A Winter Ride

The first rides of the new year are very special to me. Getting out of the city, breathing the cold mountain air, and feeling my body get in unison with the bike again – those are sensations that I’ve been missing during my annual early-winter rest.

So I left just after 6 in the morning for an all-day ride. It was nice to just ride – no photoshoot for Bicycle Quarterly, no prototype components to test, no errands to run, just a day out on my bike.
By 8:30, the suburbs of Seattle were far behind me, and I made my first brief stop at the bakery in Snohomish. The hot chocolate and croissant tasted especially good on this cold, foggy day.

As I headed into the hills northeast of Snohomish, I thought about how much I love riding this bike. I enjoy testing a variety of bikes for Bicycle Quarterly, but I’m always happy to return to my Rene Herse. It really does feels like an extension of my body. Everything works exactly as I want, nothing requires attention, and I can completely immerse myself in the ride.
I don’t think about the bike when I ride. In fact, I rarely think about it at all. This morning, I just put a little food and some spare clothes in the handlebar bag, turned on the lights, and rode off. I didn’t need to think about charging batteries, how to carry my gear, or whether the fog would make the roads wet. I feel that a bike should be as easy to use as a car, and this one really does.
Looking at the photo above, I remember that the Herse will need its first overhaul soon. I have to be grateful for the eight years and 10,000s of thousands of miles the bike has covered without incident – including 2 Paris-Brest-Paris, 2 Raids Pyrénéen, the original Oregon Outback, and countless other adventures.

As I climbed and descended Reiter Road – one of my favorites – it was nice not to think about the bike, and just enjoy the road with its curves that flow in quick succession. There is no risk of getting bored here!

As I headed further into the Cascades, I remembered how much I enjoy riding solo. Don’t get me wrong – I love riding with friends: The day passes quickly as we chat and play like a flock of birds on the sinuous roads. Riding alone is different: I just become immersed in the ride. Nothing detracts from this meditative experience.

The fog dissipated and the sun came out. My legs were feeling the distance and the hills, but the bike continued to roll smoothly. I worked on my spin by keeping my cadence up, using one cog larger (=smaller gear) than I usually would. Winter rides are a good time to work on my pedal stroke.

I reached my destination, Index, just before noon. There isn’t much in terms of food here – although the Bush House hotel has just reopened and looks inviting. Today, my schedule was a bit tight, so I bought a few things at the small store for a quick picnic outside.

The scenery more than made up for my spartan meal: It’s hard to imagine a more spectacular place than Index, with its rushing river, towering mountains and quaint little town. It’s amazing that a place like this is within easy reach from Seattle, accessible on small roads even in winter.

My stop was brief, and yet, as I headed back, the clouds started moving back in. I had timed my visit to Index perfectly…

I didn’t stop on the way back, as I wanted to be home for dinner. Still, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of one of my favorite roads. It’s roads like these that inspire the bikes we ride…
Then I dropped down to Lake Washington and pedaled back into Seattle on the Burke-Gilman Trail. I returned home just after darkness fell. It was a day well-spent.

Many have asked for the routes of these rides. Here is a link to the main loop Seattle – Snohomish – Sultan – Monroe – Seattle. It’s a great ride by itself.

The out-and-back leg to Index adds 50 km, but they include some of my favorite roads. Some of the roads are shown as ‘unavailable’ on some online maps, but they are all rideable right now. Combined, this is one of the best all-paved rides in the Seattle area. (There is a 100 ft/30 m stretch of gravel just before Gold Bar as you turn off the highway.)

I hope that many of you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy this ride some day, or some variation that takes in these great roads – or similarly great rides! Where are your favorite Winter rides?
And if you’re curious about my Rene Herse, this post talks about the bike in more detail.

19 Responses to A Winter Ride

  1. Olek Dude February 2, 2019 at 12:55 am #

    I am approximately a 12 hours flight away from that ride – but it motivates me a lot to get on my bike as soon as possible again.
    Thank you!

  2. Cox secondary Skwarlo February 2, 2019 at 4:13 am #

    Compare this to the desert. Both have interest. If my legs were up to it Jan Hiene’s day looks great. He got some nice pictures.
    The Pacific Northwest seems like a great place to live but I’ve not spent a Winter there. Bet you’ll like Springtime in Canada!
    Sent from my iPhone

  3. Steve Palincsar February 2, 2019 at 7:29 am #

    “The Herse will need its first overhaul soon.” I’m curious, what to you constitutes an overhaul?

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly February 4, 2019 at 9:19 am #

      An overhaul to me is anything beyond routine maintenance (replace chain, brake pads) or repairs due to component failures (cracked Velocity rims). On the Herse, it’ll include overhauling the headset and lubricating the cables, plus going over the entire bike to make sure bolts are tight and in good shape – that sort of thing.

  4. PedalWORKS February 2, 2019 at 8:41 am #

    Great ride!
    I live in Vancouver, BC, so am not far from the ride, and plan to ride these roads soon.

