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  1. #1
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    So How Bike Friendly is Seattle, Exactly?

    Hi there everyone.

    Well, to introduce myself, I'm an overweight guy (technically obese BMI 30.9, but I don't feel obese) who loves to ride bicycles (well, if I didn't, I sure wouldn't be on bikeforums )

    While I currently reside in the middle of Orange County, CA, I'm planning on moving up north to Washington State over the summer. I have an uncle who's nice enough to let me crash at his place while I go job hunting up there. Actually, I've lots of family up there...almost everyone from my Mom's side (14 of her brothers and sisters, both her parents, more of my cousins than I can keep track of, etc.); they're all spread out in places like Renton, Bellevue (especially), Newcastle, Ballard, and in a suburban part of Seattle proper. So I've been around a bit already, and know what to expect in terms of weather.

    Ever since I started liking bicycling again, my interest in car driving made a rapid dive. I don't mean to post this as a car-free rant, either, so I apologize in advance if it offends anyone here. But, what I'm getting at is: I'm thinking of selling my car, and then using the money to buy myself a bike (more like 2 or 3) for commuting (including locks, lights, fenders, rack, bags, repair tools, etc.) and recreational riding up in Seattle. I decided to junk my current bike after it broke 6 spokes (simultaneously) on the rear wheel; it's one of those old 10-speeds with 27-inch steel wheels from the '70's, except this was a no-name "SR" instead of a classic/vintage machine. It suffered a whole host of mechanical problems before that, but I'm rambling again, so I'll get back on-topic.

    My thread title came from the fact that my mother, who's lived in Seattle for far longer than I have, insists that it isn't a bike-friendly city at all, not as much as Orange County, she claims, because "I have NEVER seen a bicycle rider in Seattle. Not even in Downtown!"

    When I found things on the internet to refute this assertion (such as a Seattle Government website), Mom went a step further and said, "It's only considered bike-friendly because of all the MUP's that the city has erected for recreational cyclists."

    No matter what I tried to present, she kept using that as a fallback argument. She claims that "ALL of the avid bicycle riders in Seattle are mountain bikers. No one rides their bikes on the road except for the really poor immigrants commuting to work."

    "Seattle is a horrible place to ride your bicycle! There are places where the roads turn into dirt and gravel paths! The traffic in the city is heavy and congested! The street lanes are narrow! And it rains a lot!"

    As you can all tell, I am highly skeptical of my mother's assertions. Okay, that last bit might be true, but dirt/gravel? Isn't that what mountain bikes are for? And rain? I guess she doesn't know about fenders and mudflaps? Still, I'd like to know just how friendly the Puget Sound region is, exactly, for cyclists? I already know that what my Mom's saying to discourage me is a load of baloney, but I'm curious, seeing as how much of my road cycling experience has been based on suburban roads in generally cyclist-unfriendly areas.

    Oh, and for the record, she doesn't know that I'm planning on selling my car yet. She just hates that I like to ride fast and far, and tries to steer me towards getting a gym membership instead if I want to get my AEROBIC exercise in Seattle. You know, because it rains a lot

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by fat_bike_nut
    My thread title came from the fact that my mother, who's lived in Seattle for far longer than I have, insists that it isn't a bike-friendly city at all, not as much as Orange County, she claims, because "I have NEVER seen a bicycle rider in Seattle. Not even in Downtown!"
    I think your mother must be lying to you to discourage you. When I've been downtown in Seattle, there are so many bikes whizzing around that my head is spinning checking them all out. And I drive my wife nuts commenting on all 'em. I'd say the majority downtown are "hipster fixie" or downright utilitarian type, but there are lots of others - many high-end road bikes. MTB's are not a majority.

    In good weather, if you ride the "Lake Washington Bike Loop" (designated by signage all around the lake), you'll see a lot of cyclists, mostly roadies.

