Rides to Remember
In many ways, 2023 has been a year full of challenges. For me, that’s where cycling provides an antidote, and I’m glad 2023 will be a year to remember for the incredible rides and emotions it brought. At times it seemed like a whirlwind, with a packed schedule that forced me to live in the moment. It wasn’t always easy to fit it all in, but looking back, I’m glad I did. There were fast rides and slow ones, solo efforts and rides with friends, long rides and short jaunts. The memorable ones come from all these groups. This variety made 2023 so much fun.
January: What better way to start the year than a leisurely ride with friends, on beautiful bikes? The New Year’s Ride of the Alex Singer Owners in Japan was just that. We rode along the Edo River, visited a shrine to celebrate the New Year, and stopped for a (very opulent) picnic lunch. It was a cold day, but spirits were high, and the shared meal warmed our bodies and spirits.
The beautiful TOEI camping bike in the background wasn’t for show: It carried the big stove that served to cook a variety of tasty Japanese dishes. To top it off, my friends set me up with an Alan racing bike that once belonged to a Japanese champion. The year 2023 started with what matters most: Friends, good food and beautiful bikes. A full story of this ride with many photos of amazing bikes is in Bicycle Quarterly 82 (Spring 2023).
February: Back in Seattle, it was time to ramp up the training for the upcoming summer adventures, which this year included Paris-Brest-Paris. Almost every week saw a century-plus ride, not just to train, but also to enjoy quality time with friends. Above is a photo of a ride with Mark to the end of the road on Jack Pass. It was a gorgeous mid-winter day between two storm fronts chasing into the Pacific Northwest. The road up the Jack Pass washed out years ago, so there’s no traffic on this road-to-nowhere. Rather than bushwhack all the way to the pass, as we’ve done in the past, we turned around at the end of the road and enjoyed the scenic ride in reverse.
March: Those distance miles paid off when the brevet season started. During the first brevet to qualify for Paris-Brest-Paris, the 200 km, Ben Schauland and I got lost when our GPS units missed a turn. We climbed into the Cascade Mountains, most of the way to Lake Cavanaugh, on snow-lined roads before realizing our mistake. The unintended detour was actually one of the best parts of the ride. Lots of extra fun, and we made it to the finish well within the time limit, too.
April usually sees a break in the brevets. Time to work on speed and intensity. For the BQ Team, this means heading to the Issaquah Alps. The Mountain 100k course is a classic that we’ve been riding for years, climbing Cougar Mountain, Tiger Mountain and Squak Mountain before a finale on Mount Olympus Drive, high in the hills above Issaquah. This route has been fine-tuned over the years. The climbs are on winding backroads with little traffic that make us feel like we’re deep in the mountains. We use busier roads for the descents, where we can easily flow with traffic.
Like Beethoven symphony, this ride is exciting, relentless, and can be a bit overwhelming, but it also has a beautiful rhythm. It never gets old. I must have ridden the course at least a hundred times, but I already look forward to the next time. The Mountain 100k is part of our Routes Archive. If you’re near Seattle, give it a try yourself!
May: Lauf sent us one of their Seigla gravel bikes with its unconventional suspension fork. Where to take a bike that’s designed for the rough end of the gravel spectrum? Bessemer Road is one of the toughest climbs in the Cascade Mountains: 2.5 miles at an average of 13%, with sections as steep as 22%, on very rough gravel.
We headed there to chase the much-contested Strava KOM—after exploring another, even steeper climb. I won’t give away too much if I say that the Lauf excelled on that climb, nabbing third place on this hotly contested segment. Overall, it took us 7 hours to ride just 30 miles, despite working hard and never stopping for more than a minute or two. The full story of that memorable ride is in the current Bicycle Quarterly.
And since that ride was so much fun, Natsuko and I returned a week later to explore the lower parts of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River. The beautiful, flowing single-track of the CCC Trail is another hidden gem of the Cascade Mountains—a great place to ride far off the beaten path without having to venture too far from Seattle.
June: I love mountains and gravel. When I found out that there is a little-known gravel race over Bon Jon Pass, I had to check it out. I found an amazing event that reminded me of the early days of racing in the U.S., when everybody who showed up either was a friend or would become one. The course was one of the most challenging I’ve ridden, but there are shorter options, too—although none are exactly easy, since they all climb Bon Jon Pass.
