Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Leveling of Seattle - The best hills for bombing

Special Collections, UW, 1910, Asahel Curtis

UPDATED: Click here to see the revised list of Seattle's best hills 

Seattle's reputation for coffee, rain, and unbearable people may be unfair.

It may be perfectly fair. You can't smoke in bars and the Lusty Lady is closing.

Either way, most of the country is ignorant of our increasingly lame-ass city's rep for big hills.

For hills they think Frisco, and rightly so.

But we got some sugar lumps ourselves. Mighty, towering hills. Some so tall you lose your breath walking down them.

Night riding allows the bike rider a privilege denied to day-riders: Dominion over the streets. And hills are no exception. During the day big hills can be sketchy. Bikers are all pressed against the side of the road with PT Cruisers speeding past, or have traffic behind them, breathing down their necks.

At night, it's just rider, bike, and road.

And FOUR loko and grape Swisher.

Please find listed below Seattle's top destinations for the burliest in downhill bombing routes, ranked by length, speed, safety and lack of traffic lights, among other factors. This is not an authoritative list, and the Night Riders Union is always trying to find new hills.

There are likely steeper hills than those listed here, but may be unsuitable for bombing because of unpredictable traffic, construction or traffic signals. As for the hills listed below, ride them at your own peril and while wearing a helmet, at least.

Pro tip: The best time for bombing is about 3 a.m. Bar traffic goes down, less cars.

A Class - Sweetest of the sweet.

1 - Big Finn Hill (North) - Kenmore (1.6 mi)
When the wind blows, it blows from behind, there is a radar sign to tell you your speed. One or two lights to watch for, but super long, super smooth and pretty darn steep with no harsh landing. This is the Blow Job Queen of Seattle night ride hills. The trek up the backside, from Juanita, isn't short or too easy, but it's more than worth the sweat. Consider stopping by Bastyr for Swishers and alcopops. Going down east on Big Finn Hill doesn't seem to work so well, headwind, flat stretches.
WARNING: Although all of these routes are dangerous, this one has at least one death on record. In Feb. 2007, a 28-year-old woman was killed when she collided with a truck as it turned onto Juanita Drive NE, down the hill from Bastyr a piece, at about 5:15 p.m.

2 - Admiral Way (East) - West Seattle (0.9 mi)
Not as long as Big Finn Hill, but extra smooth, much steeper and with no lights or side streets. Two tips: Wait at the top to make sure no cars are following, they'll creep on you, it's a busy road, even in the wee hours; make sure to enter the middle off ramp at the bottom, to Highway 99, and be careful of cars merging from the left, because you need to change lanes to hit the bike trail entrance. If you pop out simultaneously with a car, you will likely be traveling faster, which is an odd feeling.
Click here for video

B Class - Exhilarating rides, but with some matters to take into consideration.

2 - 140th Avenue SE - Renton/Fairwood (1.1 mi)
Not the easiest hill to reach, in more ways than one, but what points it loses for being far away and a helluva climb it makes up for in sweet, sweet bombing. There can be a headwind, there is a light, and the bottom doesn't have a soft landing, it doesn't quite bottom out before hitting a stop light. It also has a bike lane, all the way down, which is pretty awesome.
For video click here

3 - S Holgate Street - Beacon Hill (0.6 mi)
Currently my favorite hill, this beast is short, and feels about as short as a rollercoaster. This beast is steep, very steep. I've gotten over 40 mph without peddling too hard, if that's any indication.This road isn't in great shape. I wouldn't recommend trying it in wet conditions, or if you aren't darn confident on your bike. There are limited, but hidden, driveways, a pretty cool bend before the roadway crosses I-5, and a soft landing, inasmuch as there isn't an immediate stop light or sign. The roadway, actually, gets pretty rough down on Holgate Street proper.
Click here for video 

4 - Admiral Way (West) - West Seattle (1.2 mi)
 Truly an excellent ride, but a victim of location: the east side of Admiral Way is burlier, and gets all the cute boys. Any other place in the city, and this route would be its own destination. So here's to you, forgotten route. The roadway gets a little rough, and there can be a headwind, but with its curves, its drops, its length, and above all, it's soft-as-a-kitten landing, the western front deserves its due.

For video click here

5 - 24th Avenue E - East Capitol Hill/Montlake (0.7 mi)

Darn bumpy at the bottom, with plenty of stop lights -- which, I think, generally give the right of way to downhill traffic -- and some hidden driveways, but an excellent ride. It also has one of those speed limit speedometer signs.

C Class - Excellent rides, but with considerable matters to take into consideration.

6 - Dravus - Magnolia (0.4 mi)
Dravus is to the north what Holgate is to the south: a ridiculously steep hill. W Dravus Street is so steep pedestrians use notches in the sidewalk to scale to the summit. It also has many cross streets. From the top, before the plunge, one can see a panorama of Seattle, the Cascades, many things you don't even recognize. It happens quick, be extra careful, you will make liberal use of your brakes. At the bottom is a light that doesn't seem to favor Dravus traffic, so be prepared to stop. 

7 - Queen Anne Avenue - Queen Anne Hill (0.5 mi)
This should be the best. It should be the greatest brake-checking hill in the city. But Queen Anne Avenue, with its traffic from its many cross streets, its hard landing, freaks me out. It's fun, I like it, I like being freaked out. Maybe that's the reason for this hill not making it higher in these most scientific rankings, a bias developed out of disappointment that the storied Queen Anne isn't the greatest of lovers. She's pretty good, pretty great, but for some reason I expected more.

8 - Queen Anne Avenue to 15th Avenue W - Queen Anne Hill (1.4 mi)

This isn't as much a hill as it is two hills separated by a flat midsection. The first, coming off Queen Anne Ave, ends at an awkward stop sign intersection. Late at night, it shouldn't be a problem blowing through. Before descending into Interbay, however, the route takes several steep turns before a rough, steep final drop to a very hard landing at a stop light.
Click here for video 

9 - Taylor Avenue - Queen Anne Hill (0.9 mi)
Steep, smooth, with a set of nice curves and a fairly soft landing. It is also lined with parked cars and hidden cross streets and is, in general, pretty sketchy considering all the apartments and young people and alcohol and cars. Not on my regular rotation, but it's surely a great time. The quieter the night, the better. Do it on a Sunday or Monday night, rather than a Friday or Saturday.

10 - Broadway to Eastlake - Capitol Hill (1.2 mi)

Rough, with a flat patch in the middle. One very hard landing, coming down 10th Avenue E, and another potential hard landing when merging onto Eastlake. Add in the cross streets on 10th, and you've got an authentic, scary Seattle hill. It's also awesome, did I mention that?

11 - Golden Gardens - Ballard (1 mi)
Hairpin curve will kick your ass if your brakes aren't working, because of gravel, it's sketchy to try and take going too fast. There are some pretty rough patches -- some smooth patches too -- and street lamps through the park aren't always burning when you are. At the bottom it gets real rough, and dark. A very nice ride.

D Class - Every other sweet, downhill ride in the city.


  1. mclellon to rainier?

  2. A nomination:

    The Renton Avenue Extension down to Rainier Ave, about 2 miles of sweet, sweet bombing\