“Road Cycling Paradise” in SeattleJan Heine
“I’ll be in Seattle for one day in August. I’d love to go riding,” said the email from our friend Hirohisa Yamaguchi. He’s the editor-in-chief of Japan’s Bicycle Club magazine. At first I thought of a big adventure in the mountains, linking several gravel passes. But with jet lag and the possibility of delays of his flight from Japan, a ride closer to the city seemed like a good idea. “Yamaguchi-san loves road bikes,” remembered Natsuko.
First we needed a bike for Yamaguchi-san. Fortunately, our friend Joseph from Cascade Bicycle Studio is of similar height and build as Yamaguchi-san. He offered to loan his Pegoretti Love3 for a day. “So generous,” marveled our Japanese friend, clearly taken by the sleek bike with its Campagnolo Super Record components. Rolling on 700Cx28 mm Rene Herse Chinook Pass Extralight tires, it was the perfect bike for a road bike lover on this day.
For me, this was a good opportunity to do a last test ride on my 650B Rene Herse before I put it in its Rinko bag to fly to France for Paris-Brest-Paris. The night before, I had overhauled the bike almost completely—for the first time since I built it up four years ago. A spirited ride would show up anything that needed to be adjusted before I headed to France.
Where to take our guest? The Cascade Mountains are known as one of the birthplaces of modern gravel riding, but Seattle is also home to some of great road riding. With the 30-mile-long Lake Washington in the middle of the city, there are many routes that have no cross traffic and few stop signs and lights. Hilly terrain means climbs and curves—making for fun routes that can be as challenging as you want them to be.
We started by heading across the lake on the bike path that shares the Highway 520 floating bridge. That gave Yamaguchi-san a view of the landscape surrounding us. Then we spun through Clyde Hill and the ultra-wealthy enclave of Medina. (Bill Gates is one of its better-known residents.) We stopped briefly on the little public beach to enjoy the view. “So smooth,” commented Yamaguchi-san when I asked him about the Pegoretti.
Warmup complete, we climbed through the steep hills that separate Bellevue from the lake, then rode through the old artist colony of Beaux Arts with its winding roads and tall trees. A short hop across the I-90 bridge brought us to Mercer Island.
This was the place I really wanted to show Yamaguchi-san. The Mercer Island Loop hugs the perimeter of the island. There are no stop signs, no traffic lights, and bicycles often outnumber cars on this road. Mercer Island has many creeks descending from its top, and the road winds in and out of the ravines they’ve created.
It’s a fun road at any speed. When you go all-out, the corners line up one after another. You feel the G forces push you into the saddle. The little rises and drops add to the challenge.
Yamaguchi-san used to race semi-professionally. Even though he modestly says that this was long ago, when I upped the pace, a smile appeared on his face. And so we raced around the island, taking turns leading and drafting, and pushing ourselves and our bikes to the limit.
We did stop briefly to take a photo of the Boeing factory across the water in Renton. We discovered that the clearing in the trees that made the view possible held a huge patch of ripe blackberries. In Seattle, blackberries usually get harvested by people walking or riding by as they ripen, but nobody seemed to have come here. The bramble was full of perfectly ripe, juicy berries. It was a delicious interlude to our ride.
Then it was back to racing along at full speed, leaning into turns, pushing harder on the little rises, and shifting to my tallest gear for the little downhills. It was so much fun that I almost suggested turning around and doing the loop in the other direction when we reached the end of the island.
Instead we headed to Leschi, bought lunch at a small grocery store, and ate on a boat dock on Lake Washington. The day had started with rain—it’s Seattle, after all!—but now it had turned sunny and warm.
On the way back to Cascade Bicycle Studio in Fremont, we did a little detour through Gasworks Park with its stunning view of downtown and Lake Union. A friendly passerby took our photo on the steep climb up Kite Hill.
When we returned the bike, Joseph asked: “How was it?” The smile on Yamaguchi-san’s face was huge, and he exclaimed: “Road Cycling Paradise!”
- Our ride and route on Strava.