For July 4th weekend, the Knott Family packed up and drove to Pittsburgh to celebrate our independence at Uncle Don’s house. This is a yearly tradition that we always look forward to. Uncle Don and Aunt Anna live on top of Mount Washington overlooking the city with a great view of downtown and the fireworks. They have a pool in the backyard and it’s a great place for our extended family to congregate for a weekend.
But, Quickdirt is not about drinking beer by the pool. It’s not about family. It’s about cycling, which is one of my favorite parts of traveling to Pittsburgh.
Every time I visit Pitt I take my bike and tackle some new challenge. This year I had hoped to explore Frick Park for an urban mountain bike ride. However, the Steel City has been hit with just as much rain as we have. The night before I was going to ride the city was hit with a downpour that squashed any dreams of hitting the trails.
Instead, I decided to wander around the city. We were staying in an Airbnb.com rental house in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood. My plan was to meander the long way through the city from our rental to Uncle Don’s pool where I would have a relaxing swim.
I headed north to Forbes Avenue, which I took to the Oakland neighborhood. At this point, I just started looking for streets that went uphill. I found some impressively-steep, brick-covered streets and started climbing. Eventually, I reached the top of the hill and ended up on the roof of a parking garage with an amazing view of the city at University of Pittsburgh. It seemed like a waste for the parking lot to have the best view, but I guess you have good views all over the city so it’s not considered a precious resource in the ‘Burg.
One of the best things (or the worst) about riding in Pittsburgh is all the hills. From a training standpoint, it’s a great place to ride and crush some wattage on the slopes. On the downside, if you’re new to the sport the hills can be a little intimidating. It’s not just the uphills though. If your brakes aren’t dialed in, some of the cobbled downhills will scare the bejeezus out of you. You don’t want to lose control and miss a sharp turn.
From the parking garage, I rode downhill to the river. They have a great system of bike paths that follow the banks of the rivers in Pitt. If you want, you can follow the path all the way to Washington, DC (which I have done twice), so their is an infinite amount of flat miles available to ride as well. Pittsburgh has it all.
I don’t just like the terrain though. I love the city.
Pittsburgh is a city on the rise. It is the epitome of the Rust Belt. It was hit hard by the decline of the steel industry and the city atrophied for years. The Steel City is no longer the industrial powerhouse that it once was, but signs of new life are sprouting up everywhere. New stores and restaurants are lifting up old neighborhoods and are built around remnants of the city’s manufacturing heyday.
The hills also affect the layout and look of the city. Engineers are forced to be creative with bridges and roadways. Riders are left exploring a confusing maze of streets that take you places you never expected to be. I’ve been lost a lot in Pittsburgh – but usually in a good way.
In some cities the greenery is bulldozed into nice, flat treeless areas to make way for development. But in Pitt they can’t do that. There are trees and plants that sprout up in every nook that is too steep for construction. I find it refreshing when nature is left alone to take back an unbuildable parcel of land. It gives the city a more lush feel.
I wasn’t getting the workout I wanted on the bike path. I wanted to hit the hills again. I was 90 minutes into a 2.5 hour ride and I needed to lift the intensity a bit. I rode down the Three Rivers Trail towards Mount Washington, which was my final destination.
I decided it was time to tackle E. Sycamore Street. This road is one of Pittsburgh’s dirty dozen – the city’s 13 hardest hills.
I wish I had all the stats for climbing this hill, but I don’t. What I can tell you is that it takes me about 5 to 6 minutes to ride up it. I averaged about 300-320 watts on each climb, which makes it a lactate threshold effort. I was riding my 1×10 in the lowest gear possible and averaging only 4 or 5 miles per hour.
I hit the top of the climb and turned right then left to ride on Grandview Ave past the doorstep of Uncle Don. To my right side there were fantastic houses, to the left there was gorgeous view of the skyline.
“That was fun. Let’s do it again,” I thought.
I rode downhill on the PJ McArdle Roadway at 37 mph – keeping up with traffic and not too shabby on knobby tires.
I attacked Sycamore two more times.
“Wow. I’m getting tired.”
I wasn’t sure what my goal was, but I continued looping. Up Sycamore. Down McArdle. There is nowhere in Columbus to do hill repeats like this. …and this is only one of their big hills.
I waved to Uncle Don on his balcony.
“I’m thinking about riding up Sycamore one more time,” I shouted to cousin Craig as he arrived at the house with a full cooler of O’Doul’s.
“Do it!” he replied.
6 times I tackled Sycamore. I could have gone a few more laps, but it was time to hang out with family at the pool. Enough training. Enough hills. Bring on the Penn Pilsner and grocery store smoke bombs. It’s 4th of July.
In conclusion… I pedaled. I explored. I killed it. I celebrated. Can’t wait to ride in Pittsburgh again next year.
God bless America.