    You might mention to your mom that the largest cycling club in the US is located in Seattle. And that STP draws, what, 8000 riders?
    I don't even use the offensive term "Fred." -- Sheldon "All Cyclists Are My Friends" Brown (1944-2008)

  3. #3
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    hasn't seattle been voted 'best cycling city' of sorts in recent years? seems seattle and portland do trade offs with 'best city... (to bike, walk, run, for coffee, microbrews, own a dog, etc, etc)'
    i've seen plenty of biking done downtown each time i visit from portland. my second time ever to the city, i saw a woman climb a massively steep block (one of the ones that runs from.. 1st to 2nd ave?) near the waterfront. this was years ago and before i took up cycling. the sight of that lady cranking it up that hill off her seat is ingrained in memory.. some awesomely impressive stuff, mate.
    i would consider southern cali to be less biker friendly, on account of drivers who aren't used to dealing with cyclists and anti-biking attitudes. rain isn't an issue for most who are dedicated, but extra caution is warranted.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by electricaltape
    i would consider southern cali to be less biker friendly, on account of drivers who aren't used to dealing with cyclists and anti-biking attitudes.
    I would too, even though I've not seen too many bikers in Seattle myself. But, I think that was mainly because all the times I've been there, I was always forced to be holed up at grandma's house. She got really lonely when there was no one around to take care of her before she passed away

    And cranking up a steep hill like that? Awesome.

    Oh drat, that reminds me of another argument my Mom tries to use to discourage me: "Seattle has enormous hills. Your legs won't be strong enough to handle them."
    Last edited by fat_bike_nut; 03-02-07 at 11:12 PM.

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    I live in Capitol Hill, walking distance to downtown. I see tons of cyclists in the streets here in all kinds of weather. Lots of commuters in expensive REI gear, hipsters on fixed gears, skilled messengers with insanely powerful legs, and college kids--there's a bunch of schools here. Not just "poor immigrants" going to work (I'm sure your mom's a nice person and didn't mean anything by it, but that's kind of a racist stereotype).

    As for how friendly Seattle is towards us? Moderately. I'm not an expert, but I'd say city planning tends to favor "recreational" cyclists. There are some great bike trails and multiple use paths. Cascade Bicycle Club offers daily rides and several each weekend, in the city and in the burbs. There's a few other clubs too.

    But for a city supposedly bike-friendly, I feel there are not nearly enough bike lanes. Plus I feel drivers here tend to be dangerously aggressive and careless, and on darker, grayer days when visibility isn't great, you really need to be careful. The hills aren't as bad as everyone says; you get used to them.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by hackybiker
    As for how friendly Seattle is towards us? Moderately. I'm not an expert, but I'd say city planning tends to favor "recreational" cyclists. There are some great bike trails and multiple use paths.
    I was afraid to hear this, since this is exactly the argument my Mom likes to use when I bring up the "bicycle-friendly" part

    No offense taken on the "racist stereotype" part. She is mostly a good person, but expresses some racist comments on occasion (without meaning to), and I'll point them out or do this:

    I guess I'll be spending more money lights and reflective clothing, then.

  7. #7
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    Your mother is right. Seattle is a horrible place to ride a bike, road or MTB, it rains here 339 days out of the year, and Starbucks is closing all its stores soon. Please pass this info on to anyone else you know who is considering a move up here.

    Seriously though, I commute, do group rides, and mountain bike and haven't had any trouble. I think that most motorists do look out for us but like anywhere else there are always the idiots that you have to look out for. Yes the city does take care of walkers, joggers, and recreational cyclists but believe me that there are plenty of places to ride that aren't rails-to-trails sites and lots of single track mountain biking that can't be beat. I don't think you'll have any trouble getting your ride on up here.

    Mike
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    I lived there 20 years ago and I recently visited for the first time in about 15 years, and I'll have to say it is much more bike friendly now than before. There were riders when I lived there, but the serious riders stuck to the same 3 or 4 routes, if that many. And we all had our favorite uphill routes to avoid the 20% grades on the streets.

    It seemed like riders now have their choice of routes, drivers tend to respect bikers rights and there were a lot more riders, especially downtown.

    Since I live in NYC now Seattle seemed like cycling paradise in comparison.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by zacster
    Since I live in NYC now Seattle seemed like cycling paradise in comparison.
    Really? How so? I mean, I know that NYC drivers can be rude and taxis can be downright dangerous in some situations, but I figure that the traffic congestion would favor cyclists

  10. #10
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    Lights are definitely a good idea. Oh, forget to mention that Critical Mass gets a good turnout here, if that's your cup of tea. In the warmer months, the rides are amazingly huge and fun.

