Pedal through Pittsburgh: Kidsburgh’s family biking guide
What’s the deal with that bright green strip edging Liberty Ave. in Bloomfield? It’s a dedicated bike lane, and it’s just one of many places to ride bikes more safely in the ‘Burgh. Our city grows increasingly bike-friendly and teems with options for you to enjoy it from two wheels with kids in tow.
This Kidsburgh biking guide answers some basic questions for your family. Where can you get bikes? Where can you ride them? How can you fix them? And how can you celebrate your newfound fun and healthy hobby?
Get a Bike
The first step to biking with your family is, of course, getting a bike! Your local bike shop is a great resource for buying bikes. While the prices may be higher than big-box stores, the bikes are safe, high-quality and assembled properly. Plus the employees are usually avid cyclists who know how to fit you or your children safely for a bike, helmet or child seat/trailer.
If you’re just testing the waters, you might consider bike rental before diving into a purchase. With rates starting at $30/day, Golden Triangle Bike Rental offers adult bikes, tandem bikes, kids’ bikes, kids’ trailers or tag-along bikes that clip to the back of an adult’s bike. Each rental includes a helmet, lock and a map for a self-guided tour of our city’s trails.
Another new rental option for families with teens ages 16 and older is Pittsburgh Bike Share’s Healthy Ride system. Fifty docking stations spaced throughout 11 neighborhoods offer registered users the opportunity to hop on a bike to get where they need to go. The program offers hourly or monthly rate options.
Looking to rent bikes and take to the trails in a more wooded setting? Moraine State Park offers bike rentals (with tag-alongs, children’s and tandem bikes, as well as child seats, helmets and trailers) as well as a six-mile mountain bike trail.
One thing you’ll find is that the bicycling community is eager to involve as many people as possible, and so there are some wonderful programs in place to help children and families get a safe bike. One of these, The Major Force Youth Cycling Group, is an initiative of the Pittsburgh Major Taylor Cycling Club. The club is part of a national group that works to introduce cycling to communities disproportionately affected by health issues. Our local chapter has won a grant to give bicycles to teens who complete a training course.
Bruce Wood, president of the PMTCC, recruited 31 teens from City Council District 9 neighborhoods for safety classes, practice rides on the Bud Harris Cycling Track and rides on city streets or trails. “At the completion of the program, the kids get to keep the bikes and helmets,” says Wood. “They tell us how they plan to use their bikes to commute to school and their after-school jobs–this program is about freedom!”
Just outside the city limits, the Red Lantern Bike Shop in Braddock collects broken or unused bicycles, refurbishes them and redistributes them to children in need. The community group has recently partnered with the Veterans Association to repair bikes for adults as well. Operating out of a shipping container next to Free Store 15104, Red Lantern relies on volunteers to gather the donated bikes/parts and repair them for local kids.
North of the city, in Wexford, Variety: The Children’s Charity runs a “My Bike” program that provides customized, adaptive bikes for children with special needs. Adaptations include handlebars, modified seats or security features designed to give every child the joy and sense of belonging that comes with riding a bike.
Learn About Bikes
All those loops around the neighborhood can take a toll on a bike’s chain and gears. Luckily, most bike problems are pretty simple to fix at home. Free Ride Pittsburgh, a bicycle recycling and education facility, can teach your family how to maintain or repair bicycles. As an added bonus, people who volunteer with the group can earn their own bicycle for free. Participants pick out a bike, learn to repair it themselves on site and then volunteer between eight to 20 hours (depending on the bike’s value) to keep it forever. For those who already own bikes, Free Ride offers adult and youth mechanic classes as well.
Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Summer Dreamers Academy also offers Positive Spin, a bicycle safety and advocacy program through Bike Pittsburgh. Students learn how to ride safely on the city’s trails and streets and how to repair their bikes. In addition, youth probe the deeper implications of cycling–how it can contribute to equity in transportation and a healthier lifestyle.
