Bike Map (PDF)
Nestled roughly halfway between Portland and Vancouver, Seattle enjoys the benefits of being in "the neighborhood" for great North American biking in a way that many other cities should envy. For an east-coaster looking at a map, all three of these cities have fairly similar geography and weather. Tons of water access, little to no snow in town, mild summers, mountains with year-round snow very close by. The three cities are very different to bike in, however, and each has a very distinct flavor.
For those young people who cannot afford to "retire" to Portland, Seattle offers a substantial job base and was largely immune to the Great Recession. It seems to be easier to get a more traditional corporate "career" job in Seattle than in Portland, and the buttoned-up culture shows downtown. Downtown Seattle is also a very vertical place, with honest-to-god steep hills of a sort not seen by us since San Francisco. If you're pushing a kid rig with some bags on it, downtown Seattle can be a punishing place to bike. Be forewarned.
The good news, frankly the great news, is that once you get away from downtown to the north, the surrounding areas of Seattle that we visited were not only reasonably sloped, they were just fantastic places to be on a bike. We stayed in Fremont and biked around more or less everything within 8 miles north of downtown; University District, Northgate, Ballard, Discovery Park, and others, and we found incredible food, huge playgrounds, top-shelf breweries, family bike shops, and friendly people everywhere. We need more time in Seattle, but from what we saw, there were bike boulevards and bike paths connecting pretty much everything we would need in a perfectly safe manner. Seattle doesn't brag, but it's quietly a very nice place to bike.
Downtown, Seattle's culture was very much "big city," complete with loud sports fans, fast cabs, and wide streets. There are ample bike lanes downtown, however, and other than the hills, it's a reasonably easy place to bike, especially for anyone coming from the east coast. Everything to the north of downtown seemed to be much tamer, even when there was heavy bike traffic. We saw the usual "upper northwest" mix of 50% athletic bikes, 40% city bikes, and 10% kid-hauling rigs. Tons of kid trailers, trail-a-bikes, and even a few bakfiets made appearances.
Reminiscent of Minneapolis, cyclists here were polite but not overly millitaristic about "the rules." As always, it's a great idea to let someone know you're about to pass them with either a little tinkle of the bell or an "On Your Left," and there are signs on some of the bigger bike paths to remind newbies to do so. Wayward skateboarders and the occasional carbon fiber dude-bro doing 25 mph are the worst thing you'll have to worry about on the bike paths. Overall it's incredibly easy and laid-back here. The bare minimum of care will carry you through.
Similar to Portland, Seattle is cursed with a great deal of surviving street car rail embedded in the roadways, waiting to flip you onto your sight-seeing touristic arse. When Seattle has created a bike path, and said bike path has to cross such a set of rails, the city engineers have done a great job of turning the path to almost 90 degrees when you have to cross those tracks, making it easy to stay vertical. But out in the on-street bike lanes, there are still some "surprise" tracks out there waiting to show you the inside of a local emergency room. Cut a hard 90 degree angle across them, and if you're able, pop that front tire up and over as you cross.
From what we gathered, Seattle is like most other large cities: If you can, bring the bike inside at night. If you can't bring it in, lock it up with a quality u-lock and ideally a cable as well, around the front wheel. Most cities with thriving bike scenes also have a thriving bike theft scene. Sad, but true.
Best Bike Rides in Seattle
These routes were curated by local Seattle folk who wanted to share their #BestBikeRide with you. Print off the map for free!
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Dutch Bike Company - $45 daily for Dutch mixte, roadster or bakfiets and includes lock and helmet
evo Seattle - $30 for 4 hours ($40 for over 4 hours) includes lock and helmet
Montlake Bike Shop - $35+ daily for standard and tandem bikes and trailers. Lock and helmet extra
Recycled Bicycles - $60+ daily for road, hybrid, trailer or trail-a-bike
Seattle by Bike - $65+ per person includes bike rental and views of the Space Needle, Amazon Spheres, waterfront and Ballard locks
Seattle Cycling Tours - $79+ for local and regional tours
Dutch Bike Company - design inspired transportation bike shop
King County Metro - 100% of buses have bike racks and transit tunnel train is always accessible to bikes.
Cascade (Vancouver, BC - Tacoma - Portland - Salem - Eugene) - $5 for roll on service
Coast Starlight (Portland - Los Angeles) - $10 boxed service
Empire Builder (Chicago - St. Paul/Minneapolis - Milwaukee - Spokane - Portland) - $10 boxed service
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