Friday, October 26, 2012

The Leveling of Seattle 2.0 - The 7 Best Hills For Bombing

In the beginning, it is possible that nobody knew how to properly change a flat. Night riding was not about bicycles.

If anything, the Night Riders Union of Seattle has deeper roots in freight train hopping than bicycle culture, evolving from an obscure hobo gang, The Crossbuck Boyz, which had two members.

Mr. Q and Bobby Gentle started riding trains the summer of 1999. They rode long distances, short distances, and even drunkenly hopped a BC Rail boxcar to Edmonds one night and had to walk most of the way home.

Because of school, family, work, relocation, and bad backs, the last time Q and Gentle hopped a train was September, 2004.

Night riding started four years later, in September, 2008. With its nocturnal explorations, mysteries, booze and blunts, adrenaline pumping thrills of screaming down the tallest hills fit to be paved, ridin' dirty filled their gasping need for adventure. 

It wasn't the same as catching trains, but it wasn't as disruptive to the routines and relationships of a normal life. Night riders could hit the streets once significant others and children hit the sheets and return before they woke up.

And the more night riders rode, the more they learned about bicycles and how to make them work properly. They also became less suspicious of bike culture, and less intimidated visiting bike shops. Soon, they became bike nerds.

Additionally, the more they rode, the more they learned about the hills of the region. Soon, they thought they knew everything.

This know-it-all-ism was first assembled two-and-a-half years ago, as an 11-point ranking of the best hills for bombing.

Since then, with the advantage of more rides and more discoveries, it has become necessary to revise the list.

Humans are fragile, death stalks the roads, and bicycling -- at night, impaired, listening to "The Humpty Dance" -- is dangerous enough without making it deadly. Speeds on these hills are well over 30 mph, and in parts well over 40 mph. Suddenly stopping or swerving becomes perilous or just plain impossible even under the best conditions.

There are hills that are steeper than those on the list, such as South McClellon Street from Beacon Hill to the Rainier Valley, and hills that are both extremely steep and long, such as many of the roads off Renton's Benson Hill; South Puget Drive and Southwest 43rd Street/Carr Road, to name a couple.

Those hills have not been discovered by night riders. One day, maybe, but so far, good sense has prevailed.

The hills on this list would terrify more sober souls, but they have been successfully bombed at least twice without incident. They are long and steep, but mostly have limited cross streets, minimal stop signs or stop lights, little car traffic, mostly smooth surfaces, and are well lit.

There are other hills that are begging to be bombed, but these are hills that night riders know and will go out of their way to ride, even make it the night's objective. These are the destination hills

This is not a definitive list of the best hills of Seattle. Union members are still searching for the golden heights of El Dorado, and welcome all suggestions.

The changes include the addition of two new routes, and the removal of six old routes. While slimming the list down to the best of known hills, this version attempts to take a more regional view, reflecting the expanded reach of the union. As such, only three four routes on the new list are within Seattle proper.

The new list also disposes with rankings. Although some routes are longer and others are shorter, it now feels capricious to say one is better than the other. So much depends on your bike, traffic, weather conditions, and favorite blunt wrap flavor. Therefor, The Seven Hills are presented by length.

Note: Don't get hurt or killed. If you get hurt and/or killed, don't blame us. You have been warned.

Juanita Drive NE/68th Ave NE - Kenmore (1.6 mi) It's not the most ridden hill in union history for nothing. Although speeds are not supersonic -- usually in the 35 mph range -- this sortie is anything but shorty. Plus the road surface is fair, there are some twists and turns, and the landing in Kenmore is soft as a thousand decorative pillows. Usually this hill comes near the end of a Lake Washington circumnavigation, the Big Pay Back. Night riders have been known to use Bastyr University as a way station for blunt smoking and adding layers for the chilly air of outer space.
WARNING: Unlike other hills, 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, at about 5:15 p.m.

