Midwinter Ride across the Tahuya Hills

Midwinter Ride across the Tahuya Hills

In Seattle, we are lucky: We can cycle year-round. Rarely is it so cold or so icy that cycling becomes difficult. Our cycling season usually starts with the new year. “What about the rain?” you may ask. It’s not a big deal if you have the right equipment.
Last weekend was the middle of winter – halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It was a good excuse to celebrate with a bike ride. The weather forecast was for ‘showers’ – as good as it gets around here this time of the year. At least we wouldn’t get snow like we did when we ventured into the mountains last week!

Busy schedules meant that only two of the BQ Team could make it. Steve and I met at 6 a.m. to take the ferry to Bremerton. We rolled on quiet backroads through the hills to Belfair.

There we had a second breakfast – knowing that this was the last opportunity to obtain food for a few hours.

From here, we headed into the Tahuya Hills. To me, even the name sounds romantic, and the hills always live up to our expectations.

North Shore Road goes along the water of the Hood Canal, a fjord carved by the glaciers of the last ice age. On the other side are the Olympic Mountains, but on this cloudy, rainy day, we only saw glimpses of the snow-covered peaks.

It’s an amazing gravel road that winds its way in and out of the many little ravines in the mountainside.

At the same time, the road is relentlessly hilly – it was built with minimal earthworks because it wasn’t worth making big improvements for a road that sees very little traffic. This combination of attributes – minimal ‘improvements’ and little traffic – made it perfect for our ride!
[youtube https://youtu.be/ubclniV3_KA?rel=0&w=640&h=360]
It’s a course that challenged our leg power as much as our bike handling skills. The road dives into each ravine, turns sharply, and immediately heads steeply uphill again. The more speed we carried through those gravel turns, the less we had to pedal on the next hill.

Back on pavement after a few hours, we climbed high above the water, only to drop back down and roll along the shore. It was great fun.

The clouds opened briefly to hint at the views we would have enjoyed on a sunny day. We smiled at each other as we got in the aero tuck to maximize our speed on the downhill, remembering at the last second that the turn at the bottom has a wickedly decreasing radius, which caught both of us out the first time we rode it. No problem today: The low-trail geometry of my bike allowed easy midcorner adjustments of my line.

After a few hours of riding on deserted roads, we reached Seabeck on the other side of the Tahuya Hills, where we enjoyed a sandwich at the store. It had been raining on and off, and the gravel was a bit muddy, but you’d never know it from looking at our bikes. Remembering the days when we rode with plastic fenders, it never ceases to amaze me how clean and dry both rider and bike remain with a set of really good fenders. There only was a little dirt on the fork blades where the brake pads had sprayed the water they had scraped off the rims. The chain didn’t squeak, and my feet remained dry even though I didn’t wear booties.
Steve was riding his Frek, the old Trek he converted into a randonneur bike, with similar features as my bike. Neither of us even bothered putting on rain jackets, because we would have overheated on the steep climbs. Keeping the road spray off our bodies was key; our layered wool jerseys took care of the comparatively little water that was falling from the sky.

The hardest part of the ride was yet to come: the incredible Anderson Hill Road with its 14% stairstep climb. We made it up that just fine, and then we upped the pace on the last few miles back to Bremerton.

We boarded the ferry, parked our bikes, and enjoyed the scenic boat ride through the islands back to Seattle.

The Tahuya Hills course makes a beautiful 80-mile ride that goes along the water for much of the way. It sees very little traffic apart from the first and last kilometers near Bremerton. Easily accessible from downtown Seattle via a direct ferry, it’s a ride I highly recommend!
Click here for a link to the RideWithGPS route with a detailed map of the course.

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Comments (33)

  • heavyman927

    Great read, great pics!

    February 6, 2018 at 4:46 am
  • Christian Bratina

    Thanks for including the GPX route! A friend and I are talking of flying to Seattle and cycle touring from there through the San Juan islands to Vancouver and then down along the Sierra Cascades route to San Francisco. So will try to check out some of your roads.

    February 6, 2018 at 5:05 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Highly recommend this route. The San Juan’s are beautiful, and you’ll enjoy them a lot. However, most of the roads are inland, so you don’t see that much of the water, unlike this route…

      February 6, 2018 at 7:48 am
  • Bill Gobie

    I am glad to see you left Bremerton on Sherman Heights Rd. That is much safer than highway 3. But those first two kilometers — do they really let you ride through the navy yard?
    I’ve wondered about North Shore Rd. I’m glad to see it is not very muddy even this time of year.

    February 6, 2018 at 5:44 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Sorry, the GPS track is incorrect. We rode on the highway around the base. It wasn’t too bad early in the morning on Saturday.