If you’re a rusty rider (or just climbing onto the saddle for the first time), you can learn basic biking skills through Bike Pittsburgh, our city’s bike and pedestrian advocacy organization. Their Fundamentals of City Cycling class covers signaling, balance, tight turns and even teaches skills to help navigate potholes. Bike Pittsburgh also hosts Women and Biking forums, where, for instance, mothers can share tips for biking with children.
Ride a Bike
If you think Pittsburgh looks beautiful from atop Mt. Washington, you should see it whiz past from atop a bike seat! Bike Pittsburgh has created a map of our city’s bike lanes, “sharrows” (on-street shared lane markings indicating popular bike routes) and vehicle-free trails. The map points out places where riders can park their car for free and then hop on the trail to bike everywhere from a Pirates game to the airport.
Your family can park near Lowe’s at the Waterfront and jump on the Great Allegheny Passage trail, which winds along our rustbelt heritage sites like the Carrie Furnace and puts you right up next to the roller coasters of Kennywood.
You could also park in Hazelwood to ride the Eliza Furnace Trail up and over the Hot Metal Bridge, past the Hofbrauhaus and in and around Station Square. You can even stop for a bite to eat at OTB Bicycle Cafe, a cycling-themed burger joint. Along the Allegheny River, the Three Rivers Heritage Trail offers a flat ride under the 3 Sisters Bridges, past the Mr. Rogers Statue, or right up to Bicycle Heaven, a museum dedicated to the history of cycling.
But what could your family do if it’s raining or we’re smack in the middle of another harsh winter? Ride indoors at The Wheel Mill! Owner Harry Geyer has created an indoor mountain bike park that features a jump room for BMX, beginner courses for kids and activities for riders of all experience levels. “We’ve worked hard to create a culture that’s welcoming to everyone who wants to ride,” says Geyer. The Wheel Mill hosts classes for new riders, balance bike races for toddlers and even “shred sessions” teaching girls to ride BMX. Every Friday is Family Night at The Wheel Mill, so you can save a few bucks getting your family on bikes. New this year, The Wheel Mill is offering summer camps for kids ages 8-17.
Once your family catches the cycling bug, you’ll want to celebrate your love of two wheels with other families. Luckily, you’ll have lots of opportunities to do so.
The last Sunday of May, June and July, Pittsburgh participates in OpenStreets, a global movement to re-envision our streets, get neighbors moving and have fun. The 3.5-mile car-free route stretches from Market Square through Lawrenceville. “Parents often fear biking with kids on the street because of cars,” says Bike Pittsburgh Communications Manager Ngani Ndimbie. “OpenStreets lets you bike together between four program hubs, as a family, without fear.” The day features events like scavenger hunts, bike tours and unicycle lessons, and all programming is free to enjoy.
For those looking to explore more city neighborhoods with other riders, Pedal Pittsburgh offers three group rides on August 30, with proceeds supporting improved infrastructure (like those protected lanes) throughout the city. The Family Bike Ride has 5- and 12-mile options along the South Side Riverfront Trail. There’s also a 25-mile Highmark City Tour along low-traffic streets throughout the South Side, North Side and East End. More experienced riders scramble to join the 62-mile PJ Dick, Trumbull and Lindy Paving Metric Century that ambles through the city’s slopes, including a grueling climb up Mt. Washington. All the Pedal Pittsburgh rides include snack breaks and the REI Finish Line Festival with information and bike-themed activities.
In fact, the entire week leading up to Pedal Pittsburgh is filled with bike-themed activities. BikeFest, Bike Pittsburgh’s biggest event of the year, transforms our city into a bike party from August 21-30. The calendar is filled with mostly free events like a bike-in movie screening atop a Downtown parking garage, a bubble ride (where participants bike to a field to blow enormous soap bubbles) or even a group ride to a pinball tournament. Most events are created by community members and submitted to the activities list, and each includes a difficulty level and explanation of whether the group stays together (a no-drop ride) or whether riders need to keep up with the pack.
The Pittsburgh cycling scene fits all families, because it’s made up of every sort of cyclist. Whether you’re whimsical, competitive, seeking information or just looking for exercise, our city has a place for your family to join in the fun!
Featured Photo by RJ Kresock, courtesy of Bike Pittsburgh