What and when?

Next Willy Nilly: v17 - Sunday, February 23, 2025

The Willy Nilly is an individual and free-form version of an annual season-opening bicycling spin that happens on beautifully weird Vashon Island.

Willy Nilly Basics

> Registration/fees: None (for the record: this is not a ride that is "organized" for, or by, anyone...)
> "Ride your ride": Willy Nilly riders choose their ride details...start time, route, distance, pace...lycra, wool, or denim...maybe some road, gravel, or single track (there are trails on Vashon)...
> Number of riders: People frequently ask about this...for Willy Nilly, "size doesn't matter"...basically the numbers are unknown, as riders start/finish in different locations, at different times...and ride different routes...plus weather factors year over year, etc...we've estimated hundreds some years, and dozens other years...
> Typical start: Outside (south side) of Beveridge Place Pub in West Seattle
> Typical finish: Inside of Beveridge Place Pub (we believe in post-ride re-hydration)
> BPP to Fauntleroy dock: map
> One of many Vashon routes (a "standard"): map

Scroll down to view hastily-scribed blurb posts about past Willy Nillys...

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Willy Nilly Gear

> Willy Nilly t-shirts (100% of price mark-up supports fighting kids' cancer): view/purchase

Willy Nilly History

In January 2009 a handful of cycling friends (or drinking colleagues, depending on your perspective) were discussing options for a wintery road bike ride to kick off a new season. None of us were game for the iconic Chilly Hilly on Bainbridge Island. While the Chilly Hilly does an amazing job of inspiring thousands of riders to register and ride the beautiful designated route, this kind of ride just wasn't our cup of tea. To each their own, right? We decided to ride a more personalized and free-form ride on the same day as the Chilly Hilly, in solidarity with the herd to the north of us, and thus the present-day Willy Nilly was born.

Click here to sign up for reminders about upcoming Willy Nilly rides

v16 A Droll - er, Troll - Homage

Willy Nilly
February 25, 2024

Gusty wind-rain appeared to have sent Vashon's birds into hiding. Clearly the recently-arrived Oscar, Bird King of Vashon, needed an appeasement visit. The subsequent northbound tailwinds felt like he was satisfied by the effort. Whew. Underestimate trolls at your own peril.

v15 Snow Big Deal

Willy Nilly
February 26, 2023

Shocker: Not requiring registration, and advance fees, might, just might, reduce the barriers to many of the 300+ people on our Willy Nilly mailing list to (yawn, stretch) to decide to hunker down and stay home on Willy Nilly ride day, when the conditions seem...potentially uncomfortable. 

Harkening back to Willy Nilly post v1, there is a northwest outdoor activity adage: "If you don't go, you won't know!". 

And we quickly learned that it would turn out to be a gloriously gorgeous day for an official start to our 2023 riding season.

A wee bit of snow first thing in the morning seemed to deter many which, I'm grateful to say, dramatically thinned-out the lines at Burton Coffee Stand.

Having the Beveridge Place Pub in one's sights as a finish line surely doesn't undermine one's motivation to push through whatever conditions Willy Nilly day offers up...


v14: 2022: WAnon

Willy Nilly
February 27, 2022

It's no secret that Willy Nilly is, by definition, a Conspiracy among participants to pursue an alternative to the status quo of season-opening bicycle rides. But there's more to this wicked story. 

We have it on good authority - that is, from some very fine random people on social media - that this dangerous Cabal of bicyclists includes Seitan-worshiping foodies, as well as a disturbing variety of PedalStyles...and beware, they're very cold-blooded  (especially while they're bicycling in damp, 30-40 degree weather).

Now, we've come to learn about some damning new details. Apparently, due to a late night of worshiping live music and whiskey on the eve of Willy Nilly v14, one of these dastardly agents got off to a much later start to their Willy Nilly ride than they'd originally planned...inadvertently resulting in their first solo Willy Nilly.

Upon arriving on Vashon Island, this threat to established world order pedaled directly to one of their Cabal's secret Pizzeria field operation meeting places (Snapdragon Bakery & Cafe, in the town of Vashon).

v13: 2021: Skipping this one

Willy Nilly
Non-existent day, 2021

 ...kind of like how some building elevators have no 13th floor, except nothing like that at all, really.

v12: 2020: Danger, high voltage

Willy Nilly
February 23, 2020

Let's just say this was the year of the Willy Nilly electric slide...

...the one where riders encountered storm-downed trees, requiring a dismount from bicycles to slide under/around the trees splayed across the rainy road...all while keeping downed power lines - some encountered were ablaze - at a respectful distance.

Otherwise, Willy Nilly 2020 started off normally enough...this year we heard that the blustery-cold stormy weather had deterred many, but per usual there's no way to know how many individuals and groups rode their own Willy Nilly rides...given there's no registration, with riders starting at their own times, choosing their own routes...

