00am.
  • The Half Metric Century ("BLUE" or "Short") Course is approximately 35 miles. The start window is from 9:00am to 10:00am.

Each course is described below and elsewhere on the website in more detail. Please check the length and elevation gains noted for each course and match to your ability and physical conditioning. We want you to be challenged but we also want you to have a safe and enjoyable experience. Please be realistic in choosing the appropriate ride.

Each course will be marked with biodegradable signs and arrows. The color of the signs/arrows will correspond to the course color - which will be the same color as your wristband. Check out the sign and arrow samples at the registration area so you will know what to look for. We don’t want anyone to get off course.

You will also receive a route card at registration. The route card will be specific to your chosen ride, labeled and color coded, with a map showing rest stations and turn by turn directions for your ride. There will also be a phone number to call if you need assistance from the abundant support resources that we have spread around the course. Remember, phone coverage is spotty over some of the course so it may be necessary for you or someone else to move to better coverage to call in for assistance. As always, if there is an emergency, call 911.

The courses will open for riders at the specific times mentioned above. Please do not start earlier than the stated times. Staying within these timelines will make your ride a better experience because:

  1. The Rest Stations will be open.  If you go out too early, our volunteers may not be ready to support you. 
  2. Bike Marshals will be spaced out on the courses to provide support and emergency services.  If you start early and have an issue, the Marshals will not likely be able to get to you in a timely manner.
  3. Our Support and Gear ("SAG") vehicles will be on the road starting at 7am.  They will not be on the course to support anyone setting out earlier than 7am.

We will also be “sweeping the course” later in the afternoon to ensure that all riders are able to complete the ride safely. If you are still on the course at the time the Course Sweeper comes through, you will have the choice of being picked up in the SAG vehicle along with your bike or continuing on your bike. If you choose to keep riding your bike, then you will no longer have the SAG vehicles, safety features and ride support available to you from that point on.  

Regarding clothing drop off, there will be a provision for “checking” any jackets or light gear that you want to shed at the first rest stop. You will put it in a plastic bag, available at the rest stop, and leave the bag with us at the rest stop. We will haul the bag to the Festival when the rest stop closes. Toward the end of the day, you may retrieve the bag at the Petaluma Sunrise Rotary Booth at the Festival. We also advise you to put your contact info on the bag. 

Course Safety

We have a group of 22 Marshals riding bicycles spaced out through the groups of riders. The Marshals will easily be identfied as they will be wearing red Sonoma County Backroad Challenge logo jerseys or other designations as Marshals. They are experienced riders who will be able to help you with advice, encouragement, minor first-aid and minor bike issues. They will also be able to help with communication regarding problems that occur and by summoning aid in the form of Support And Gear (SAG) vehicles or other more substantial assistance. We also have several of our two-wheeled “Motorcycle Cousins” from the Russian River BMW Motorcycle Club riding with us to provide similar services and communication. There will also be automobiles, SAG vehicles, stationed or moving around the course, which can be summoned for assistance and will be available for transport of riders and bicycles if the need arises. We have several officers from the California Highway Patrol directing traffic and providing assistance at specific locations to improve rider safety. All of these safety/support people will be in communication with our control center which will coordinate these resources and direct them to where they are needed.

There is a telephone number on your rider information card, the one you receive at the registration table with your wristband, etc. We want you to call in to the communication center to advise if there is a need for assistance. Please note that phone coverage in many areas of the course is challenged so you or the Marshals may have to move to a location with better phone coverage. If you need help, or if you see someone else who needs help, call us as soon as possible and provide information on the nature and the location of the problem. We will get assistance to the location in very short order.

Rest Stations

There are five rest stations spread over the three courses. The short course has two rest stations, the medium course has four rest stations,and the long course has five.  The rest stations will have communications,  food and water. Each rest station will also have people and provisions for limited medical assistance and limited bicycle mechanical support.  We have engaged non-profit groups from the community to staff each rest station. We anticipate that they will make the rest stations very interesting as well as refreshing.  Please be sure and thank the people staffing the rest stations.

Course Descriptions

There are detailed course descriptions, course maps and elevation profiles on the website on the page marked courses.  

The Sonoma County Backroad Challenge 2014 marks our 4th Annual Event.  Once again we offer three spectacular rides – the Century, the Metric Century, and the Half Metric Century – along the byways through the scenic countryside of southwestern Sonoma and northwestern Marin.

All three rides Start and Finish at Penngrove Community Park on Petaluma Hill Road just off Old Redwood Highway.  All courses this year will be ridden counterclockwise unlike the past two years.  As our name suggests, the courses are on two-lane blacktop – mostly recently improved, but at times rurally rugged yet passable.

