Joining Cascade’s Free Group Rides is as “Easy as Pie”

Riding my electric cargo bike is my favorite thing

Paul Tolmé

  • To encourage more participation, Cascade has increased to 10 the number of people who can participate in Free Group Rides.
  • The club is also seeking individuals to create and lead more Free Group Rides in their neighborhoods for beginners and people of all abilities.


Getting motivated to pedal outside in winter can be tough, so when the weather forecast called for sunshine I checked Cascade’s Free Group Rides calendar and quickly signed up for a ride the next day. It’s easy to bail on a solo ride, but signing up for a group ride provides the impetus to get out the door.

That’s how I ended up on the Pie Ride.

We gathered in Matthews Beach Park, located off the Burke-Gilman Trail--six of us including Cascade ride leader Jeff Almgren. In accordance with state health guidelines, Cascade has expanded to 10, up from six, the number of people who can participate in a Free Group Ride.

After introductions, Almgren delivered the pre-ride safety briefing. Safety is paramount on Free Group Rides. Almgren asked a series of COVID-19 related questions and instructed us on social distancing and mask-wearing requirements. He then recited Cascade’s SMART riding tips and instructed us on how to use hand signals. 


Almgren gives some instructions before heading out. 

Then it was go time. With Almgren leading, we rode single-file out of the park and onto the Burke-Gilman Trail heading north, with two bike lengths between us. The Pie Ride, so-named because it stops at the Hillcrest Bakery in Bothell, is 19 miles long with a “steady” pace of 12 to 14 mph. All Free Group Rides are categorized by pace, from Easy (less than 10 mph) to Leisurely (10-12 mph) to Steady, Moderate (14-16 mph), Brisk, Vigorous, Strenuous, and Super Strenuous (22+ mph).

The best thing about Free Group Rides? They’re free! And have been for decades since their inception. Free Group Rides are held almost every day throughout the Puget Sound region, with some starting in Seattle, others in Bellevue and the East Side, and others on Bainbridge Island and beyond. Click on our Map View to see rides near you. 


With views of Lake Washington to our right, we pedaled up the Burke-Gilman, passing through areas of cool shade and emerging into bright warm sunlight. As we passed through Kenmore, the group demonstrated the “Safety Stop” technique at stop signs by rolling through after checking for oncoming traffic. Thanks to the work of Washington Bikes and legislators, cyclists can now treat stop signs as yield signs. 

Almgren raised his left arm to signal a left turn, and we turned onto the Sammamish River Trail, passing parents with strollers out for a sunny afternoon walk, then proceeded into Bothell, stopping at the Hillcrest Bakery. I bought a donut and joined the others sitting outside in the sunshine. Nobody ate pie but the baked goods all looked delicious.  


Free Group Rides provide the opportunity for socially distant camaraderie and friendship in this time of pandemic and loneliness, and I got to know Almgren during the stop. A Cascade member and Ride Leader since the early 1980s, Almgren has done STP more than 20 times and ridden across the United States twice. “I joined Cascade because I love to bicycle and I love to meet great people,” he said. “Both of my kids were raised in the club.”

Finishing our snacks, and resisting the urge to buy another pastry, we got back in the saddle and followed Almgren back to the trail, then retraced our route back to Matthews Beach. The entire ride with stops took about two hours, and I arrived back at my desk in my home office feeling refreshed--and contemplating whether I should become a Free Group Rides leader.

Almgren and the approximately 300 volunteer ride leaders are the heart and soul of the Free Group Rides program. Cascade is seeking individuals to create and lead more rides, especially ones geared for beginners. Click here for details on becoming a ride leader. 

“The Cascade Ride Leader community is amazingly supportive and fun,” says Joseph Roberts, Cascade’s IT contractor. Being a ride leader allows him to create Free Group Rides at times and locations that are convenient for him. 

“I realized that if I became a ride leader I'd have the opportunity to host rides starting at places I found convenient, at times I enjoyed, while pedaling on routes I like,” Roberts says. “Posting and leading short, after-work, mid-week, hilly rides in Seattle provides the motivation I need to get out and get the exercise, and it turns out there are a bunch of other riders who feel the same way.”

Robert Onishi began creating Free Group Rides in the Auburn area where he lives so that he could share his love of cycling with newer and less experienced cyclists. “Over the past few years, I've been spending more time leading rides at easier paces,” he says. “It's fun to hang with riders who aren't tempted to push the pace, and it's good to get away from a ‘faster is better’ mindset.”

Agreed. Slowing down also allows more time for pie and pastry stops.

More Info

Sign up for a Free Group Ride.

Become a member to support free programs like our group rides.

Read our previous post on Free Group Rides: “Two Bike Lengths, Face Masks, Six Riders Max and No Spitting.


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