Major expansion plans are following Pedal Pittsburgh's biking boost
Bob Gottlieb, a bicycling enthusiast for years, plans to open a velodrome on Neville Island by December to capitalize on the rebirth of cycling in the United States.
Island 200, a $4.5 million indoor bicycle racing stadium holding 3,000 spectators, will offer track bike racing events along with membership-based training and recreation for cyclists, even in the winter. Concerts, trade shows and corporate events also would use the venue.
“I've been talking about this for 10 years,” said Gottlieb, who wants to take advantage of a growing number of cyclists here and nationwide. “I've never seen so many bikes in Pittsburgh with all the bike trails.”
Western Pennsylvania's largest cycling event, Pedal Pittsburgh, which capped two weeks of Bike Fest, brought thousands of cyclists and several hundred volunteers out on Sunday to celebrate the activity.
“We broke a record today — 2,800 on the nose,” Scott Bricker, executive director of sponsor Bike Pittsburgh, told cyclists at the SouthSide Works finish line, where they relaxed after completing tours of the city ranging from a 12-mile, family-friendly trip to a 62-mile ride for hard-core enthusiasts.
The previous record for the 20-year event was 2,500 bikers in 2012 when it was sponsored by the Community Design Center of Pittsburgh.
“We see it as a community event,” Bricker said. “We hope it's a fundraiser, but that's not the primary reason we're doing it. It's really important to introduce people to our mission — to make Pittsburgh more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.”
The nonprofit is funded by foundations and works with municipalities to design bike lanes on roads, install bike racks, build biking trails and put racks on buses. It has a $700,000 annual budget and 2,200 dues-paying members, Bricker said.
Many big cities have a riding event, Bricker said, and Bike Pittsburgh's plan is to build it into a larger, car-free event, instead of its “share the road” with cars status.
New York City has the Five Boro Bike Tour in May that attracts 30,000. Chicago has “Bike The Drive” along Lake Shore Drive on Memorial Day weekend, attracting 20,000.
“We'd love it if we could build it into something three to five times the size it is now,” Bricker said.
“It's really gotten bigger, and it's really well organized,” said Natalie Ricci, 22, who, with her sister Maddie, 16, and dad and mom, Nick and Judy Ricci of Mt. Lebanon, took part in Pedal Pittsburgh for the fifth year.
“Our favorite is the river-front trails,” said Judy, and “biking across the bridges,” said Natalie.
“I love going through the neighborhoods,” said Peggy Shields, 57 of West View, who was part of a group with three friends.
They rode past an outdoor yoga class in Highland Park and what appeared to be a father and son on Aylesboro Avenue in Squirrel Hill at a table of water bottles they were giving away.
Gottlieb hopes to parlay enthusiasm into success for Island 200. At the finish line, he discussed the plans at one of a half-dozen booths catering to cyclers' interests.
A past president of the Allegheny Cycling Association, he said the velodrome — with a 45-degree, 200-meter banked track — is halfway built, and he plans to hold its first event in January. He financed the project by selling a building at Gottlieb Inc., his recycling business on Neville Island.
Cycling was a major sport at the turn of the century, he said, before television and even radio.
“People used to flock to these venues,” he said. “Now people are riding bikes for different reasons. It's almost a rebirth of cycling.”
John D. Oravecz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7882 or firstname.lastname@example.org.