Meanwhile, gravel Willy Nilly riding made its debut, thanks to the Alki Velo Club...

The winds were fierce, as were the thirsts afterward at the Beveridge Place Pub, which is about the only aspect of Willy Nilly that one can anticipate reliably...

v11: 2019: Soggy Bottom riders

 Willy Nilly
February 24, 2019

(Soggy Bottom Boys)

 (cue banjo) "I...am a man...of constant sorrow..." - Now hang on there just a goldarn minute...there's no need for sorrow here. Quite the opposite, in fact...it's all a matter of perspective...

...on Willy Nilly day, one should be prepared for anything, such as a mix rain, snow, and almost-sun combined with the beauty and hospitality of Vashon.


 And while some riders evidently wimped out this year due to weather forecast, a respectable number - including the first showing of the Alki Velo Club - turned out for classic Willy Nilly conditions...  

...with many roadside view points that offer "candid" photo ops...

And per usual, some Willy Nilly riders opted to finish with pints and pizza at the Beveridge Place Pub...which was arguably all the more enjoyable with a thawing and soggy bottom.

v10: 2018: Hell of the North(west): An almost-spring classic

Willy Nilly
February 25, 2018

"Almost-spring classic": It's almost-spring, and one could argue that 10 years running fairly constitutes a classic.

Admittedly, the only factors that might've actually qualified as "hellish" were, um, well, there weren't any this year. Unless viewed through a wimpy privileged lens:

We did have such a large turnout of riders that the wait in line at the iconic Burton Coffee Stand (properly pulled espresso shots and dense/moist almond torte...) invoked a small degree of chillyness; we did clean the Snapdragon out of their exquisite flat bread pizza before all riders had a chance to arrive and enjoy some; one rider did break a drop-out on their bike frame; and some of us were of a fitness level more suited for riding Willy Nilly on an electric-assist bicycle (like Cancellara did not use to win two 2010 Spring Classics).

9:30a departure wave at Fauntleroy ferry dorks - er - docks (photo credit: Friendly Ferry Employee)

So for the most part there was a fairly notable difference between the aspirational Hell of the North visions that some of us had in our mental slideshows...

And reality...

Burton Coffee Stand-ing (photo credit: K. Pritchard)
Northbound climb, Ridge Road (photo credit: K. Pritchard)
Solid Brown slid satisfyingly into the Willy Nilly spirit (photo credit: D. Delfs)
Post-ride hydrators at the Beveridge Place Pub (photo discredit: WN Unorganizer)

v9: 2017: DRIEST, POPULAREST and most RECORD-BREAKING season-opening ride EVER! #MaybeFakeNews #MakeVashonWeirdAgain

Willy Nilly
February 26, 2017

Well as I predicted many times - so many, many times...too many times to count - before this year's Willy Nilly ride, the weather this year was going to be great. Amazingly great. And guess what? It was so great. And because of my uniquely great talent for negotiating the future with nature, I was the only one smart enough to wear sunscreen. And what does that tell you? I wore sunscreen, becase it was very sunny, alright? And because I'm very very smart. So it was sunny. And warm. And dry. I can't tell you how great the dryness was that I alone negotiated!! "You're welcome" is all I gotta say.

I alone negotiated with nature for bathing suit weather during Willy Nilly 2017 (#MaybeFakeNews)

Now, you may have heard some #FakeNews...let me repeat that: #Fake-News...that some disloyal cowards leaked (and trust me, they will pay for their leakage), but no, there was no drizzling rain or bone-deep chilliness...and no, there was no actual concern about possible hypno-thermia issues when one rider made an extended forced-stop to deal with a mechanical problem with his crangkarm. What's that? Oh, crank arm. Whatever that is. Doesn't matter. I'm not some lowly mechanic. Grease under my fingernails? Fuhgedaboudit! I mean, I could be the best mechanic in the universe if I wanted to...#NotFair to doubt my potential just because I don't know what a crangkarn is.

#FakeNews! (credit Ken P)
Did you also hear the word on the street about all of those chilly Willy Nilly riders, jostling with their pointy little bicyclist elbows to get closest to the profane heater, while enjoying delish coffee at the Burton Coffee Stand? So #TotallyFakeNews.

Just like the #FaaakeNeeews that riders took turns eagerly warming their lycra tushes...around a toasty fireplace...while having darn tasty beer from Georgetown Brewing and delish brunchy-snacks at the Snapdragon Bakery & Cafe. The food and hot/cold beverages there are just so super-great when I'm there, and only when I'm there, see, because the people...the people who work there and the people who go there - everyone - all the people love me so much that the food ordered by me or anyone with me is always just the bomb - always!

