Aug 4, 2023

E-biking on Seattle's hilly Vashon Island is a Passport2Pleasure


Bikers relaxing at Dragon's Head Cider

As late summer fades into fall, the bounty of Vashon Island awaits 20 minutes by ferry from Seattle.

Boutique wineries and cideries are uncorking their latest vintages. Roadside farm stands brim with fruit and produce. Beaches, forested trails, cafes and galleries invite lingering on weekend afternoons. 

Just 13 miles long and eight miles across, Vashon would seem easy enough to explore by bike. But as serious road cyclers know, there's a reason organizers call an annual September ride  "Passport2Pain."

"It's rolling hills," says Erin Kieper, owner of Vashon Adventures which rents bikes on the island.

 "If you go down to the water, you have to come back up, and if you're not an avid cyclist, it can be daunting."

 Enter the electric bike or e-bike, a solution for those looking for a leisurely ride focused more on discovering Vashon's bohemian and artistic side rather than on a rigorous workout. 

 "They're a great equalizer for people who haven't been on bikes in a while, or hate hills, or who come with avid cyclists and just want to keep up," says Kieper. "E-bikes have gained in acceptance, and they've gained in popularity." 

Go five miles or 25. Think of touring Vashon on an e-bike as a Passport2Pleasure. 

Plan your route  

Breakfast at the Snapdragon Bakery & Cafe was our first destination as my husband, Tom, and I arrived on the island on a recent Saturday.

Snapdragon Bakery & Cafe

As most cyclists know, the challenges begin with the five-mile, 500- vertical foot ascent to town from the ferry dock.

Following a tip from other cyclists, we detoured away from busy Vashon Highway onto a tree-shaded backroad, rejoining the highway at the point where the shoulder widened, and ferry traffic had cleared. 

Our bikes, like the ones Vashon Adventures rents, are peddle-assist, meaning a battery powers three levels of assistance - eco, standard and turbo - requiring the rider to peddle at all times, with the option of using a gear shift, turning the battery off and peddling normally.

Keeping in mind our battery "budget" for the day - around 25 miles - we used turbo assist on the initial uphill stretch, then turned the battery off, and peddled normally as the road flattened out.

Bikers looking for a short ride need not go further than Vashon's compact downtown area to find plenty to explore. Locals love the Snapdragon for its plate-sized pastries and garden seating.

Saturday farmers market

A block north is the Saturday farmers market, the place to pick up fresh cherries and pepperoni sticks for a mid-ride picnic. Nearby are antique and thrift shops, art galleries and the Mukai Farm & Garden, a historic heritage home and Japanese garden open to the public for self-guided tours.

With a few destinations in mind that required a longer ride, we headed away from town, stopping first at Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie before detouring on backroads where there are no shoulders, but also little traffic.

The Coffee Roasterie is part museum, part cafe

Part coffee museum, cafe, country store, book store and herb, tea and spice purveyor, the roasterie is housed in a historic building, once the headquarters of Seattle's Best Coffee. We cooled off with chilled glasses of Wild Tonic blueberry-basil juice on the front porch, and bought a bag of roasted pistachios for later.  

The ride from here south to Quartermaster Marina on Vashon's east shore was our longest downhill descent. Our destination was Lavender Hill Farm, now closed for the season. 

Cattle and horse farms along Vashon's backroads

With so much downhill riding, we worried a bit that we might not have enough battery charge to make it back. Consulting our GPS, we rerouted for a more gradual climb, skipping a couple of stops that would have required more "turbo" power. 

Le Stockage farm stand

Serendipity rewarded us with a scenic ride past horse farms and cattle ranches. Using a map showing the location of farm stands around the island, we found miniature Italian pears at Peach Tree Hill farm. Another stand called "Le Stockage" stocked produce, cold drinks and snacks in a truck decorated with flowers and a wooden bench.

Back in town, with battery power to spare, we followed a sign next to a mannequin dressed as a butterfly. It pointed the way to the Outstanding in its Field Gallery  where owner Lindsay Hart  welcomes visitors with homemade lemon squares and coconut macaroons. 

A dozen artists display their works in her garden and in a repurposed shipping container. The theme changes monthly as does the mannequin's costume. For August, Hart dressed it like a cat to celebrate the "Dog and Cat Days of Summer." 

Two cideries and several wineries offer weekend tastings. All are worth a visit, but keeping in mind that we were on bikes, we picked just one - Dragon's Head -  where the owners have planted English and French cider apples on 30 acres of former strawberry fields

We ended our day relaxing at a picnic table with a glass of Airlie red, a semi-dry cider with a 6.9 percent alcohol content. But even if you don't drink, there's another reason to detour here.

Indicator Species

Overlooking the orchards is "Indicator Species", a silvery, 35 foot tall kinetic sculpture of a Plecoptera nymph, commonly known as a stonefly, sculpted by Ela Lamblin, CQ as a gathering point for communal celebrations.


If you go:

Weekends are the best times to visit Vashon when most things are open. Get there via a 20-minute ferry ride from West Seattle aboard the Washington State Fauntleroy/Vashon ferry. King County runs a walk-on water taxi from Seattle's Pier 50 on weekdays. 

The Vashon Island Farmers Market runs Saturdays through October 15 from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. 

For map and description of farm stands throughout the island see Most accept Venmo or cash. 

A version of this story appeared in The Seattle Times on August 4, 2023

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