Even though it rained most of the day—this is the Pacific Northwest after all!—I had so much fun that we decided to work with the organizers and sponsor next year’s race. Highly recommended!
July: The Dark Divide, a remote and uninhabited region in the center of the Cascade Mountains, has fascinated me for a long time. When Ben Everett charted the Dark Divide 300 bikepacking route, I knew I had to ride it. In July, I set out for an independent time trial over this challenging 330-mile course.
Climbing up to Juniper Ridge and seeing the sun rise on the four great Cascade volcanoes was an incredible experience. Much of the terrain was more mountain biking than gravel riding, but I managed to set the FKT (Fastest Known Time) and had a truly memorable ride. The full story will be in the upcoming edition of Bicycle Quarterly
August: Paris-Brest-Paris comes along every four years. This 1200-kilometer brevet is truly special, and every one of my seven PBPs has been different and truly memorable. This year’s ride was hard: It was hot, and my legs had an ‘off’ day. Rather than surging over the relentless hills of Brittany, I struggled a bit.
There was a happy ending when my legs came into their own after 1000 km on the road. This made for a great finale, when I teamed up with Michel from Germany. We sprinted through the last hilly 200 kilometers and finished the big ride in 60 hours. Meeting riders like him, and sharing the long hours on the road, is always the best part of Paris-Brest-Paris. The story of this year’s PBP is in the current Bicycle Quarterly.
September: Just days after returning from France, I met Ted King for Ted’s XLent Adventure. Loaded with camping gear, we raced into the Cascade Mountains. Why the hurry? I had promised Ted dinner at the wonderful Mt. Rainier National Park Inn at Longmire, but we got a late start, and the Inn closes at 8 p.m. We made it with just minutes to spare after an afternoon of what I’d call ‘spirited’ riding.
The next morning, we met the crew of a dozen or so riders who had signed up for the XLent Adventure. What followed was a weekend of riding some of my favorite roads with a fun group that exemplified everything that’s great about gravel riding and bikepacking. The photo shows part of the crew at Walupt Lake high in the Cascade Mountains. Let’s do it again soon!
October: The Arkansas High Country Race goes over an incredibly tough and scenic course. Better yet, it attracts some of the nicest riders you’ll meet anywhere. Last year, I won and set the FKT on the 500-mile South Loop, which covers the most scenic (and most challenging) half of the big loop around Arkansas.
This year’s race didn’t disappoint. Huge climbs and steep descents littered with football-sized rocks kept me wide-awake and living in the moment for 44 hours. My race wasn’t without mishaps—these long events rarely are—but I met my goal of improving on last year’s time. I even achieved my ‘dream goal’ of finishing in under 45 hours—more than 2 hours faster than last year.
I didn’t win this year—super-fit racers Andrew Onermaa and Bryan Dougherty were faster—but that’s no surprise. The level of competition in gravel and bikepacking races is increasing all the time, and that can only be a good thing. That the entire podium (and also the fastest single-speed racer) in this year’s South Loop was on Rene Herse tires was a nice bonus surprise.
November: As the season wound to a close and the Cascade Mountains were covered in snow once more, the time had come for casual rides with friends into the foothills. Rides at a leisurely pace with no thoughts given to training or speed. As we’re chatting and enjoying the changing seasons, it’s really cycling at its very best.
December saw me return to Japan to visit suppliers, friends and Natsuko’s family. I brought my Firefly this time and enjoyed some great rides. I even found what may be Japan’s longest gravel road that goes by one of the old castles that used to protect Tokyo, at the confluence of two great rivers. I’ll post photos from this trip on Instagram, and maybe a story or two here in the Rene Herse Journal.
There were many other memorable rides—it was hard to choose just 12 (well, thirteen actually). But they’re in the past now—it’s time to plan and scheme the adventures and rides of 2024. I hope it’ll be a great year for all of you, too. It’s a beautiful world out there, and it’s even more beautiful when experienced on a bike.
- Click on the images for posts, Strava links or other information about these rides (where available).
- Subscribe to Bicycle Quarterly to enjoy feature-length articles about these and other rides, plus tech, history, bike tests…
- The ‘Past Year of BQ’ gives you a year’s worth of Bicycle Quarterly in one neat package, including some of the rides featured here.