Chilly Hilly History
The big annual bike tour around Bainbridge Island, the Chilly Hilly.
It seems appropriate that the first entry in our museum of classic events is the ride that takes place right outside of our own front door. Actually, for a lot of people the ride starts on the deck of the Seattle ferry, but by the time they turn in front of our store they realize that they’re underdressed or that their bike doesn’t work so they start in front of Classic Cycle after those concerns have been addressed.
So the Chilly Hilly is a bike tour that circumnavigates our home, Bainbridge Island. It’s a route that you can do anytime that you want, of course, but there’s something special about riding the actual event.
The ride takes place on the last Sunday in February each year, with late winter weather virtually guaranteeing the “Chilly” part of the name. Better call it “Hilly” too, with a route that repeatedly runs from sea level up to 300 feet and back down again, totaling 2700 feet of elevation change.
Wiggling around the edges of the island, the course has changed a little over the years, but has mainly stuck to the paved secondary roads and narrow lanes that roughly follow Bainbridge island’s outline on a map. For the first twenty years or so the lumpy route ran 36 miles around the island, with a southern extension that traversed the steep Toe Jam Hill climb before resuming the route that we know today.
The 22 percent average gradient on the Toe Jam climb was never especially popular with the riders. Omitting the slippery and steep hill, organizers shortened the route in 2003 to the friendlier 33 miles that we have today.
The Chilly Hilly was first organized and ridden in 1972. Like most bike tours and races, it was started by a small group of riders who said “Hey, what if we…”. Rick Nakata of Bainbridge Island says that for a couple of years the Chilly Hilly was actually called the Chilly Hilly 100 and was comprised of four 25 mile laps on the island.
From a humble beginning, the participation steadily grew from just a few dozen riders in the beginning, to thousands today. In 1975, the first year that Cascade Bicycle Club organized the ride , there were 75 riders. In the ’80′s the numbers jumped up dramatically, with 5000 cyclists getting out on the road for the 1992 edition.
The Chilly Hilly has become one of the more famous bike tours in the country. Bicycling Magazine named the Chilly Hilly “One of Four Classic Rides” in the nation, and each year there are participants from the far reaches of North America.