The Astro Motel: Catering to the Rider

The Astro Motel: Catering to the Rider

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to stay in a couple of hotels that claimed to serve cyclists. In one, the total treatment was a matter of bike hooks in a corner and a couple of murals painted on the walls. Given it was France, it didn’t strike me that the owner had really gone out on a limb, but I loved it nonetheless. I visited an inn that wasn’t so much cycling-specific as it was outdoor-philic. It didn’t matter what outdoor pursuit you were interested in, they were happy to have you and had a secure place to lock your stuff up, not to mention a bench, a floor pump and even a repair stand. And then there was the place in South Carolina that was situated near idyllic cycling roads and served up foods perfect for a rider’s needs, but beyond that I didn’t get the sense that it made a difference to them whether or not a cyclist stayed there.

A friend of mine has had a dream of doing a spot that’s upscale, features bike rental, a full set of tools and dedicated work area, plus the ability to serve up a cyclist-sized breakfast and offer support on rides. It sounds amazing, but it also sounds like $400/night, too rich for my blood under most circumstances. But hey, I’ve got high-earning friends who would kill to be treated as valued guests as they plonk around the courtyard in their cleats after returning from a five-hour ride.

And then, right under my nose, a re-developed motel opened in Santa Rosa, called The Astro. The place exudes midcentury modern design in a charming time-capsule sort of way. Elevate the place a mile or so off the ground and you might think you were on The Jetsons. And while we’re on the subject, five points to anyone who can remember the name of the Jetson’s dog.

I’m less interested in what they spent to source all the furniture and art (yes, those are genuine Picassos and Matisses on the walls), than the lengths they went to find all the items. Somebody really likes estate sales. They went to local artist Sheryl Chapman, who designed the label for Andy Hampsten’s olive oil and whose work graces the Ibis web site, for the orange and teal color palette for the motel.

Beyond the tables, chairs, light fixtures and tile work, the motel is reasonably straightforward. In the courtyard grow a couple of clementine trees (which makes a winter trip, when the trees are blooming pretty compelling), a huge Redwood trunk lies in the middle of the courtyard, a testament to the reason this area is called the Redwood Kingdom. On the ground floor, center rear of the motel sits the lounge, converted from two guest rooms. Between the tables and chairs, the old telephone relay cabinet, the solar-system light fixtures and Fallout Shelter sign, it’s something of a time capsule. To the right of the entrance is a counter with pastries and coffee and on the other side the bike workspace. A pair of French doors make it easy to roll bikes in an out of the work area.

Unlike most places I’ve stayed, The Astro has a bike storage area. In it they have a small fleet of Shinola bikes for visitors to rent if they didn’t bring their own bikes, but there’s also room for your bikes. While the storage area is outside, it is locked and only the staff have access. I dig this because I don’t really want to take my bike inside a nice guest room. Some motel in Salinas? Sure. Whatevs. But in a place as well appointed as this? I don’t want to risk smearing chain lube across a wall or drape or leaving a tire mark on said wall from trying to stuff my ride in a corner.

Following the ribbon-cutting ceremony today, I sat down with Hampsten to ask him about his involvement in the Astro and its sister operation, The Spinster Sisters, a restaurant just around the corner. I’d like to have recorded our conversation, but the room we were in was just too noisy.

When you look at his various business interests—a bike touring company, a bike company, an olive oil brand, a high-end audio manufacturer, a restaurant and now a motel—there’s very little to tie the disparate threads together beyond the tie-in between bikes and bike touring. When I pointed out he could have done something simple and safe like having a financial planner plow his money into a mutual fund, he smiled and shook his head.

“Yeah, I could make a lot more money. But that doesn’t interest me” he said. “I like investing in people. When I invest in these small operations, I know where my money is going. It’s paying salaries and overhead. It’s not going into some corporate jet, so I know my investment is making a difference.”

Hampsten admitted that there was a secondary and more selfish interest in the motel. One of his partners in The Astro, prior to the project coming up, asked him, “Why don’t you do tours in California?”

It was a simple question, and Hampsten had a simple answer. “It’s a headache.”

He pointed out how with his tours in Italy, he likes to stay in inexpensive accommodations, do a great ride and then go big on dinner. For wine nuts, his tours are legendary for uncorking bottles coveted by collectors. California, even in a town like Santa Rosa, was always difficult because he could never find the right sort of hotel to stay in that would allow them to walk to dinner and see the town. The Astro changes that. Which is to say, Andy Hampsten’s Cinghiale Cycling Tours will begin offering tours in Sonoma County.

The Astro sits at the edge of downtown Santa Rosa, a mere 100 meters from the Santa Rosa Creek bike path, which leads west, out of town. It’s the easiest, quickest and safest way to head west where some of the best road riding in all of Sonoma County lies. Three miles east of the motel Trione-Annadel State Park rises, home to some of the rockiest and most difficult trails one might ever find enjoyable to ride. And a quarter mile to the north is Russian River Brewing Co. ‘Nuff said.

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  1. David

    Astro, of course. Did they name the motel after him?

    I almost went on a cycling trip this past spring in Italy at a place on Lake Garda called the Garda Bike Hotel. It’s run by real cyclists, the rental fleet are Pinarello Dogmas, there are guided rides each day, and although it is not cheap it’s not outrageous either.

    We need more places like this in the US!

    1. Author

      Ding-ding! We have a winner; I should probably ask if they did. I’ve not had a chance to visit the hotel on Garda, nor the ones that line the Adriatic coast, but I’ve seen plenty of photos and have talked to some of the operators; we could definitely use even more operations like those here in the U.S.

  2. Tomas

    Chiangmai, Thailand. Far flung destination but… this is a truly cyclist oriented place. And the area has plenty of climbing opportunities (do you want to climb Doi Suthep? 12 miles 4,050 feet in elevation gain) .The owner is -indeed- a cycling nuts and can provide excellent guidance.

  3. Girl

    So, did you stay a night to see what it’s like? After all, it IS a motel, rather than a hotel. Could be noisy near that ice machine.
    (Though, I admit that I haven’t stayed in too many hotels with Picassos and Matisses in them!) $150/night is what the internet said.

    And it’s the Redwood EMPIRE. Hair-splitting.

    1. Author

      The room I stayed in overlooked Santa Rosa Ave., the big street the motel faces. For my room they included a white noise machine in case I was sensitive to street sounds. I gave it a try the second night and what I most noticed was that I didn’t hear the heater cycle on and off. I dig this place, so much so that I actually wish it was somewhere up in Mendocino so that I’d have an excuse to go stay there from time to time. With in being in my adopted home, I really won’t have any cause to stay here again; that bums me out. The Astro is seriously awesome.

    1. Author

      As it should be. It’s not in wine country in Northern California. A Motel 6 here can run $80/night.

  4. Greggo

    Padraig, this is the most informative and inspirational article I have read in a while. I have a dream similar to the friend you reference in the article! Thanks for the info.

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