Pittsburgh area offers abundance of great riding venues, bicyclists say

Doug Gulasy
| Thursday, April 10, 2014, 12:30 a.m.

A cold and snowy winter made many forms of outdoor exercise difficult in Western Pennsylvania.

But for mountain biker Ted King-Smith of Friendship, the snow and ice actually added to the experience.

“Trails kind of froze up in just the right way,” said King-Smith, 33, a volunteer member of the organization Bike Pittsburgh. “There was just enough snow, but not too much. Many of the days where you could ride, it was cold, but you warm right up when you're outside ... and the trails were remarkably fun.”

Although avid mountain bikers still found a way to get outside during the winter, the spring and summer months are the high time for the sport. The Allegheny County Parks Department hosted a mountain bike season kick-off party on Sunday in Boyce Park in Plum, giving local riders a chance to hit the trails.

Riders reported an enjoyable — albeit muddy — experience.

“This is a great time to be out,” said Barry Jeffries, owner of Dirty Harry's Bicycles in Verona and the Pittsburgh Trails Advocacy Group steward for Boyce Park. “It's a great way to see the woods and see the parks.”

On the whole, mountain biking appears to be a growing sport in the United States. Leisure Trends Group, a market research firm in Boulder, Colo., said mountain bike sales across the country grew 11 percent from 2011 and 2012, and jumped 16 percent between July 2012 and July 2013.

“The popularity of mountain bikes — the numbers are huge,” Jeffries said. “Biking in general (is growing) — I would say the hybrid crowd with the rail trails, and mountain biking is very strong across the states.”

Western Pennsylvania represents an especially strong area for bicycling in general and mountain biking in particular, riders said. The Allegheny County Parks Department oversees nine parks, while Pittsburgh boasts numerous places for people to ride.

King-Smith called the area a “paradise” for mountain bikers.

“Pittsburgh has probably within 10 miles of the city center at least 10 really excellent venues for mountain biking, all of which are basically maintained by the love and care of mountain bikers in the region who are great trail stewards,” he said. “They really love their trails. They build great trails, (and) they take care of them.”

Cycling in Pittsburgh is growing because of the work of organizations such as PTAG, which protects shared-use trails and encourages their use; and Bike Pittsburgh, a nonprofit that wants to increase bicycling opportunities and keep riders safe.

King-Smith said the groups collaborate with local government. Mayor Bill Peduto recently announced plans to establish a dedicated bike lane Downtown.

Megan Lovett, a volunteer member of Bike Pittsburgh, said she expects those and other initiatives — including a proposed bike-share program — to further increase ridership in the area.

“It's going to be huge,” Lovett said of the bike-share program, which would allow short-term rentals from a network of unattended locations. Such programs have been successful in other cities, including Washington. New York, meanwhile, has reported thefts and other problems.

On the mountain biking front, trails are constantly changing because of natural forces, along with the work of mountain biking enthusiasts.

Tony Lascola and Jeremy Powers of Oakmont said they are working with that borough to construct trails there.

Mountain bikers said they expect the sport to continue to grow.

“(I like) the exercise and being out in the woods,” said Jamie Hilliard, 53, of Fox Chapel. “At the end of the day, I just don't want to stop.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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