      February 6, 2018 at 7:49 am
  • Walter Reshetylo

    Is the Frek a 1985 Trek 620? If so its long chainstays would have made
    mounting the rear fender challenging. I would be very interested to see
    how it was done.

    February 6, 2018 at 5:51 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I think it is a Trek 620. When you do a conversion like this, there will be a few compromises, and the fenders do mount with spacers. Steve probably has to tighten them from time to time… The full story of the bike and how he built it is in Bicycle Quarterly 58.

      February 6, 2018 at 8:30 am
    • Steve Frey

      It’s actually a 1982 Trek 614. By using dropout adjustment screws and keeping the wheel forward in the dropout it’s possible to have a nice even fenderline and still get the wheel on and off easily. There is a small spacer at the chainstay bridge, but the fenders have held up well after several thousand miles.

      February 6, 2018 at 12:58 pm
      • Walter Reshetylo

        Thank you for your replies Jan and Steve.
        The challenge with the ’85 Trek 620 is that the chainstay bridge is
        2 1/2 inches away from the tire . My still fenderless 620 rides wonderfully,
        especially with the 38mm Barlow Pass tires I’ve installed on it.

        February 6, 2018 at 2:22 pm
      • Conrad

        I do the same thing with my Bianchi Volpe: keep the wheel forward in the dropout and I have a pretty good fender line. Im generally not a big fan of horizontal dropouts for fendering reasons and also I find it hard to keep the rear wheel from sliding forward under hard starts. I use hex head skewer on the back, otherwise I’ll break the skewer from clamping it down so hard. I always wondered why people bothered with horizontal dropouts. Conversion to fixed gear?

        February 8, 2018 at 11:07 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Horizontal dropouts were necessary in the days when bikes had just a single speed. Even after racing bikes adopted derailleurs, it was still popular to ride fixed gear in the winter months. That part made sense, but I still cannot figure out why some touring bikes used extra-long horizontal dropouts. I doubt many people rode them as fixed gears. On French cyclotouring bikes, once derailleurs became popular in the 1920s, builders started to use vertical dropouts. Racing bikes followed suit in the 1990s, because riding fixed no longer was popular among racers.

          February 8, 2018 at 11:24 am
      • Jacob Musha

        I really like horizontal dropouts and I wish all my bikes had them. Their minuscule weight penalty is well worth it when a bike is converted to single speed or fixed gear. You never know what you (or someone else) will use a bike for someday! For me they have no meaningful disadvantages compared to a vertical dropout.
        Jan, old touring bikes can make great winter fixed gear commuters. Especially places with lots of snow and salt when one doesn’t want to ruin a “nice” bike.
        Conrad, try using a steel internal cam skewer. Shimano is the best I’ve found. If horizontal dropouts were unworkable with quick release, that combination wouldn’t have been common on bikes for 60 years!

        February 8, 2018 at 3:09 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          If horizontal dropouts were unworkable with quick release, that combination wouldn’t have been common on bikes for 60 years!

          The issue is the high torque when starting from a stop, especially uphill. I raced for a decade with horizontal dropouts, and never pulled a wheel sideways. In commuting on a similar bike (same wheels), it happened about every other month.

          February 8, 2018 at 7:36 pm
      • Conrad

        My experience exactly. As for quick releases, I only use steel shimano ones. Even those are not sufficient for me with city riding. Racing is not an issue.

        February 9, 2018 at 4:13 pm
  • JWilli

    Lovely ride! FMI, you said “with a set of really good fenders”, so what are you running?

    February 6, 2018 at 6:31 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We found that Honjo’s aluminum fenders provide the most protection, are the lightest and most durable. We had Honjo make them with slightly longer front fenders to provide even better coverage, and we ship them with detailed instructions (actually a reprint of a Bicycle Quarterly article) on how to mount them correctly, so they last forever.

      February 6, 2018 at 8:27 am
  • john

    we always would ride it the other direction

    February 6, 2018 at 8:09 am
  • Dr J

    In Boston, we are lucky: We can cycle year-round. “What about the cold and snow?” you may ask. It’s not a big deal if you have the right equipment.
    Which is why we ride year-round.
    Truth is, I would take cold any time over rain. But that’s me.
    Yes, you are lucky just not because of weather. You’re lucky because of all those awesome places to ride so close to the city.

    February 6, 2018 at 9:05 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I am glad to hear that even in Boston, you cycle year-round. I recall wonderful winter rides in the snow when I was a student in Germany…

      Truth is, I would take cold any time over rain. But that’s me.