    Anyway, bike-friendly is all relative. I visited a friend in Philadelphia two months ago and rode her hybrid around. That place seems a lot better for city cycling than Seattle even though it's more congested. Cyclists were everywhere, and bike lanes seemed better weaved into the fabric of the city.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by hackybiker
    Lights are definitely a good idea. Oh, forget to mention that Critical Mass gets a good turnout here, if that's your cup of tea. In the warmer months, the rides are amazingly huge and fun.

    Anyway, bike-friendly is all relative. I visited a friend in Philadelphia two months ago and rode her hybrid around. That place seems a lot better for city cycling than Seattle even though it's more congested. Cyclists were everywhere, and bike lanes seemed better weaved into the fabric of the city.
    Critical Mass? I've heard good & bad about it, myself from people doing it in other cities

    I enjoy massive traffic congestion on the bike. Not so much in my car, of course

    It just makes it easier to fly past the cars (or move at their speed while they putter along).

  12. #12
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    I have biked for years in Seattle...Seattle is a big area and I would include all of King County in that. Today was rainy and a bit cold but the largest Randonneur club in the US (Seattle International Randonneurs) had a 62 mile populaire out of Woodinville. Great hills, some traffic, (no big deal) and about 100+ riders. While I was out I ran into group rides from other clubs. I don't generally ride in downtown Seattle and most don't but the rest of the city and county is great. Sure there are the occasional idiots but come on.... roads with shoulders are all over the place. Bike lanes are becoming a standard feature on most road updates/widening. Having done Seattle to Portland 11 times, I have seen people every spring training all over the place...You would love Seattle riding....further there are tons of people commuting and more every year. There is a large political advocacy for commuting and access.
    See you in the Northwest where no one rides because its so rainy.

  13. #13
    or tarckeemoon, depending marqueemoon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hackybiker
    I'd say city planning tends to favor "recreational" cyclists.

    on darker, grayer days when visibility isn't great, you really need to be careful. The hills aren't as bad as everyone says; you get used to them.

    I agree on all of these points, but all things considered it's a great place to ride a bike.

  14. #14
    Senior Member smurf hunter's Avatar
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    5 days a week I take the sounder train into Seattle and ride up 3rd Ave to Belltown with 2 buddies. Along that short 1.5 mile stretch I'll pass at least a dozen other bikes, even during the winter months.

    I do most of my mileage near my home in Auburn. I find drivers in Seattle much more accustomed and accomodating to bikes in the city, compared with drivers in rural areas like Black Diamond or Enumclaw.

    -Sean

  15. #15
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    smurf hunter: that's kinda good to hear. I won't be out in the rurals much (if at all).

    marqueemoon: hey, how's the build on the Redline Conquest Disc goin'? Also, I think I'll be building a fixed gear Surly Cross-Check as well, but with a chromoly disc-brake cyclocross type fork, like the Dimension fork that's been mentioned on some threads in the commuter forum. That'll combine everything I want in my bikes in Seattle: Cyclocross, Fixed Gear, and Disc Brakes (well, a front disc brake, but a fixed gear only needs a front brake, anyway)

    Granted, I wasn't expecting to get them all in one bike only, but what the heck, why not?

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by fat_bike_nut
    I won't be out in the rurals much (if at all).
    I think a lot of it depends on physical appearance, oddly enough. I have long red hair, and it's quite obvious that I am female. I've never had a problem with being buzzed, even out in Enumclaw or Maple Valley (I go to MV quite a bit, as we take our cats to Wilderness Valley Veterinary Clinic).

    Your mileage may vary, of course!

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  17. #17
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    Well, I'm a Chinese male. I look Asian. So, I dunno how well I'd be received in the rurals.

  18. #18
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    I doubt your ethnicity will be a problem, even in E.Washington where I live cars can't focus on a tanned cyclist versus mexican which I'm part. The yeahbobs hate us all ... .
    Seattle is a fine place to ride though I'd stay away from the the Redmond -Sammamish or Burke-Gilman trails peak hours on a sunny day just because of the huge mix of users.
    Seattle is an urban area so you'll have to hone your skills in that respect plus coming from a sunnier clime some wet road skills. In the winter you need to pay attention to keeping your feet dry, a few of my fellow messengers would have a case of trench foot.
    If a mother with kids talking on a cellphone drinking a latte in a Volvo stationwagon out near Issaquah gives you a nod it does not mean go ahead, it means I'm going to clip you and leave you in the road and when they chase me down and tell me what I just did I'll be dumbfounded.

