If you’re visiting the Pacific Northwest and want to experience the real deal, at some point a bicycle is going to factor in. The cycling community in Seattle is so strong and user friendly, anyone visiting the city would miss a wonderful local experience if they didn’t rent a bike and see what it's all about.
Ben Rainbow, who owns Back Alley Bike Repair, located in historic Pioneer Square, thinks people will be surprised at how easy and accessible renting a bike can be in the city. “Renting bikes in Seattle is perhaps the absolute best way to take in this beautiful city,” he says. “Because this place is defined by bodies of water and hills, major arterial roads can be congested and the city’s network of greenways connect different communities along chill side streets.”
Back Alley rents Bridgestone bikes appropriate for beginners and seasoned cyclists alike. People sometimes rent for several days, and a helmet and cable lock are included. The shop is just a block and a half away from broader transportation options like the bus, train and ferry, all of which accommodate bicycles. You can cover some major ground by hopping on a ferry to visit one of the San Juan Islands, or catch the bus and go across town, or take the train even further—the options are endless.
“Seattle really is a cyclists paradise,” says Rainbow. “The hills offer rewards with every twist, and the views of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker, and the Olympic Peninsula give a great sense of place. Exploring the city by bike allows you to get a sense of how Seattleites use the city and how the city works.”
Myrtle Edwards Beach and the Burke Gilman Trail are great places to start, and taking a day trip out to Bainbridge Island via the ferry is a quintessential Seattle experience. Visiting the Back Alley Bike Repair shop itself is too, as it's located in a picturesque and charming urban alley that features art installations. It's also adjacent to Washington Bikes, an advocacy group that helps promote and grow cycling in the state. Both WA Bikes and the folks at Back Alley Bike Repair are willing to help out with route finding and information.
“There are gems to be had in all directions,” says Rainbow. “For folks wanting to ride bikes for a couple of hours, I recommend a trip along the waterfront, through Myrtle Edwards Park and the sculpture garden. Discovery Park offers expansive views, the Ballad Locks and the salmon ladder are a cool treat, and Golden Gardens is an easy ride along the Burke-Gilman trail. In fact, exploring the Burke-Gilman can easily take an entire afternoon. For a longer getaway, the San Juan Islands are iconic.”
If you’re downtown, you can also check out The Bicycle Repair Shop . It’s a popular spot that caters mostly to people wanting to rent bikes and local commuters. “We have a 16-mile loop that we recommend,” says Michael Longfield, “it’s the Ballard Loop from the waterfront to Ballard through the Locks, Fremont, and over the University Bridge to East Lake. Then it comes through Stewart Street because it’s a safer route. It takes about three hours and it’s what we call “Seattle flat.” Nothing here is totally flat, but this one's pretty tame. We send the more serious riders to Bainbridge Island,” he says.
Their bikes come with a pannier bag, a lock, and helmet. You can pack a picnic and hit one of Seattle’s fabulous parks along the way. Longfield says the great thing about renting bikes from a repair shop is that they are well maintained. If anyone gets stuck, they’ll cycle out to find you and help you out. But to keep people from getting lost, they record all the places where customers have told them they lost their way, and put those on the map to help folks keep on track.
So, if you're visiting Seattle, stop by Pike’s Place Market, pick up some local snacks and head out for a memorable cycling adventure that gives you a real feel for the city.