The Willy Nilly crowds this year were just so huge - and I mean freaking huuuge - that we broke records. SO MANY RECORDS! That's right, no bigger crowd of riders has ever-before come together like this, never in the history of season-opening bicycle rides anytime, anywhere, in the entire...history...of-the WORLD. History of the universe, actually, to be perfectly honest.

A few of the record-breaking number of riders that attended (#MaybeFakeNews)

v8: 2016: Hail? Yes!

Willy Nilly
February 28, 2016

A quintessential chilly and drizzly Willy Nilly...our pedal-splashing around an absurdly gorgeous and hilly island was punctuated by multiple luxuriously comforting hot beverage stops at the Burton Coffee Stand (exquisite almond torte and macaroons) and the Snapdragon Bakery & Cafe (confession: addicted to the pairing of Lucille IPA with a plump & fruity Snapdragon danish).

v7: 2015: Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay...

Willy Nilly
February 22, 2015

...my oh my what a bluebird on my shoulder kind of day - for a hardly chilly but indisputably hilly ride on Vashon Island.

While anyone is free to "ride their ride", Willy Nilly cyclists of varied fitness levels mostly hung together this year

This year the turnout of riders - representing a wide range of fitness levels - largely opted to ride the same route ("Beveridge Place to Fauntleroy Dock" plus "Vashon Standard Loop"). The weather was conducive to lots of stopping to smell the flowers (figuratively and literally...cherry and dogwood blossoms were exploding in some areas...in Feb??).

Out on the roads of Vashon we crossed paths with several other groups of cyclists who had a similar idea of getting out on the "same day, different island" for a peaceful and soul-nourishing spin. One of them was pedaling a recumbent - a perfect candidate for the open position of Willy Nilly mascot.

Per usual we paused at the Burton Coffee Stand for a quick jolt of delish coffee...the pause turned into an ad-hoc lounge session in the patio area, where we were greeted by some feisty tulips getting an early start in the surrounding flower beds.

Burton Coffee Stand

From Burton we rode north on Vashon Highway, then swung east onto SW Quartermaster Dr. and worked our way over to one last notable climb up SW 204th St and Ridge Rd SW before our next stop at the Snapdragon Bakery & Cafe.

The always-friendly locals running the Snapdragon offered us an array of exquisite baked goods, which stunned some of us into indecision. Eventually we all partook in the incomparable mid-ride pairing of a Snapdragon baked treat with a pint of Lucille IPA. More lounging ensued before our last short sugar/beer-fueled burst of energy carried us to the Vashon ferry dock.

Snapdragon Bakery & Cafe

Last stop, per usual: West Seattle's Beveridge Place Pub, where our final stage of rehydration was accomplished...each of us found and quaffed a particular malty beverage that suited our individual needs. "Ride your ride" can evidently be applied to any aspect of this day.

v6: 2014: Ah, back to chilly no-frilly late winter conditions...

Willy Nilly
February 23, 2014

This year the Willy Nilly returned to it's original format. That is to say, on the same date as that of a well-established season-opening herd of cyclists on a different island near Seattle. 

In the spirit of Willy Nilly there were two waves of riders on their own schedules, doing their own route, each riding their ride on a day of perfectly reasonable weather (there's no such thing as an ugly day on Vashon). 

"And the ferry ramp Strava king of the mountain is..."
The first wave, which I'll refer to as the Strava-tistas (see one blogger's commentary), took an earlier ferry and surely established all kinds of performance records that no one had heretofore been motivated to attempt. Remnants of this wave stuck around the Beveridge Place long enough post-ride to welcome the second wave and share some malty/hoppy deliciousness and Willy Nilly camaraderie...

Wave two riders, more inspired to "stroll" than "perform", nevertheless accomplished an artistically-oriented achievement for posterity by collaborating with the bartender of The Hardware Store to identify and test the perfect final component of a beverage masterpiece that had been in development for more than five years: The Admiral (a Bloody Caesar made with gin versus vodka). A feat of genius by the bartender was performed by adding rolled anchovies to the already heavily-laden garnish stick.

So yeah, we had a lovely ride with comfortably crisp weather that was mostly dry....that is, until we departed The Hardware Store for a dash to the ferry dock, at which time we were blessed with just enough rain that we were able to feel as if we were intrepid Belgian Spring Classics riders deserving of many finish line beers.

v5: 2013: "Nice" and balmy Willy Nilly

Summer Willy Nilly
August 24, 2013

Q: "How was the blind date you met last night?" A: "Nice".

In my experience today's generally understood meaning of this answer is either "meh", or perhaps even "something less than great, but don't ask me to provide details".

This year's Willy Nilly was better than "nice". It was a bike ride on Vashon Island in the summertime, and by any measure a stunningly lovely ride. It just lacked...meteorological character.

