Pittsburgh bike race aims to be accessible to everyone

| Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mike Carroll arrived as a competitive cyclist from a rather unusual place.

He was a unicyclist who eventually opted for two wheels as a way to get around the city and save money on fuel. Eventually, that led him to his first race.

And although people were welcoming, it was still daunting.

"All these guys have matching kits and experience and nice bikes and there's a lot of organization and structure," Carroll said. "As someone who isn't actively involved in racing, it's very intimidating."

The Steel City Showdown, a bike race Sunday across the bridges of downtown Pittsburgh, is meant to be an informal competition. Carroll, one of the race's four organizers, said that while the goal early on was to make this the premier bike race in Western Pennsylvania, their priority also is on making it accessible to everyone.

"We want to make an event that's family friendly and welcome to all bike enthusiasts," Carroll said. "We want to be as inclusive as possible. Cycling is a broad, diverse community. We want to bring them together."

The race is a criterium — a closed-loop circuit — that will take riders across the Sixth Street (Roberto Clemente) and Seventh Street (Andy Warhol) Bridges, East General Robinson Street on the North Shore and Fort Duquesne Boulevard downtown. There are a total of eight different categories for juniors, masters, men and women, broken down into experience, plus a kids' race. Racers will ride for a set length of time, and the pace is generally fast and intense.

A version of the race was competed in 2008 as a collegiate event hosted by Carnegie Mellon with about 150 riders, Carroll said. But participants eventually graduated and the race was forgotten until last fall, when Carroll and three others decided to see if they could revive it.

They also have teamed with the Appalachian Bicycle Racing Association, and racers can earn points toward the ABRA criterium series overall championship at the Steel City Showdown and today's South Connellsville Criterium.

Closed-loop racing with the Allegheny Cycling Association at the Bud Harris Cycling Park in Highland Park has been thriving for years, and ACA president Chris Popovec expects a big turnout Sunday.

"It's great to have more races in our backyards," Popovec said.

There are already 200 cyclists pre-registered, and Carroll said they hope to make this an annual event.

"We're already thinking about next year," Carroll said. "We're looking five to 10 years down the road."

Additional Information:

Steel City Showdown

Organizers hope Sunday's cycling race will become an annual event. Day of race registration is available. Prizes or awards will be given in each category. For more information, visit www.steelcityshowdown.com .

Juniors under 19 (30 minutes long): Starts at 8:30 a.m.; $20 entry fee

Men category 5 (30 minutes): 8:30 a.m.; $30

Masters 40+ (45 minutes): 9:15 a.m.; $30

Masters 50+ (45 minutes): 9:15 a.m.; $30

Men category 34 (45 minutes): 10:15 a.m.; $30

Women category 12/3 (45 minutes): 11:15 a.m.; $30

Women category 4 (45 minutes): 11:15 a.m.; $30

Men category 12/3 (60 minutes): 12:20 p.m.; $30

Children (0.25 laps): 1:40 p.m.; $5

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