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A ride that evolved into one of NorCal’s most legendary bike events
Words by Kurt Gensheimer
Photos by Paul Miller
Old Cazadero Classic started 20 years ago as a training ride and an excuse to get friends together for a mid-winter pedal amidst the redwoods of the Northern California coast.
“I was racing road bikes and mountain bikes at the time, and I just wanted to put together an annual training ride with friends,” said Miguel Crawford, founder of Old Cazadero Classic and Grasshopper Adventure Series. “I wanted to do something weird, something cool, something that would piss off my roadie friends.”
Since its very humble and informal beginnings in Occidental, Calif. in 1999, Old Cazadero Classic – known as Old Caz – has grown from a small Sonoma County ride of friends into a phenomenon, attracting 600 riders including names like former pro road racers Levi Leipheimer and Ted King and international mountain bike superstar Kate Courtney. But Old Caz has never been about attracting big names; it’s about going on a beautiful and fun bike adventure covering 53 miles with 4,700 vertical feet of climbing. Punishing at times, especially on the final four-mile climb up Willow Creek Road to the finish, but entirely rewarding.
Mixing equal bits dirt and pavement, Old Caz is part old school mountain bike race, part road race, part adventure ride and part gravel grinder. And the signature Old Caz feature – a knee-deep crossing of Austin Creek that’s too deep to safely ride which made for some choice photo opportunities. As a result, every type of rider and every kind of bike showed up at Old Caz. Roadies in bright lycra with aero helmets, shoe covers and narrow slick tires, mountain bikers with baggy shorts, hairy legs and full suspension and riders like me who tried to split the gap evenly, riding a drop bar gravel bike with low profile mountain bike tires. There were even a few fat bikes that showed up. Oh, and a dude on a mountain bike with his dog in a backpack enjoying the ride. Never seen that before.
Even though Old Caz has evolved into what many would consider a race, for most folks Old Caz is still a ride with friends and a little competition mixed in. Nothing could support that notion better than the finish line party near the top of Willow Creek Road, complete with kegs of beer, hot dogs and majestic views of the coastal range out to the Pacific Ocean. In 25 years of participating in bike events, I’ve never experienced a post-ride party on the side of a dirt road with as many cool folks and sweeping vistas as Old Caz. Not a bad place to spend a few hours chatting it up with friends after putting in a hearty day on the bike.
It was especially cool to see Crawford at the finish line, not holding a clipboard or a megaphone, but covered in mud wearing his riding gear. There aren’t many events I’ve ever seen where the organizer is organized enough that he can also participate in his own event. Respect.
Yuri Hauswald, a Petaluma resident who races gravel bikes professionally for Scott Bicycles and works as Community Development Manager for GU Energy Labs, was at the first Old Caz and has participated in almost every edition since.
“It’s so crazy to see how Old Caz started and what it’s turned into,” said Hauswald. “But I can’t say I’m surprised. Miguel has always been a master of taking people on a real bike adventure in their own backyard.”
It’s All About the Route
After riding Old Caz it was dope-slap obvious why this event is such a hit; it’s all about the route. There’s something for everybody at Old Caz. Steep, winding paved climbs? Check. Rowdy, rutted out dirt descents? Affirmative. Bike-eating mudholes? Yup. Flat sections of pavement for pacelining? Oh yeah. Tight narrow wet roads winding through enormous redwood groves? Plenty. Pristine mountain streams? Everywhere. Gates across the road that you have to climb through in obstacle course fashion? Why not. Downed logs to bunnyhop? You bet. Aid stations with bacon, beer and peanut M&Ms? Praise the lord. Finish line party with all your friends and competitors? Icing on the cake.
With variety as abundant as this, what type of bike is best for Old Caz?
“Whichever bike you bring,” said Crawford while holding a beer and taking in the crowd of smiles at the finish line.
It’s true. No matter what bike you ride you’re gonna have a good time, and there’s going to be a part of the course that your bike will be best at. There will also be a few sections where you wish you had a different bike. That’s another part of what makes Old Caz such a hit; it’s an event that brings together all bike enthusiasts, breaking down the age-old barrier between roadies and off-roaders.
The course also gives everyone a little bit of their own glory. The climbers can get their kicks accelerating skyward, the downhillers on capable bikes can have a dirt rally-fest passing dozens of folks, the power riders can shift into the big ring and string out the field on the flats and those just out for a cruisy day on the bike can enjoy it all. My lady Elisabeth, aka Swan John, did exactly that, taking all day to enjoy the ride, stopping at every aid station, taking pictures, meeting new friends and coming across the finish line looking as fresh and mud free as she did at the start. At Old Caz, there’s a lot more winners than just the first person to cross the finish line.
Meeting New Friends
Aside from the friendly competition and my adventure comrade Chris Brown keeping me company all day despite my flat tire and flat legs, I got to meet some new friends and incredible human beings. One of them was Jeremiah Kahmoson, the Executive Director of B-Rad Foundation, a 501(c)3 focused on outdoor youth development programs in the memory of his friend and climber Brad “B-Rad” Parker. As someone who has given back so much to his community, Kahmoson showed up to the Old Caz entirely in gear that was donated to him by the cycling community. His wife and two daughters were victims of the Tubbs Fire, an inferno that destroyed more than 2,800 homes in Santa Rosa.
“We literally had five minutes to grab what was most important and evacuate,” said Kahmoson. “After losing everything in the fires, this year’s Old Caz was personally significant in so many ways. Riding with this community is like coming home. For a few awesome hours life got simple, and the hardest decision I had to make was how hard to high five my buddies at the finish. Old Caz marks one wonderful step closer to “normal” for me in this chaotic year.”
Old Caz is as much a celebration of being alive in a beautiful part of the world as it is a bike event. Put it on the calendar for next year and get ready for a good time. Get all the details at: grasshopperadventureseries.com.
Those who wish to help the Kahmoson family can donate here: youcaring.com/jeremiahmkahmoson-975785.
2018 Grasshopper Adventure Series
Old Caz kicks off Hopper Adventures’ Grasshopper Adventure Series, the original gravel, mixed-terrain adventure series which this year celebrates its 20th year.
Located in West Sonoma County in Northern California, each Hopper is unique in its route and terrain and will challenge the rider and equipment like no other race series in the world. Come to adventure and explore or come to race and shred, it’s up to you.
Prizes and cash are awarded to the top three men and women overall for each race, and prizes for the top three men and women in each category for the series. Winners also receive a custom Capo jersey and are crowned “Adventure Champion of the Universe.”
Those vying for winning the series must compete in five of the six Hoppers, with the King Ridge Dirt Supreme required.
A portion of the proceeds goes to the El Molino High School Mountain Biking Team, the Matt Wilson Memorial Scholarship, and the Ross Dillon Fund.
At press time, two other series events had taken place in addition to the Old Caz: Chileno Valley on February 10 and the Super Sweetwater on March 17. Still to come: Lake Sonoma MTB on April 21, Skaggs and Super Skaggs on May 5, and the King Ridge Dirt Supreme on May 19.
Plus … coming August 11-12: The Mendo Hopper, a two-day epic adventure on little known dirt roads in remote Mendocino County.
Learn more at grasshopperadventureseries.com.