  19. #19
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    Ah, that reminds me. I got called a "SPIC" by some redneck in a pick-up truck on one of my rides here

    I guess he didn't see me very well when he flew past me at 45 MPH.

  20. #20
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    I think i would hang onto the car so that you could use it to move away from mom. hit Craigslist and some of the many thrift stores and get a bike for a reasonable amount of money. Many here have a commuter/tour bike and then a mountain or go fast bike. When you get it figured out you'll have your core a lot stronger, and you'll feel that the bike fit and other gear will be right. Seattle can be bike friendly but the roads are definitly not. Old concrete with wide and ill fitting expansion joints. There are bike lanes that are door zone wide. Many places have multi purpose trails which are just fine but you will be sharing them with every other soul (all with headphones) on rollerblades and many pulling inquisative pets. You are coming to an area that is all weather recreation and that is accepting of us Clydesdales. i heartily recommend riding rural. There is something about a road that has a stop sign or light every 25 miles or so and a bakery at every one of them. No one worries about rain because at least one of the bikes has fenders and while there is an average of 347 days of precipitation a year, we can describe the condition because there are about 60 different descriptive words for rain. That way you know which of the several sets of rain gear to grab. there are more bike clubs here than there are coffee companies. Most have a CPR requirement to be ride leader so that if someone goes down during heavy rain, they won't drown. Welcome

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by fat_bike_nut
    Ah, that reminds me. I got called a "SPIC" by some redneck in a pick-up truck on one of my rides here

    I guess he didn't see me very well when he flew past me at 45 MPH.
    It's not because of any type of race or color, it's because you ride a bike and they think you don't belong on the road. This does tend to happen in rural areas more than in the city. I wonder why that is? And it's not just here, It's almost everywhere in the US.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Abbey
    there are more bike clubs here than there are coffee companies. Most have a CPR requirement to be ride leader so that if someone goes down during heavy rain, they won't drown. Welcome
    Bill: I guess my EMT license'll come in handy when I go on group rides then. I'll be able to assist the ride leader with CPR, or have to perform it on him if he falls and is the only one certified to do it on the ride (I'm too slow to ride at the front)

    As to your other points, I'll consider the craigslist and thrift shop thing, but I'm really turned off by used bikes after my experiences with two real stinkers. One didn't fit well at all, and had a horribly uncomfortable and slow ride. Of course, it was a mountain bike with knobbies (my aunt's unused bike). 99% of my riding is on asphalt. The other fit almost perfectly, until I raised the seat post to a height more suited for my pedal strokes and decrease my knee pain. Then, it still fit okay enough for me to be able to do rides of well over 20-30 miles. The second one suffered numerous mechanical problems, and I just gave up when the rear wheel decided to break about 6 spokes on me simultaneously. I could've done a century on that rig if it didn't suffer from broken chains, busted spokes, busted hub bearings, general unreliability, etc. "Once bitten, twice shy"

    I already have a good idea of what types of bikes I'm looking for, plus I have a good idea of what fits me and doesn't fit me; the only problem is in having the money to pay for them. Well, I could probably pay for one...

    2wheeled: Actually, that incident occurred at the end of a ride I did alone, down here in Orange County, and it involved crossing county lines into Los Angeles County. Of course, the redneck in a pickup was encountered on the Orange County side (suburbs). I was more surprised than offended, really, and assumed that the motorist didn't get a good look at my face when he shouted the racist slur. I guess some people just don't know their racist slurs

  23. #23
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    Seattle is not as bike friendly as it thinks it is. I commute a lot and get harassed every couple days. Twice today! People in cars around here hard people on bikes!

  24. #24
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    Thanks for the heads up, BrianG79. How do you maintain your smile when you get harassed, then?

    I guess we cyclists should expect that sorta thing happening no matter where we ride in the US of A.

    Me, I just point and laugh at the motorist when he/she tries to put the hammer down and floor it, only for the engines to sputter, groan, and complain before taking off

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    I do most of my riding these days north or east of Seattle. I don't ride in downtown Seattle proper since I have few reasons to go downtown any more. I run into the occasional yahoo on rural roads, usually groups of teenagers in a pickup or something. As long as you avoid the high-traffic roads, I think cycling in this area is pretty easy and safe.
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