Elly Blue — whose brilliant bike culture critiques and bikenomics essays end up cited all over this blog — was in town for the Seattle Bike Expo over the weekend (more on the Expo soon). She stayed at the luxurious Seattle Bike Blog estates in the Central District, biked to the Expo in Interbay and went on a bike ride with a crew of neighborhood greenways activists in Ballard. So, basically, she got a good (but not complete!) look at our city’s hills. Her review?
Dear Seattle, it was amazing to meet/see/bike with you all this weekend! I’m smitten. But your hills kicked my butt. How do you do it???
— Elly Blue (@ellyblue) March 12, 2012
The highlight of the weekend by far was getting to meet and talk with dozens of people — Seattle seems to have in the last two or three years fallen head over heels in love with bikes, and the excitement was palpable.
I pedaled through more of Seattle in two short days than I’d previously explored in the past decade, and nearly every inch of it was at an intense grade. My legs were jelly and I was perpetually out of breath, ravenously hungry, and amazed and impressed by the sheer number of riders everywhere we went, going about their daily business up and down these monstrous inclines.
Seattle’s ability to have so many people biking despite the seemingly unfriendly territory is, on some levels, phenomenal. There is no obvious reason for Seattle to higher rates of bicycling compared to our nation’s many flat, grid-connected and far less rainy cities. But we do.
One explanation might be that you all are just awesome. Obviously, that’s true. However, I wonder if it isn’t more simple than that. Like every other choice in life, it’s about rewards.
When I bike up a big hill, it’s hard and slow. Sometimes I get in a headspace where I can appreciate the small details around me and I really enjoy climbing. Other times (if I am tired, hungry or late, for example) I wish I had a bulldozer to just flatten the hill towering above me. But when I get to the top, the experience of relief and the reward of a spectacular view and exhilarating, easy downhill on the other side seems to erase all the negativity I had built up.
Just as biking up hills seems to be an impediment to cycling, biking down hills is among the greatest experiences a person can know. Moving swiftly without hardly using any muscles, letting the city just pull you along the roadway closer to your destination… There’s nothing like it. When I’m in the middle of gliding down a hill, every other way of getting around town just seems like nonsense.
Maybe that’s why two of the nation’s top five large cycling cities — Seattle and San Francisco — are also among it’s hilliest.
Below are some of my favorite responses from you all. Got anymore advice? Leave it in the comments!
@kentsbike: For going up hills: chocolate covered espresso beans. For going down hills: KoolStop brakepads.
@ameliagreenhall: It just takes a few weeks of riding every day to get used to them.
@svrdesign: Our gears go to -11
@nein09: They flatten out eventually. Really!