Healdsburg, California has that idyllic feel where everybody seems to live a life of ease and culture, spending their days arranging flowers, sniffing cheeses and tasting wines. I’m not a drinker, but I still enjoyed the sunshine and fresh air as I pedaled past expanses of vineyards, dotted by the occasional red barn or wisteria-draped farmhouse. At the end of March, I had the perfect springtime morning weather: 56 degrees, sunny, just enough breeze to ripple the grasses and bright orange poppies along the roadside.
One of the best things about Healdsburg is how quickly you can get out of town. I only had 90 minutes to ride, but that was plenty of time to rent a bike and get a taste for the countryside. Spoke Folk Cyclery, established in 1976, is only two blocks from the town square. Sign a waiver, give your credit card imprint, meet your bike, and 10 minutes later you’re cruising between vineyards.
The winding road lacks a shoulder, so it took faith to trust that the cars would be looking out for me. And unlike wiser cyclists dressed in tennis ball yellow jackets, I wore black and gray and rode a black bike, as though I were trying to camouflage myself in every shadow a tree cast on the road.
But Richard Peacock, who co-owns Spoke Folk with wife Liz, assured me that drivers are entirely accustomed to bikers around every turn. “This is one of the most popular places to ride in the world,” he said. “We have some of the best cycling terrain in the world.” Professional teams come to the area to train in spring, he said.
The hills gently roll through the vineyards. I’m only an occasional biker who has been known to get off and push when the going gets steep, but the hills of Dry Creek Road were easy enough to ride.
Buy or Rent
Spoke Folk’s main emphasis is selling and servicing bikes, and they have an extensive selection. Renting is secondary. “We get a lot of walk-ins, people strolling through,” Richard said. He and his staff are happy to provide maps, directions and suggestions for self-guided tours.
Many people want to visit wineries by bicycle. “We try and discourage people from drinking and riding,” Richard said, pointing out that in California you can get a DUI for cycling while intoxicated. It can also be a bad combination for people’s health, especially in summer, when 100 degree temperatures plus too much wine can equal dehydration.
Spoke Folk has a fleet of 24 Specialized Globe hybrids, their most popular rental bike. That’s what I rode, and I loved it. I chose a smaller size and found it easy to handle. The rentals are reasonable at $14/hour or $38/day. More serious cyclists can rent a road bike. The most high-performance models rent for $100 per day. The staff is extremely accommodating and offers late pick up and early drop off. So if you want to get an early start the next day, you can pick up your bike just before closing the night before, for no extra charge. Or, if you want to take advantage of long summer evenings and plan to ride past the shop’s closing time, you can drop it off first thing the following morning.
I like biking, but I love cats. Spoke Folk has the added draw of Cat 1 and Cat 2, big white sisters, who make the shop their home. The kitties are easy to tell apart, as Cat 1 has a single dark smudge on her forehead, while Cat 2 has two smudges. Also, cat one is an odd-eye white, with one blue eye and one green. I’m not the only one taken by the duo. They have a Facebook page, and the shop sells adorable Cat 1 and Cat 2 hats.
If you’re passing through Healdsburg, stop at Spoke Folk and rent a bike. Don’t forget to bring cat treats.