Pillbox

Find your niche in Pittsburgh’s biking community

Credit: Juan Fernandez/ Credit: Juan Fernandez/

Pittsburgh is not known for particularly good weather or road conditions, but somehow there is still a large biking community. Predominantly among college students, biking seems to be a favorite mode of transportation, perhaps because of the price of gas, the difficulty of parking on campus, and the impending bus service cuts. Biking is an ideal way to get around the city — as long as you can deal with intense potholes and a few massive hills.

Biking habits vary greatly from person to person, so it’s all about knowing your options and finding what works for you. It’s no secret that biking is great for your health and for the environment. It’s good exercise, helps reduce stress, allows you freedom to explore, and helps energy efficiency. For experienced cyclists, biking in Pittsburgh may be no big deal, but if you are new to biking in the city — or are still just considering it as an option — there are some basic things you should be aware of before you hit the streets.

Bike Safety

As a cyclist in Pittsburgh, you have to be aware of a variety of safety hazards, including poor road conditions, lack of bike lanes, other motorists, and pedestrians. In a survey of 106 Carnegie Mellon students who bike, the majority said they feel moderately safe while biking in Pittsburgh, but a significant portion feel moderately unsafe. Being aware of your surroundings and finding a route that works for your comfort level is the most important factor for safe biking in and around the city.

Biking on the sidewalk is a good way to gain confidence as a new biker. In fact, 31 percent of survey respondents said that they bike primarily on the sidewalk. Riding on the road requires you to be more alert to your surroundings, since other motorists, like cars and buses, are more unpredictable than pedestrians and often don’t communicate their actions with appropriate turn signals.

To stay aware of your surroundings, you should pay attention not only to what you see around you, but also to what you hear. It’s important to know who is behind you, and, since constantly turning your head to check can be dangerous, listening carefully is a good way to keep track of your surroundings.

61% of respondents wear a helmet at least sometimes while biking (39% wear one always).
69% of respondents bike primarily on the road.

Bike Security

Carnegie Mellon has lots of bike racks around campus, so locking up your bike is convenient no matter where you are. The university is striving towards making campus even more bike-friendly: The Undergraduate Student Senate has formed a committee to address campus biking issues and is working to install more bike racks around campus.

Using bike racks properly is extremely important. Bike parts are valuable and thefts are common. In the survey, over 80 percent lock up their bikes using a U-lock, cable lock, or chain lock.

Organizations like Bike Pittsburgh (BikePGH) have been working to increase the number of bike racks in the city to make Pittsburgh more bike friendly. When parking your bike off campus, lock it up on one of these bike racks or in a highly visible and well-lit area to avoid security issues.

17% of survey respondents do not use any type of lock on their bikes.
73% of survey respondents have not had any security problems, while 11% of survey respondents have had their bikes stolen.

Pittsburgh Organizations

Pittsburgh is home to a large bicycling community. The two most well-known cycling organizations in the city are BikePGH and Free Ride.

BikePGH’s mission is “to establish Pittsburgh as a city that is increasingly safe, accessible, and friendly to bicycle transportation.” Focusing on bike advocacy — increasing the number of bike lanes, adding shared-lane markings to roads that are too narrow for bike lanes, and organizing events like Bike to Work Week and BikeFest — and maintaining up-to-date bike maps, BikePGH has been working on improving biking conditions in the city since 2002.

Free Ride is a DIY recycled bike collective and educational facility located at Construction Junction (214 N. Lexington St.). Free Ride is “dedicated to recycling bicycles, offering mechanical education, and promoting bicycling.” The facility is open as a repair shop and also hosts a number of adult classes, youth programs, and volunteer nights. As a shop, all bicycle parts are free of charge — all that is required in exchange is volunteer hours at the shop.

Bike Trails

Now that the weather is nice, spending an afternoon biking around doesn’t sound so bad. Pittsburgh has a lot of bike trails along the rivers that are useful for efficient transportation around Pittsburgh and feature beautiful views of the city.

The Eliza Furnace Trail follows the Monongahelia River for four miles around Downtown. The trail is ideal for beginner bikers. The Panther Hollow Trail runs along the west side of Schenley Park, down to the Monongahela River. The trail is short — just 1.5 miles — but it connects Oakland and the Carnegie Mellon campus to the Eliza Furnace Trail, so those looking for a longer ride are in luck.

If you’re up for an adventure, the Great Allegheny Passage is the trail for you. Connecting Cumberland, Md., to Pittsburgh, the Great Allegheny Passage boasts beautiful views of western Pennsylvania and is a useful connector for serious bikers.

For more information on bike trails in Pittsburgh, BikePGH has a comprehensive map of bike trails on its website bike-pgh.org.