Share This Page

At the Bud Harris track, the cycle begins anew

Chris Popovic laughed while explaining the first cycling race of the year.

"Watching boys come back to the bike track is like watching girls show up to the prom," said Popovic, president of the Allegheny Cycling Association -- the area's oldest and largest cycling club. "Everybody wants to see the new bikes, the new kits, who's been training hard, who's gained a few pounds.

"But it's a good time because everybody gets back to what they love to do."

The boys -- and girls -- officially got back to the Bud Harris Cycling Track on April 6, which marked the recurrence of one of Pittsburgh's greatest cycling traditions: the weekly criterium races at the 12-year-old oval off Washington Boulevard in Highland Park.

Whether young or old, cyclists gather in early April for 22 weeks of racing at the half-mile oval, named after a key figure who lobbied the city to convert the former driver testing center into a cycling venue.

The cycling association sponsors the races and uses them to promote bike safety.

Each Tuesday there are races for women and juniors, along with a "C" class race for both men and women. Wednesdays are the "A" and "B" classes -- more advanced -- men's races. And, starting the first week of May, races expand to Saturdays for new rider clinics, skills training and make-up dates.

While Pittsburgh-area cycling is hardly confined to this particular track, located next to the Zone 5 police barracks, the Bud Harris Cycling Track serves as a weekly gathering spot for cycling enthusiasts, a neighborhood bar without the beer and nuts.

"Racing at the Bud Harris track has become the centerpiece of the Pittsburgh racing community," said Mike Carroll, a local race promoter.

"A lot of people will go as far away as Oklahoma and South Carolina, but having that weekly competition to work with your friends and get faster really positions riders to do better at events on a national scale. They challenge each other every week to train, and that extra bit of motivation really helps."

On the right track

A night of racing costs $10 for adults, $5 for juniors, and all participants must be licensed through USA Cycling. Rider without a license can buy one on race night.

On a typical Tuesday after registration, the festivities begin with a short instructional segment -- touching on safety, nutrition or bike maintenance -- before riders take to the track for a few warm-up laps.

"Years ago, it was assumed that if you came down to race, you knew what you were doing," Popovic said. "But it can be a very intimidating experience to get out on a track, so we try to ensure the riders are educated."

Nathan Clair, a seventh-grader in the North Allegheny School District, has been a regular at Bud Harris for the past three years and finished first in the Junior Point Series last season.

The pack-style races have helped Clair improve on some technical aspects of the sport.

"Whenever I'm at Bud Harris, it helps me because it's not a huge, important state race," Clair said. "It helps me focus on drafting, keeping a steady line instead of swerving and getting used to being in a close paceline."

Tyler Mower agrees. An eighth-grader in the Plum School District, Mower has been racing since he was 12.

Recently, Mower added Wednesday night races -- a testament to his growing level of talent and bike control -- to his weekly training regimen and will travel to Augusta, Ga., for Junior Nationals this summer.

"The Bud Harris track got me used to the race environment," Mower said.

The city's most popular youth cycling club is one to which Clair belongs: Team Citius. Formed last year by Fred Gohh, Citius members -- especially those who aren't yet mature enough to ride with the adults -- use the weekly races as a way to get accustomed to competition.

"This year, I have five or six kids who are 10, 11 or 12 years old," said Gohh, whose group started with about 18 riders and now has 25. "They might not be strong enough to ride with the adults, but you can see that they're excited about going out."

A big part of cycling's growth here -- many high schools are incorporating the sport into physical education classes -- has been the Bud Harris Cycling Track.

According to Suzanne Atkinson, who owns her own cycling coaching company called Steel City Endurance, it's something that makes Pittsburgh special.

"It's a unique venue for a city to have," said Atkinson, who also runs Club Velo Femme, a women's cycling club. "In talking to friends around the country, there are not a lot of places that have a dedicated biking oval that's also traffic-free. It's really outstanding."

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.