  5. Bob B February 2, 2019 at 9:07 am #

    Thanks for the map, Jan! As someone who moved to Seattle a few months ago I’m constantly searching for good rides in the area. The links make it easier than piecing together rides by reading BQ and doing detective work to figure out where the roads are. My favorite winter ride I’ve found so far is SIR’s permanent #3733 modified as needed to add more or less mileage/climbing. Can’t wait for spring and gaining access to some of the higher climbs in the area.

  6. Rick Thompson February 2, 2019 at 4:04 pm #

    Thanks for that! I lived in Lynnwood growing up in the 1970’s. My father, brother and I went to those mountains to hike every weekend we could. I was not into bicycles then, but am looking forward to riding the roads we used to drive. Every time you name a new tire, I remember the pass!

  7. graham February 2, 2019 at 8:46 pm #

    How do you keep track of wear on your bikes? Is it obvious wear that you see from a visual standpoint or do you track miles on your bike? Follow up, what are you planning to do mechanically to the Herse during the overhaul?

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly February 4, 2019 at 9:21 am #

      I try to keep track of miles loosely to schedule chain replacements. Other parts, like brake pads, are inspected visually, of course. Headset and cables get sticky when they need an overhaul. The other bearings (BB, hubs) on the Herse are maintenance-free and should outlast me.

      • singlespeedscott February 4, 2019 at 7:17 pm #

        What chain do you use on the Herse and how many kms to you get out of it.

        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly February 4, 2019 at 9:10 pm #

          SRAM 8-speed. I change it every 1,000-1,500 miles. That’s probably more often than necessary, but these chains are not expensive, and Regina 5-speed freewheels are difficult to find these days. (And with the chainrest, I need a freewheel that ends flush with the smallest cog, which limits my choice of freewheels.)

      • Jacob Musha February 5, 2019 at 7:27 am #

        Jan, I used to use SRAM 8-speed chains but now I use the KMC x8.93 mostly because it’s even cheaper for the shiny-plate version ($10) and I like the masterlink a little better. To get really fancy I use the KMC X9SL. It’s three times more expensive but it’s ~50g lighter due to hollow pins and plates, and most importantly, comes in gold. 🙂 It’s a 9-speed chain but it works fine with my 8-speed drivetrains.

  8. GUASCH GERARD February 3, 2019 at 12:09 am #

    Love yours words about your feeling about alone on bike ride. Not so easy to translate this feeling. Too cold and damp these days for me here in Loire Valley – France – for first new year ride. But your words motivate me … so, hope soon …

  9. Roy Wilcox February 3, 2019 at 2:02 pm #

    What a great loop. I grew up just outside of Sultan you were within one or two miles from where I was raised. I have ridden a bicycle over many of those roads just riding and touring. It has been a long time since I have been up there but your photos bring back memories.

  10. Davide February 4, 2019 at 1:27 am #

    Hi Jan! I recently came upon your blog, and read it through from beginning to end, it’s great stuff, my way of thinking entirely! If you’ll forgive me going off topic a bit: writing about your Alan, you said if you had a CX bike built today, it would be very similar, although in steel. Given that I need to replace my bike soon, I was wondering whether you think this would be the way to go on the harder european courses as well (I mainly race in Austria), and, if so, if you would use a threadless headset. Also, do you have any thoughts on geometry? I have a good relationship with a builder in Italy, but they are better at building to spec, rather then designing bikes from scratch… I do not mean to take advantage, if your thoughts on these matters are available in published form just point me in the right direction, I’d be happy to pay for it (I am going to subscribe to the magazine anyway…). Thank you and happy riding!

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly February 4, 2019 at 11:35 am #

      I really like the geometry of my old Alan. It’s quite different from many modern cyclocross bikes, which have more mountain bike-inspired geometries. The Alan works extremely well for fast, slippery courses. More detail about the bike, including its geometry, is in Bicycle Quarterly 46.

      • Davide February 4, 2019 at 12:39 pm #

        Thank you, I look forward to reading all about it!

  11. Andy Stow February 4, 2019 at 7:51 am #

    My favorite winter ride is to the bars & restaurants downtown (Peoria, IL,) on a Friday after work. Work to downtown is about 17 miles, and then the ride home after about 8. I pass within a mile of my house when going downtown.
    I set a new chilly personal record of riding 9 miles to work at -22 °F / -30 °C last week. The cold made my tires so slow that I only averaged 6.8 MPH! Also, my freewheel started dragging a little, so if I tried to coast the chain came off. After putting it back on for the fourth time, I figured out what was happening and kept tension on the chain the rest of the way.
    Some of my favorite rides have been in the winter. I’d much rather deal with cold than heat.

  12. relish14 February 4, 2019 at 9:58 pm #

    Great blog. I could read about these day adventures forever. It’s the riding alone and turning down new roads that I love about cycling.