This year it was suggested that we roll with the Willy Nilly not only on a different island than the Chilly Hilly is held, but also on a summer day that is six months opposite of the iconic season opening ride. And that's what we did, with the following results:

> Somewhat surprisingly, a smaller crew showed this year for a mild-weathered late-summer ride versus the number that have turned up at previous bone-chilling Willy Nilly rides
> Camaraderie was not quite as hearty as when we share weather-induced pain and suffering
> The Bloody Marys, Caesars (Marys made w/Clamato), and Admirals (Caesars made w/gin) at the Hardware Store were as delicious as ever
> The image shown here of participants taking a mid-ride spin on exercise contraptions might have been easier on the eyes had the riders been covering their lycra with the layers of chilly-weather covering that is typically required during a February Willy Nilly...just sayin'.

v4: 2012: Just like the USPS...no, the real one without lycra shorts or blood doping...

Willy Nilly
February 26, 2012

Neither snow nor rain nor...ferry schedule mix-ups...

A dry, balmy day without unexpected glitches would not be a Willy Nilly day.

We rode our ride. Experienced new versions of chaos. With a mix of sun, rain, sleet and snow we tasted just the right amount of weather-induced suffering to feel intrepid. Some of us suffered from deciding to try to hang on to the wheels of a couple of our favorite brewers. And we enjoyed the relative peace and quiet of Vashon (though we could hear a rumbling sound coming from an island just a few miles north...perhaps a moo or two). 

One of us is exceedingly grateful that one of said brewers (hint: his name is not Lucille) pulled the entire way in a mini pace line to make the ferry...from The Hardware Store Restaurant (and bar) feed zone (bloody Mary's, bacon, potatoes) to the ferry that carried us back to West Seattle, where we finished up yet again at the Beveridge Place Pub. The barley wine festival was in full swing...

As with previous years we had two rider groups due to two different ferry departures, not by design. Oops. Willy Nilly.

Okay, so we chickened out on widely promoting this beyond immediate friends. Again. I mean, what if the herd shifts south and replaces our peaceful chaos with mayhem??

v3: 2011: Tooth-chattering grins

Willy Nilly
February 27, 2011

Hardware Store refueling break
Here we are, almost a year later. Why the post delay? Was it that traumatic? Um, no. Was it that unmemorable? Certainly not. It's simply that it has taken this long to thaw my extremities enough that I may sit down and type.

How to convey the experience nearly a year down the road? I asked some participants to provide a quick quote that captures their take:

RM: "The only thing better than the opening climb from the ferry, was the concluding climb into a Bloody Mary."
GH: "Through cold wind and slush I survived without a wreck, thanks to the beers and my 20-year old Trek."
BC: "My ass was wet but my wit was dry."
SS: "I've obtained a longer crank, and I intend to use it. "
JB: "Am I the only one manly enough to venture out?" (evidently not)
JD: "The slushy ice was more enjoyable once it was in a glass, with celery salt on the rim."

v2: 2010: "Start time" is just a guide...

Willy Nilly
February 26, 2010

In the true spirit of Willy Nilly (not to be confused with the Pell-Mell, the
Chilly Willy, or the dreaded Wet Willy) it turned out that two parallel rides
occurred this year:

Ferry wave 1: One minor hitch at the start...one of us (ahem), with the previous night's source of debauchery still coursing through his veins, had to sprint home for forgotten bike shoes and thus barely made the ferry by driving aboard. A group of 7 riders (Brad C, Manny C, Rob M, Greg H, Phil W, Erik G and John D) navigated the classic Vashon loop, including some cross-training at the outdoor exercise bike installation (above). During the return stretch we decided to stop for some bloody Marys/Caesars, bacon (for those of the group who are carnivores) and red potatoes at The Hardware Store in the village of Vashon. From there some decided to high-tail it to the dock (some of us chose not to notice), and a technically complexified flat repair caused three of the riders to miss the targeted departing ferry. Nevertheless, everyone arrived at the Beveridge for beer, barleywine, and Zeeks pizza in time to catch an epic US/Canada Olympic hockey game...at least one Canuck will never have to buy his own drinks, eh?

Ferry wave 2: A sweeper team of 3 riders (Dave C, David E and Mark W) stormed the Vashon ferry beachhead and surely wreaked their own brand of havoc upon the sleepy, weird island enclave.

Next year: It's time we diversify!

Honorable mentions: John J couldn't make the ride, but drove across town to show team support at game time. Scott S induced his understanding wife and infant daughter to make a similar trek and appearance at the Beveridge. And Kris S, well, we simply honor Kris because we know that he is with us in spirit ("sipping coffee" in Amsterdam), as a phantom sag-wagon far off the back of the last Willy Nilly rider, making us feel at once superior and guilty. We love you, Iceboy.