      I think it’s a question of adaptation (of your equipment). For example, my booties broke many years ago, and I didn’t replace them, because I so rarely need them. But when I descend mountain passes at sub-freezing temperatures, I am reminded that I need to buy new ones. So our bikes and clothing are totally dialled in for riding in 40°F and rain, but not so much for below-freezing. For you, it’s probably the opposite…
      As to places to ride, we are lucky to have all these hidden gems. As our bikes have become more capable, we’ve discovered amazing places to ride that weren’t really feasible on the racing bikes we used to ride, because they mix pavement and gravel and often require leaving before daybreak…

      February 6, 2018 at 9:15 am
      • Mat Grewe

        A trick for extending the temperature of shoes is to put your feet in a plastic bag while you ride. It could be sandwiched between two layers of socks or between your socks and shoes. It is just a cheap vapor barrier liner that prevents evaporative cooling. The downside… Sweatier and more pungent feet…

        February 6, 2018 at 10:21 am
      • morlamweb

        Fellow Bostonian and year-round, whatever-the-weather cyclist here. Good equipment selection for the bike and rider is key. I’ve got alumin(i)um fenders on year-round, which helps with snow and rain. In winter, I use studded tires, which give me enough grip to make cycling possible in snow and ice. They’re heavy, about as far from supple as you can get outside of solid tires, and I can’t wait to swap them out in springtime for the Compass tires; but without them, I’d be on foot. For footwear, I use LL Bean boots on flat pedals on the cold days, or dress shoes on the above-freezing days. Flat pedal are good, too, for those times when your (my) exuberance exceeds the gripping power of even studs on ice, and you need to balance yourself quickly. I re-learned that lesson again this morning.
        Winter does end here eventually, despite the gloomy outlook here in mid-February, and I adjust my selections accordingly. In the rainy season, I use dress shoes inside of rubber overshoes, ones that cover my legs halfway up my calves. My Cleverhood cape is my constant companion, always either in my pannier or on me.
        As for good places to ride: they’re here, too, though there are no mountain ranges on our doorstep. I’m of the persuasion that any ride, whether on a long tour of the metro area or on a two-mile milk run to the grocery store, is a happy one as long as I’m on two wheels.

        February 6, 2018 at 10:33 am
  • marmotte27

    Winter riding is a problem here in eastern France as soon as the roads start to get salted. The snow might melt pretty fast, but the salt stays on the road until the next big rainfall. I don’t like to take a good bike out in those conditions, the salt makes everything corrode very quickly.

    February 6, 2018 at 11:39 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Yes, salting roads isn’t a favorite of mine, either. Whether you use a car or a bike, it’s not good for the equipment.

      February 6, 2018 at 1:14 pm
  • jeremiahsmithblog

    Did this last year as part of a quick weekend tour from Seattle. Those Tahuya Hills were especially challenging with gear! As I recall, we finished two large pizzas between the two of us that evening in Port Orchard.
    Great post! Hope to visit again … without overnight gear next time!

    February 6, 2018 at 2:19 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Yes, the hills are steep. There is an all-paved route further inland that climbs as much, but in larger bites (fewer, longer climbs) that is fun as well. That one is part of some Seattle Randonneurs brevets. During the 600 km brevet, experienced riders know to use the flat stretch along the southern edge of the Hood Canal to recover, before hitting the hills around 450 km into the ride…

      February 6, 2018 at 2:51 pm
  • Selene

    Poner a este tipo de bicicletas pedales automáticos me parece una aberración… Tendrían que tener rastrales!

    February 7, 2018 at 2:13 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We use the best components regardless of era. Clipless pedals offer many advantages, as do modern generator hubs and LED lights, so we use them. We aren’t trying to recreate an era from the past, but we found that these bikes are ideal for spirited riding on a variety of surfaces.

      February 7, 2018 at 2:45 pm
  • Eric Cornell

    Granted, this question really comes down to tolerance for vibration, could this route be done on 32s?

    February 10, 2018 at 11:12 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      You should have no trouble on 32s. You’ll go a bit slower, but you’ll have a lot of fun, too.

      February 10, 2018 at 6:04 pm
      • Eric Cornell

        Thanks for the insight. It looks lovely out there.

        February 11, 2018 at 11:11 am
  • Keith Benefiel

    Every year past 60, I’ve wanted my bars higher and gears lower. Long ago I toured with a low of 42/28. Now it’s a 22/34 which is do-able by removing the adjusting screw from the campy horiz. d.o. and sliding the wheel all the way back. Spacers at the chain stay keep a sweet fender line. T A Zephyr crank with 42/38/22 lets me attack the 5.5 mi. 10% hill out the front door. Go team Medicare!

    February 10, 2018 at 2:16 pm

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