Olson Place SW/ First Ave S  - White Center (1.2 mi) Of all the routes, this might be the most intense. Not only is it steep and long, there is one light near the start smack dab in the middle that doesn't seem to favor down hill flow and a four-way stop near the bottom, and a large stretch of it lacks adequate lighting. It isn't hard to attain speeds of 45 mph, at which time you will be able to hear the tread on your front tire sawing through the air. Because the road splits off into highway onramps, it is best for an experienced rider to take point and lead the way. The four-way stop before the final plunge into South Park can be run with caution. Taken at the right time you can thread the needle and this hill can be vanquished in one seemingly-endless swipe, but be prepared to slow or stop. Feather your brakes, partner. Feather 'em, so you and your pads don't melt upon re-entry.

Admiral Way (West) - West Seattle (1.2 mi) Often overlooked because of its sibling hill (Admiral Way eastbound), this route is as close to an ideal bombing hill as Seattle offers and should not be dismissed. The landing is very soft, the hill is long, steep, and offers many curves. Headwinds are common, but even at lower speeds, the course does not disappoint (like Edmonds). There is a lighted crosswalk, but no stop lights or stop signs. However, the hill has many cross streets, alleys, and driveways. Also, because it is one lane, and on-street parking is allowed in sections, it can get dicey if cars back up behind you and try to pass.
For video click here

Renton Ave S - Skyway (1.1 mi) Just beyond Skyway Bowl lies this slope, one of the best as far as surface conditions and safety, in part because a well-marked bike lane follows you down. Although bikes tend to reach speeds that rival cars, it's nice to have the peace of mind a bike lane allows. There is one light in the middle, and it doesn't always favor downhill flow, but it lacks an abundance of cross streets. Once at the bottom, you run into an intersection on Rainier Avenue that has a light that doesn't ever seem to be green. Fortunately, there is an am/pm at the intersection. Unfortunately, its alcopop selection is limited.

140th Avenue SE - Renton (1.1 mi) Along with the Skyway route, this Renton hill has good surfaces and a bike lane. It also has a midpoint light (which does favor downhill traffic) and a major intersection at the bottom. However, it has very few cross streets and is wide and uncramped and quiet. The bottom of the hill intersects with the Cedar River Trail, which provides easy, scenic egress back into downtown Renton. It is also one of the most difficult routes to access, as it is the most distant route on the list, about 21 miles from the University District, and there are no direct routes to the top. The union recommends climbing up Benson Road from downtown Renton, then cutting through Cascade Vista and Fairwood to the top of the hill.

Admiral Way (East) - West Seattle (0.9 mi) This route has been in the news for the attention cops have paid to speeding cyclists. That says it all. With its silky smooth surface, zero cross streets, epic view of the Seattle skyline from the summit, this hill plunges more dramatically than necklines at a middle school formal. The road splits at the bottom and then merges with traffic on the left, which is exactly where you want to go, so it might be best for an experienced rider to take the lead. About two-thirds of the way down the hill, turn on the gas. That's the sweet spot.
For video click here 

S Holgate Street - Beacon Hill (0.6 mi) This is more of a precipice than a hill. This hill is fast, fast like a roller coaster gone off the tracks and crashing to the earth. Without much pedaling, one can usually break 40 mph. Surface conditions at the top are poor, so be sure your accessories are strapped down tight. At mid point, the newly established Beacon Hill bypass trail emerges at the curve just before the I-5 overpass, where it gets really fast. The city recently repaved the bottom of the hill, softening the landing zone, but just beyond are rows and rows of railroad tracks and road surfaces chewed up by semi trucks. Despite all this, the road is fairly untraveled at night with a dearth of cross streets/driveways and zero stop lights or signs


  1. None from the Eastside, or North?

  2. If you know of some, let us know! Also, it should be said, don't attempt these hills, or other steep hills, unless you are riding a bike that is safe and sound. - Ed.