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Biking for Leisure

January 2, 2015

The roadway on the waterfront along the west shore of Lake Washington through Leschi is very scenic, and relatively flat for several miles and provides a bicycle friendly route for leisure bicycling.


Riding north from Leschi takes you through Madrona, and then the Arboretum, and over the Montlake Bridge to the University District. There you can connect up with the Burke Gilman Trail in the University District. The Burke Gilman Trail goes most of the way around Lake Washington, almost 30 miles, so you can ride as little or as much as you like.

 

Riding to the south has several options, including taking the road along the lake all the way to Seward Park, and then on to Renton, or you can get on the I-90 bridge bike trail and ride east to Mercer Island and beyond to Bellevue. There are also routes through the forests of Frink Park, and Coleman Park a wee bit to the south. So when the weather is good, pack a light lunch and spend a few hours exploring the neighborhood by bicycle. There are many parks along the lake very suitable for picnics.


Race Training

In good weather or bad, if you spend any time on the Leschi waterfront it will not take long for you to be passed by bicycle racing teams in their sponsor's colorful uniforms, riding past in groups, both large and small. Leschi's geographic features provide both long flat stretches of road as well as hills through the neighborhood that are just great for bicycle race training. Teams work on speed, endurance and team racing skills on the roads and bike paths in Leschi. It is a common sight at the market, the deli and the coffee shops to see several bicycles parked on the sidewalk and riders getting a snack or "carb-ing up" before taking on the I-90 bridge bike path, or heading north around the lake.

 

Bike Race Events

There are a few formal bike races that take advantage of the Leschi waterfront and surrounding areas. One is the Danskin Triathlon in the summer.


If you are interested in more information about bicycle teams in Leschi and Seattle, you can check out the Washington State Bicycle Association.

 

Trail Access

North: Burke Gilman

This trail is great because it used to be a railroad line, so it is mostly flat with very gradual shallow hills. There are no motor vehicles allowed so it is great for biking, even with children along.


From the Leschi waterfront, take Lake Washington Boulevard north all the way through the Arboretum. Go across the Montlake bridge to the University District and continue north on Montlake Boulevard to the big Y in the road at NW Pacific Street. Take the left turn of the Y and go a few hundred yards and you will see the trail on the right side of the road. University Hospital is across the street. You can take the trail either direction. If you continue west, it will go around the University District along Lake Union. If you go north, it will go most of the way around Lake Washington.


East: I-90 Bike Trail

There are many people that ride this bridge trail both directions as part of their daily commute between Seattle and Bellevue.

 

To get to the I-90 bridge bike path from Leschi, take Lake Washington Boulevard South. Wind your way through the forest of Frink park, making your way up the hill. It is a little over a mile to Irving Street which is a steep hill that leads down to the trail.

 

You can head east, across the lake, or you can head west through the Mount Baker Tunnel and continue west through Sam Smith Park.

 

There is a concrete barrier between the bike path and the auto traffic for the length of the bridge but that is not to say the ride is not without its dangers. Take note that the traffic on I-90 bridge is freeway traffic and can be quite loud during peak hours. Also the weather can be wet and windy at times during the winter months, and in high winds you may find yourself hit not only by rain but by waves crashing against the bridge. Also beware of ice on the bridge deck on winter mornings. There is also a lot of dust and debris kicked up by trucks so be careful to not get something in your eyes. The trail along the water feels VERY narrow when you are riding along and get a fleck of something in your eye. Protective eye wear is not necessary but could be a good idea if you bike the trail during rush hour regularly.


There is a restroom along the trail at the ball field on "the LID" which is the park that is over the freeway tunnels on Mercer Island.

 

Mercer Island has several coffee shops, restaurants and grocery stores if you want to detour for a snack or even make Mercer Island your destination for a weekend bike ride with a lunch stop.

 

The bike trail follows the freeway so it does not go into downtown Bellevue but you can get off the trail near 109th/110th in Bellevue near the Mercer Island Bridge, and ride into downtown along Bellevue Way. Bellevue Way can be tricky with busy traffic so you may want to work your way through the neighborhood on side streets instead. 108th can be a good choice for that but has some daunting hills.

 

South: Seward Park

The trail around the Seward Park peninsula is entirely away from the street, so it is completely free of auto traffic. This makes it very good for families to bike together because it is very safe there. There is also a lot of wildlife lurking in the forest so it can be interesting to see what you can discover as you ride by. And don't forget to look up -- you may find you are being watched by a hawk or bald eagle.

 

To get there, just head south from Leschi on Lakeside Avenue South for about five miles. You can ride the five miles to the park or put your bikes on the bike rack of your car and drive them there, and park your car in the parking lot. The trail is about 2.7 miles in a loop around the peninsula. There are mile markers every half mile along the paved trail if you want to do laps and keep track of your distance. There are also restrooms along the trail, which can be very convenient.

 

Sharing the Road

The width of the streets in Leschi is fairly wide and all, but when riding a bike there is a tendency to move out into the center of the road. That is often a good idea, especially when passing parked cars to avoid getting tangled up in a car door opening up in front of you.

 

When driving a car it can be a challenge to pass a team of bike riders that are either riding "two abreast" or worse "three abreast" rather than single file. Or when they spread out with a couple car lengths between them so passing them means crossing the center line for several blocks at a time.


All of this happening at once can cause road rage, both on the bike and in the car. Pretty soon everyone is swearing at everyone.

 

There are times when a bicyclist NEEDS more room to be safe. There are also times when a car NEEDS to cross the centerline to be safe. It often takes some judgement to know when being safer in one way makes you much less safe in other ways.

 

There are several days during the summer when the roads close for bike day. But that also means people in cars cannot get where they need to go without detours.If you are biking that day, it is very cool. If you are driving that day, you find yourself swearing at the detour signs.

 

With all the bike riding in Leschi it takes a spirit of cooperation from both bikers and drivers to make it work. So be safe out there, AND be considerate.

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