Braving the rain: how a bad-weather bike ride aims to raise funds for a good cause

  • Written by Kirsten Abel

Cyclists get muddy and wet in the annual Stinky Spoke, a mountain biking ride that raises money for Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center in Redmond.

The Stinky Spoke, now in its tenth year, incorporates awful weather, poker and mountain biking into a charity event benefiting a local organization called Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center.

stinky spokeCyclists get muddy and wet in the annual Stinky Spoke, a mountain biking ride that raises money for Little Bit Therapeutic. (Photo courtesy of Woodinville Bicycle)The soggy 18-mile ride, which starts and finishes at Redhook Brewery in Woodinville, runs along the Tolt Pipeline Trail, the Trilogy trail, the Redmond Watershed Preserve, the Powerline Trail and the Sammamish River Trail.

At the start of the ride looms what is appropriately called “Heart Attack Hill,” a steep incline that gains 300 feet of elevation in just a quarter of a mile. Those who make it to the top without stopping receive a well-earned medal and, of course, bragging rights.

The ride takes place on January 21, statistically the worst weather day of the year. Why hold the event in such nasty weather?
“It’s such an easygoing crowd because everyone usually comes out expecting the worst,” said Todd Cowles, the founder of the event and of the Stinky Spoke Foundation.

According to Cowles, people actually enjoy mountain biking in the rain and the cold. “It’s a little bit of a twisted thing to do,” he said, laughing. “It always surprises me that such a big part of the biking community is excited to do this.”

The Stinky Spoke started out as an idea shared by Cowles and some of his college friends. They knew they wanted to do a poker bicycle ride and they knew they wanted to meet for beers afterward.

When Cowles decided to extend the invitation to the community in 2008, he realized the event could become much more than just a fun outdoor activity. It could actually generate money for a charity.

Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center, the charity that Stinky Spoke has partnered with from the beginning, provides equine-assisted therapies to children and adults with disabilities.

“I had been commuting on my bike right past Little Bit every day,” Cowles said. “It was a natural fit.”

In the first year, the Stinky Spoke ride involved about 100 cyclists and generated about $500 toward Little Bit. In the later years of the ride Cowles said the event has seen up to 950 cyclists and has raised as much as $40,000.

“We’re always trying to get up there to the thousand rider range,” he said.

Participants are mostly adults because of the inclement weather and the length of the ride, but Cowles said there are some avid youth cyclists who show up.

Registration costs $60 per person, a fee that includes a Stinky Spoke beanie, a pint glass and a drink ticket to use after the ride.
No fundraising is required. Those that do raise over $250 will be entered into a drawing to win a variety of prizes. “It’s a voluntary thing if people want to do that,” Cowles said. “We’ve always wanted to keep it affordable.”

The poker portion of the ride involves three designated stops along the route. At each stop, riders pick up a single playing card. At the end of the ride, each person receives two more cards to finish with a hand of five.

The cyclists with the best poker hands can win some notable prizes including bicycles, a $1,000 gift certificate to Woodinville Bicycle and a package deal from the Herbfarm and Willows Lodge for dinner and a night’s stay.

Those who don’t have a mountain bike or who don’t feel like riding in the rain are still welcome at the post-ride party at Redhook Brewery.

“The best thing is just the day. The crowd has a super good attitude,” Cowles said. “Just a bunch of smiling faces covered with mud.”
To register for the ride or to sign up to volunteer, visit

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