When Cascade Bicycle Club’s beloved 206-mile Seattle to Portland ride — commonly known as the STP — resumes this July 16-17 after a two-year pandemic hiatus, Lewis Rudd will be riding for his 31st time since the event’s founding in 1979. 

“I’ve missed it,” Rudd said in June, sitting outside a Starbucks in Leschi on his way to a long ride alongside Lake Washington in preparation for the STP. He was dressed in an Ezell’s-branded spandex racing kit, a nod to the equally iconic Seattle chicken chain he co-founded in 1984. “That’s why last year we got a group of 17 people together and just trained to do it on our own.” 

That ad hoc ride was organized by Bike Works executive director Ed Ewing, another longtime advocate for cycling in Seattle’s Black community. Things today are a lot different from the late 1980s, when Rudd first started riding — when every time Rudd would see fellow Black cyclists like Ewing out on the road, he’d call out to them and introduce himself.

And while more people of color are riding bikes, Rudd says there’s a lot more work to be done. That sentiment mirrors one major goal for Cascade Bicycle Club as the STP gears back up.    

“There’s room for growth in the Black community and other communities to get more minorities on bikes,” Rudd said. “It’s a great exercise. It’s good for the mind, body and soul.”

For Cascade Bicycle Club, this first STP since the pandemic and widespread protests for racial equity in 2020 is an opportunity to reach out to a diverse group of bike riders with the club’s signature event, which has a renewed focus on inclusion and support for local communities.

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Lee Lambert, director of Cascade Bicycle Club, said the organization is making a concerted effort to reach out to affinity biking clubs that promote cycling in Black, Asian and other people of color communities, as well as groups dedicated to including people of all body types in cycling.

“There’s a stereotype of what someone on a bicycle looks like,” Lambert said outside the club’s headquarters in Magnuson Park. “A lot of people picture a thin white guy in spandex,” he said. 

To counter that perception, Cascade is collaborating with organizations such as NorthStar, a club for Seattle’s Black cyclists, and All Bodies on Bikes, which seeks to destigmatize the word “fat” and “foster a size-inclusive bike community.” 

“Our hope is that through these partnerships, even if people aren’t affiliated with those clubs, they’ll realize, ‘Oh, there are people like me on this ride,’” Lambert said. 

All Bodies on Bikes, founded by former Cascade board member Marley Blonsky, offers resources for plus-size riders and uses social media to push bicycle manufacturers and cycling clothing companies to create and market products for people of all body types. 

In addition to NorthStar, Lambert said Cascade is working with organizations like the Filipino-centered Grupetto Cycling Club and the Puget Sound-area Asian Bike Club to encourage riders of all backgrounds to participate this year and in future STP rides. 

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“As we work to lift up cycling,” Lambert said, “we want to make sure we’re also lifting up all sorts of bike clubs in the community.”

Though it began as a race in 1979, the STP eventually became a noncompetitive ride for cyclists of all speeds and abilities. At the height of its popularity, the ride attracted nearly 10,000 cyclists. This year, the event is aiming for about 6,000 participants, with a cap of 8,000 riders. The 200-plus-mile route, which roughly parallels Interstate 5 most of the way south to Portland, is one of the most popular “double-century” rides in the country.

Most riders take two days to complete the STP, usually spending the night near the midpoint, around Chehalis and Centralia. Campgrounds, high school gymnasiums, local hotels and Airbnbs all offer tired cyclists a night of rest. (A full Ride with GPS route, with directions and elevation info as well as waypoints for food and lodging, can be found at cascade.org/stp/route.)

Some experienced, ambitious cyclists attempt to complete the route in a single day. One of Rudd’s most memorable STP experiences was in the early 1990s, when he was invited to ride in a group of strong cyclists who averaged more than 20 miles per hour. “That was the funnest ride ever. You’d ride in front for 30 seconds or so and then drop off and ride in the back,” Rudd said, noting that drafting off other riders helped him rest and pace himself. Rudd estimates he spent only 10 hours total on his racing bike to complete the journey.

