Here in Nikwax’s U.S. Pacific Northwest headquarters, we pride ourselves on being hardy folk. It takes a certain kind of person to live in a place where you can count a month’s worth of sunny days on one hand, the trails are often caked in a thick layer of mud, and riding your bike might often require a full rain suit and fenders.
So it’s fitting that one of the Northwest’s oldest, largest, and best loved cycling events takes place in the biting cold of late February, on a coastal island often battered by the blustery winds off the Pacific Ocean.
For the past 40 years, the unofficial start of cycling season has been the last Sunday in February. The Chilly Hilly Bicycle Classic, presented by the Cascade Bicycle Club, draws thousands of brave cyclists who face cold, and often wet, conditions to tackle 2,675 feet of seriously hilly terrain on Bainbridge Island, off the coast of Seattle.
The race, named by Bicycle magazine as “one of the four classic rides” in the nation, begins with an early morning ferry ride across Puget Sound. The course then begins immediately on the docks, as the bundled-up riders take to their bikes to tackle 33 miles of steeply rolling terrain in the bone-chilling cold.
Of course, some accommodations are made to help keep the racers warm. Rather than the standard food and fuel station fare of water and energy bars, riders are greeted at the halfway point with warming hot cider and baked goods. At the finish line festival, there’s a “hot chili feed” for the tired and cold masses, with all proceeds benefiting the local Squeaky Wheels Bike Club.
If you’re thinking about taking on the challenge of the Chilly Hilly, you’ve got to be prepared for the serious conditions presented by late winter in the Northwest. It will most certainly be cold, and likely wet enough to test the limits of your most waterproof gear. Make sure to re-up the waterproofing on all your shells, gloves, and shoes with Nikwax products like T.X. Direct, Fabric and Leather Proof, and Glove Proof.
For more information about this year’s Chilly Hilly on February 24th, click here.