STP: The Ride I Love to Hate

If you live in the Seattle area and ride a bike you've probably heard of STP. If you haven't heard about it you have no doubt seen people riding around with an STP Jersey. For 2012 they look something like this...

STP 2012 Jersey

What is STP? It is the annual "Group Health Seattle to Portland Classic" put on every year by the Cascade Bicycle Club, an advocacy and education group based out of Seattle. 

Some quick facts about the ride, straight from the Cascade website:

  1. Total distance (miles) 202.25
  2. Elevation gain (feet) 4,828
  3. Maximum altitude (feet) 463
  4. Start: University of Washington in Seattle, Washington
  5. Midpoint: Centralia, Washington (Overnight camp location for 2-day riders)
  6. Finish: Holladay Park in Portland, Oregon
  7. Ride options: 1 day (double-century) or 2 days (back-to-back century rides)
  8. Course type: one-way (as opposed to out-and-back or loop courses)

Since registration begins in February (January for Cascade members, which includes me) it is about this time of year that the questions start...

"Oh, you ride a bicycle? Have you ever done STP?"

"I want to ride STP this year. What bike should I buy?"

"I signed up for STP, do you think I can use my _________ bike on that ride?" (fill in the blank with TT, steel, recumbent, trike, mountain, you name it)

...and the questions don't stop after the ride, they keep coming. 

Every year it sells out (at 95% capacity as of the time of this writing according to the Cascade website) with a capacity of 10,000 riders. If each rider was given a 10 second start before the next rider it would take them nearly 28 hours to get everyone on the road. If every rider was evenly spaced every 10 feet they would stretch out 19 miles (from UW to the 405 overpass in Renton).

This ride is famous for being one of the longest running, best supported, and best attended rides in all of the U.S. with people coming from all over the world. It is also infamous for HUGE pace lines, large groups of riders of varying abilities, and mile-after-mile of narrow rural roads through some of the least scenic areas of a very beautiful state.

So, let me get this straight...

A 10,000 person cattle-drive down a non-scenic 200+ mile route? 


Cycle Oregon 2009. Cruising down highway 96 along the Klamath River on my way to Happy Camp, CA, in the gorgeous state of Jefferson.I appreciate the draw of a popular group ride that is well supported (which this one reportedly is). I have done numerous group rides including Bike MS, the Flying Wheels Century, Cycle Oregon, and Tour de Blast. I have nothing against big group rides but there comes a point where they are just too big. As a comparison Cascade also sponsors RSVP or "Ride from Seattle to Vancouver and Party", a ride of similar distance but greater elevation gain, which has a MUCH better scenic factor and far fewer people (1400 split between 2 groups).

I would much rather ride RSVP than STP, plain and simple.

I will never do STP no matter how many people ask me if I have ever done it. I would rather ride from Seattle to Portland on I-5 in front of a sleep-deprived trucker while being forced to listen to the Bee Gees greatest hits album. 

I’m sure I could exploit this further for comedic purposes but I have better things to do with my time. 

Like dream about the Cycle Oregon ride I might not go on…

When I finish a ride I want to be able to say, "That was an amazing ride, can we do it again tomorrow?" The last thing I want to say is, "Wow, what a nightmare. I'm never doing this ride again." I ride for the pure enjoyment of riding, for the views, and for the opportunities to see new countryside. Doing it on a bicycle provides a connection to the road and the earth that you simply can't get with a car. 

When was the last time you finished an all-day drive somewhere and said, "That was an amazing drive, can we do it again tomorrow?"