Night + Day: Ride the Wine Country way

We've all seen the aerial TV footage of the great bicycle races, with top cyclists roaring up steep hills and speeding down the other sides.

Still, that doesn't mean there's no hope for the cycling equivalent of what golfers call a duffer. You don't need to be a champion to get out on a bicycle and enjoy Sonoma County's scenery close-up, from its trails and roads.

The Sonoma County cycling community offers plenty of online support, with suggested routes, safety tips and opportunities to meet other cyclists. Two of the best websites are the Santa Rosa Cycling Club's srcc.com and the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition's bikesonoma.org. The coalition also offers maps, available at most bike shops.

And here are some easy routes to get you started:

Starting from the Prince Memorial Greenway in downtown Santa Rosa, cyclists can cross a wooden foot bridge over Santa Rosa Creek and head west.

Safely separated from car traffic on Highway 12, the trail goes straight through to downtown Sebastopol, with a couple of road crossings. From there, riders can pick up the West County Trail nearby and continue all the way to Forestville.

You'll want to set a leisurely pace, because you'll be sharing the trail with hikers, skaters and parents pushing strollers.

Or you can take the Santa Rosa Creek Trail instead. This ride also starts at Prince Memorial Greenway, but instead of crossing the creek you follow it west out to Willowside Road. You might even spot an egret cruising above the creek, flying parallel to the trail.

For a more ambitious outing, ride up Old Redwood Highway to Pleasant Avenue in Windsor, then Chalk Hill Road out to Highway 128. Go left, and that'll take you into Alexander Valley and Jimtown, where you can stop for coffee at the Jimtown Store.

At that point, you can turn right into Geyserville, or go straight into Healdsburg. Then come back to Santa Rosa again on Old Redwood Highway.

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