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Biking book spotlights 50 rides, near and far

Area cycling sweet spots

The roads and trails of Western Pennsylvania have a hard time competing with Tuscany and Vienna, but offer many riding possibilities for at-home trips.

• Great Allegheny Passage — From Cumberland, Md., to Pittsburgh;

• Butler-Freeport Trail — Stretching between those two communities;

• Montour Trail — From Coraopolis, it loops through areas south of Pittsburgh and, with some detours, finds its way to Clairton; it connects in Washington County to the Panhandle Trail, which goes almost to Weirton, W.Va.; and

• Samuel Justus Trail — Connects Oil City in Venango County with Emlenton;

Many state parks have established bike routes; and there also are commuting-recreational routes along all the rivers in Pittsburgh.

— Bob Karlovits

Friday, Sept. 28, 2012, 9:32 p.m.

Writer Chris Santella is more of a researcher than a bicyclist.

But, the information he has gathered for “Fifty Places to Bike Before You Die” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $24.95) could be as useful to a bicyclist as a straight set of spokes.

“I come to this job more as a journalist,” he says of the latest volume in his series of “Fifty Places to ...” books. “I try to find out the role these places play in the pantheon and develop the big picture.”

Some readers in this area might be offended that he has omitted the nearly finished Great Allegheny Passage, which by 2013, probably will connect Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md. That done, it will link to the C&O Canal Trail, which will mean clear cycling from here to Washington, D.C.

There is one reason it isn't part of the book: It didn't come up when he started talking to bicycling experts about their places to die for, so to speak. A site has to be recommended by experts to gain a spot on Santella's books.

This is the 10th in the “Fifty Places” series, which also looks at places to hike, go birding, sail, dive, fly-fish among other activities. The “Fifty Places to Play Golf” even was followed by “Fifty More Places to Play Golf.”

Even though Santella, from Portland, Ore., knows fly-fishing and golf, he says he did all of the books in the same way — as travel books rather than volumes that deal with an activity.

Because of that, “Fifty Places to Bike” does not deal with gearing, tire-size, frame-type and all those other inside-bicycling topics on which riders focus.

It is written with the trips more in mind. The places are recommended by a variety of enthusiasts, including competitive cyclists, tour leaders, even professionals in other fields who are simply addicts to their two-wheelers.

Santella says his strategy in assembling the list is to line up some of the experts and begin talking. Invariably, some of them lead to others who weren't known. Also, he says, one expert's discussion of a ride will echo another, giving it true significance.

The opposite also happens, he says.

“Sometimes, the interview is not good at presenting the story,” he says. “Some places just don't make it. But I spend a few sleepless nights wondering whether I missed places.”

He also had heard an area in Wisconsin was a great riding spot, but didn't find enough support to include it.

The final 50 roll all over the world: Indonesia, Taiwan, Africa, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Vietnam, Nova Scotia and British Columbia. It includes expected places such as the bike-happy Netherlands and major events such as the annual ride across Iowa.

It travels the National Parks such as the Grand Canyon and Glacier, cruises through New York City and climbs the Alps and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Nearly every spot is illustrated with a striking photo and each is ended with an “If you go” section that includes information on getting there, the best time to go, guides and outfitters, the level of difficulty, and accommodations.

Each section deals more with the sites to be seen than the of demands of the cycling, although that topic always is mentioned a little.

It is a book that in many ways could help define any visit.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.




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