BikeFest will culminate with 20th anniversary of Pedal Pittsburgh

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When Mary Franzen, 47, of Park Place first started riding bikes in Pittsburgh in 2001, she would stare closely any time she passed another cyclist because chances were she knew them.

But in the past few years, Pittsburgh's biking community has expanded far beyond a tight knit group of friends. Showcasing this change, Bike Pittsburgh on Friday will kick off its annual BikeFest, a series of biking-themed events that is expanded to 17 days this year and culminates with the 20th anniversary of Pedal Pittsburgh.

The ninth year of the festival comes at a time when Pittsburgh's biking community has much to celebrate. Pittsburgh has the fifth highest level of commuting by bike and foot in the nation, according to information on Bike Pittsburgh's website provided by the American Community Survey, released in 2011. In addition, the Great Allegheny Passage, a 150-mile bike trail that connects Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md., (then joining C&O Canal Towpath to Washington D.C.), was completed earlier this summer.

And in 2014, Pittsburgh will join the ranks of cities like Washington, D.C,, New York City, Boston and Denver with a bike share program that will allow residents to use bikes throughout the city.

"BikeFest has always been our time at Bike Pittsburgh to have some fun and just celebrate the cycling community," said Scott Bricker, executive director of Bike Pittsburgh. "When we started biking in Pittsburgh, it seemed like we knew almost everyone that was riding a bike in the city. We'd see a bike locked up and we'd say, 'Oh that's Bill's bike,' " Mr. Bricker said. Now when he rides, most of the cyclists he sees have new faces, a feat that he hopes BikeFest will help recognize.

The purpose of BikeFest has always been to highlight Pittsburgh's burgeoning bike community. When it began in 2005, Eric Boerer, the advocacy director for Bike Pittsburgh, said that among the mountain biking scene, new shops and talk of the Great Allegheny Passage, "All of this stuff was congealing all at once. We stepped in to try to help show it all off."

In 2000, 0.4 percent of Pittsburghers chose the bicycle as their primary way to get to work. In 2010, that number jumped to about 1.6 percent, according to U.S. Census data.

This year's BikeFest is two days longer than last year's and will encompass the second half of August instead of the first. It is also the second year that BikeFest will be combined with Pedal Pittsburgh, the city's largest bicycle ride.

The new dates were scheduled around other large events planned this summer in Pittsburgh, said Mike Carroll, the events coordinator at Bike Pittsburgh. He added that he hopes the new dates will draw even more crowds, with 3,000 expected just for Pedal Pittsburgh, compared with last year's 2,700 participants.

BikeFest kicks off Friday with a party at 8 p.m. at the Pittsburgh Opera.

This will be followed with several days of special rides and other events: The "Lots of Green" bike tour on Saturday, will take riders through the gardens of Pittsburgh. The "Royal Rumball" on Aug. 11, will take cyclists through the dirt roads of the North Hills, providing rumballs along the way. "Public Art Bike Ride" on Aug. 13 will take riders along the Allegheny Riverfront Trail. The annual bike-in-movie featuring "Premium Rush" will be shown on the lawn at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts Aug.14.

Pedal Pittsburgh on Aug. 25 will offer three bike rides, one for beginners, a 25-mile intermediate bike ride and an advanced 62-mile bike ride.

To celebrate its 20th year, special music and food trucks will welcome finishers.

"We just find it really exciting to hit this milestone," Mr. Carroll said. "Very few events have that kind of longevity."

Ms. Frazen, the Park Place resident, signed up for BikeFest "just because the rides all looked like so much fun."

She remembered taking rides to Pirates games, discovering different murals throughout the city and taking her young son on a ride through a park that ended with ice cream.

There are plenty of reasons that Pittsburgh's growing bike culture is healthy for the city, Mr. Bricker said.

"Walking and biking are indicators of a livable place," he said. "People don't visit a city and come back to where they're from and say, 'The driving there is so great,' it's really about exploring neighborhoods on your own two feet."

Prices for the events that are not free, times and a full schedule of events can be found at http://bikepgh.org/campaigns/bikefest/.

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Monica Disare: mdisare@post-gazette.com.


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