Riders begin the morning with a relatively level ride through dairy cattle and horse ranch low country.  The first rest stop is approximately 12.5 miles away at the Emma Herbert Memorial Park at the intersection of Valley Ford and Bloomfield Roads.  The rest stops are all being sponsored by non-profits who are competing for awards for their ingenuity, enthusiasm, energy and service. You will find them well-equipped and enjoyable.

After the first rest stop, the Century riders begin their first of a series of climbs, this one along ridges with outstanding views of the Santa Rosa plain and Sonoma Mountain on one side and the rolling hills from which Petaluma gets its name (a transliteration of the Coast Miwok phrase péta lύuma which means small hills) on the other side.  The course continues upcountry into the apple orchards and vineyards of Sebastopol followed by winding and rolling roads that gradually elevate up to Occidental.  Out of Occidental the Century riders will ascend up Coleman Valley Road to the top of Joy Road.  This is the second major climb, but this year you’ll get to enjoy the steep descent back down to Bodega Highway – with a bump or two along the way.  From the tiny town of Bodega, made famous by Alfred Hitchcock, Century riders will enjoy smaller swells in the landscape until meeting up with the Metric Century riders on the outskirts of Valley Ford.

The Metric Century riders continue to Valley Ford straight from the first rest stop.  At Denucci’s Italian Restaurant they join the Century riders by turning up Valley Ford Estero Road (continuing on to Valley Ford Franklin School Road) with a series of moderate climbs culminating in their first look out over the Pacific Ocean just above Dillon Beach.  Both sets of riders hook up to the Shoreline Highway (Hwy 1) at the town of Tomales.  This road twists, curves and winds its way down through the lowlands of Keys Creek to the shores of Tomales Bay.  The next rest stop is at Nick’s Cove.  After more meandering along the shore, with ample places to stop and take in the views of oyster beds and Point Reyes on the opposite shore, the first major climb for the Metric Century riders (and yet another for the Century riders) begins at the base of the Marshall Wall with an ultra-sharp left turn up the Marshall Petaluma Road.  This road is steep!  At the top is one of west county’s finest panoramic views of the hills and Tomales Bay.  A rugged climb but well worth the effort.  From there it is almost downhill all the way except for Wilson Hill just past the intersection with Hicks Valley Road.  At the top of Wilson Hill Road there is one last stunning view of all the hills and mountains to the East.  Then it is downhill to a much needed rest stop at Bauman Ranch.  Shortly after that, the ride smooths out for everyone along Chileno Valley Road past Laguna Lake and then finally meeting up with the Metric Half Century Riders as the road T’s at Tomales Road.

The Half Metric riders head up Valley Ford Road from the first rest stop.  They turn left at Gericke Road to begin their climbing.  These are just a moderate taste of the more rugged climbs elsewhere in Sonoma County.  However they offer a beautiful glimpse of the back road ranches and dairy farms that pepper the landscape.  Mostly along Fallon Two Rock Road and Tomales Road the ride is a series of very gentle swells.

All rides meet at the intersection of Tomales Road and Chileno Valley Road.  From there it is a couple short miles to the last rest stop, the Church at Bodega Avenue and Spring Hill Road.  And then the final leg passes through the outskirts and small landholdings of Petaluma, on into Petaluma, and finally back to the Festival at Penngrove Park!!!

Festival Choices

The weather has held so we will be able to park everyone right there at Penngrove Park where the ride begins and ends.

If you prefer, you can hop in your car and take a short 1.5 mile trip to Active Sports for a shower and freshen up. 

Sonoma County Backroad Challenge Festival

We will have a hearty barbecued chicken meal prepared by The Penngrove Social Firemen. Several local breweries are providing their craft brews so expect a great variety. Riders will obtain their meal and beverage by having the appropriate wristband tab cut off. Friends and supporters of riders can buy meal tickets and drink tickets at the ticket booth just inside the entrance to the food and beverage area.

Please linger and enjoy the food, beverages, conversation, displays and music as long as you like. Live music will include local favorite bands "Good Question" and "Randy and the Special Agents." You are also encouraged to visit a number of bike related vendors and displays that will be of interestl. We know you have a good time at the Festival.

And Finally

Please remember that we want you to be safe and to have a good time. So the ground rules are as follows:

  • Everybody rides with a helmet, no exceptions.
  • Pay attention to advice from the Marshals. They are very experienced bike riders who are looking out for your safety.
  • Be courteous to all, including cars, cyclists, pedestrians.
  • Help each other! If you need help or if you see someone else who needs help, call it in and we will get some assistance to your location as quickly as possible.
  • Come to the ride with a bike that is in good repair.
  • These are not easy rides.  Before you start, check the website maps and elevation profiles.  Then assess your own capacity for riding and climbing. Choose the appropriate ride and don't exceed your physical abilities. If you do bite off too much, it's not a problem.  Just flag down a SAG vehicle or Marshal and we will pick you up.
  • Have a fun time.  That's what the Sonoma County Backroad Challenge is all about.