But Lambert emphasizes that is the exception rather than the rule. Lambert has pedaled the STP five times and fondly remembers the experience of encountering the same riders again and again, and eventually exchanging numbers and meeting up for other rides. 

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“That type of community formed along the route is an exemplar of what the STP can be like,” Lambert said. “I like to say: If you don’t have a friend to ride with, you’ll make one.”

With the event just days away, it’s not a ride to take on a whim if you haven’t trained in advance, Lambert said. Though there are rest stops every 10 miles or so, it’s still a long haul. 

“What you’re training for is basically sitting on your butt,” he said. “It does take training to get used to sitting on a bike for that long.”

Rudd says those considering the STP should get comfortable taking longer rides in the range of 50 miles or so — as well as learning what your body needs in terms of food and hydration along the way. (No, he doesn’t recommend bringing fried chicken on a ride.) 

He also recommended riding in a group, whether it’s with an organized club or a few friends. 

“If you surround yourself with people that encourage you, you’re better off — especially someone that’s done it before,” Rudd said.

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The STP, sponsored by Kaiser Permanente and presented by Alaska Airlines, is a huge logistical operation, and the ride is by far Cascade Bicycle Club’s biggest fundraiser. Hundreds of volunteers sign up to work rest and refreshment stations, and a group known as the Outriders is stationed along the route, offering first-aid kits and all sorts of bike repair supplies. 

The two-year absence of the event hit Cascade Bicycle Club hard; the absence also had a severe impact on various community organizations along the route. Cascade partners with scores of clubs and organizations between Seattle and Portland for the event as a way to spread cycling goodwill and give back to those communities.

According to its blog, Cascade Bicycle Club typically contributes around $100,000 of rider registration fees — $170 for club members, $190 for nonmembers, through July 10 — to nonprofit and community groups to operate STP rest, food, first-aid and repair stations. The pandemic shut that funding down, impacting groups ranging from a Meals-on-Wheels program in Lexington, Cowlitz County, to the women’s volleyball squad and other teams at Centralia College, which typically raises tens of thousands of dollars selling food, renting camping spots and operating a beer garden. 

“It’s great to have these groups back this year,” Lambert said. “It’s really important for our organization to give back and support the communities we go through on all our rides, not just STP. We’ve been really intentional in trying to contract with local businesses, so that when we’re in these communities the people on our rides spend dollars there.”

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Cascade leads many group rides beyond STP, including the Ride from Redmond to Bellingham and Back (R2B2), another double-century ride that takes place Aug. 20-21, plus the one-week Ride Around Washington (July 31-Aug. 6). Shorter rides include “lite” bike tours of Port Townsend and Walla Walla. Cascade also runs the notorious Chilly Hilly on Bainbridge Island in February, a damp, challenging ride that’s not for the faint of heart.

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All of these rides help raise money for Cascade’s advocacy mission, which is to popularize cycling and persuade governments to make riding bikes a priority. “We’re working both at the state and regional level for simple, safe and connected bike infrastructure,” Lambert said. “So people will feel more comfortable riding wherever they live.”

Rudd, who, at 67, continues to lead Ezell’s, is considering what he calls “semiretirement.” He hopes to do rides in France someday, retracing several stages of the Tour de France. For now, he’s looking forward to his 31st STP. He says those who have considered long bike rides but have pumped the brakes should get started training and give something like the STP a try. 

“These rides are an opportunity to experience and explore more of the Northwest, to meet more people and get some healthy exercise,” Rudd said of his annual cycling tradition. 

“It’s fun to have the STP as a goal each year,” he continued. “You turn the TV off more, drink less beer, you party a little less and do more of the things that add quality to your life. So when spring comes around and the weather starts getting nice, you get on that bike and start rolling.”