Bike tour to mark reopening of Point State Park, city's birthday

Pittsburgh cyclists to participate in 335-mile trek

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From far and near, bicyclists will pedal to Pittsburgh on Oct. 4 to help the city celebrate its 250th birthday and the re-opening of Point State Park.

The Venture Outdoors 250 Bike Tour, a group of 85 cyclists, will leave Saturday to ride from Washington, D.C. to Pittsburgh in eight days along the C&O Towpath and the Great Allegheny Passage. Most will camp along the way.

The PNC Legacy Relay will cover that 335-mile distance in 24 hours and catch up to the bike tour as it enters Pittsburgh.

Waiting for them on the Hot Metal Bridge on Oct. 4 will be the PNC Legacy Trail Community Ride, a group of bicyclists who will accompany them to the park via the PNC FirstSide Center where another group of community riders and some walkers will join the group.

The bicyclists and walkers, expected to number in the thousands, will head down the Boulevard of the Allies for the formal re-opening of the park and its signature fountain at 1:30 that afternoon.

The boulevard will be closed to traffic that afternoon. Organizers want to avoid a repeat of the problems the Tour of Pennsylvania riders encountered June 28 when there was traffic on streets they expected would be closed until they passed by.

Jim Rohr sees the bicycle tour -- and all the other birthday-related activities -- as being "a symbolic union of all the forces animating Pittsburgh 250."

"History, the region's importance in the formation of the country, our environmental legacy, human accomplishment and hope for the future," said Mr. Rohr, chairman of the Pittsburgh 250 Commission and CEO of PNC Financial Services Group. "These attributes describe the Pittsburgh region of 1758 as well as today."

The rides will conclude with a concert at The Point with Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers, Etta Cox, B.E. Taylor and the MCG Jazz and what is being billed as the region's "largest ever" fireworks display launched from Downtown skyscrapers.

"It's going to be spectacular," said PNC spokesman Brian Goerke.

It also will be a lot brighter than the lights the relay riders will have on their bicycles as they pedal through the night into and out of the mountains of Maryland and Western Pennsylvania.

The ride organizers, PNC employees Steve Ayer of Mt. Lebanon and Ralph Phillips of Cranberry, are aware of the challenges of night riding. Although the relay teams of six riders each will be pedaling at least 15 miles per hour to cover their 18-mile segment of the trail, they're reminding everyone that safety can't be sacrificed for speed.

The non-motorized, multi-purpose towpath and passage may belong to bicyclists, walkers and runners during the day, but animals can be found on them at night, especially deer. Weather can also be a factor.

And, since cell phones often don't work along the trail as it wends its way through the mountains, or work sporadically at best, each team of riders may have a motorized vehicle some distance in front of it to scoot wildlife off the trail or behind them in case of a mishap.

The towpath and the passage vary in width, but there's usually plenty of space for bicyclists riding single file in opposite directions to comfortably pass each other. The trail has a crushed limestone surface bordered by shin-high grass of unknown pedigree. The trail is essentially flat, but does have some "climbing" sections with grades of less than 2 percent.

The 108 relay riders, nine of whom are women, are all accomplished athletes. In addition to century riders, those who can ride 100 or more miles a day, the teams include marathoners, triathletes and mountain climbers. PNC employees, who comprise almost half of the relay riders, will be represented on each of the 18 teams.

Some teams will pedal two sections of the trail to make the logistics easier. Transporting riders and their bikes to and from trailhead towns, some of which are little more than crossroads communities in out-of-the-way places, can be time-consuming, especially in the middle of the night. At least one recreational vehicle will be used to make the traveling more comfortable.

Mr. Ayer, 58, and Mr. Phillips, 45, have been practicing riding single file with their respective teams in the last few weeks. It's not easy to do, especially since the distance between riders is about 3 feet.

Bob Hand, 62, of Irwin, the recently retired president of Kopp Glass in Swissvale, also has been practicing with his team. He said they will ride about 20 miles from Connellsville in Fayette County to Smithton in Westmoreland County and are prepared, if necessary, to pick up any time lost by the teams riding at night.

Bob Lowry, 42, a Penn Hills native who now works for PNC in the Washington, D.C. area, will be in on the early and final stages of the ride. After leading his team on the fifth leg, he will drive to Pittsburgh and rejoin it on the Hot Metal Bridge and ride with everyone to Point State Park.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and PNC Financial Services Group invite readers to enter a drawing to win one of 10 bicycles that will be given away on Oct. 3 so they can be used in the PNC Legacy Trail Ride on Oct. 4. For more information, go to www.post-gazette.com.


Lawrence Walsh can be reached at lwalsh@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1488.


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