November 11, 2005
This past weekend (Lower Allen Classic and Highland Park cyclo-cross) was fun and all, but most of you have probably already know how the races went. Instead of a race report, this is a short story of the cool bike culture in Pittsburgh. Several years ago, during my first brief bout of road racing, I took part a few Wednesday evening training races held in the Pittsburgh Zoo parking lot. The races cost five or ten dollars (it was cheaper if you brought your own number) and I once won a Furtado Race Day saddle as a prime. It was about as comfortable as sitting on a brick but that prize was worth more than my entry fee so I spent over a year waiting for my butt to become used to it. (I never did get used to it; I eventually put it on an old mountain bike and sold it.)
The zoo extended their business hours into the night and the training races had to find a new venue. Then the city built the Pseudodrome, a half mile long oval track (called the Washington Boulevard Bike Oval) with oddly banked corners and hump in the middle. The Oval was built on the site where I took my driver’s license test. You can still see the markings on the road where you had two chances to parallel park.
In Pittsburgh , most of rides were down scary roads rubbing elbows with heavy traffic. Until this trip; while waiting for Josh to drink his coffee at a local shop, I noticed a trail on a local map connecting a quiet road to the Oval. The trail was a short walk and we completely avoided the busy, glass-covered road. This was the perfect place to train in a controlled environment so we did. The Oval even has its own collection of venue records.
Two of the most interesting bike shops I’ve ever been to are both in Pittsburgh. Kraynick’s Bike Shop is a gem located on Penn Avenue in the heart of the city. It has been open for a long, long time and has a basement and three above-ground levels brimming with forty years of bike stuff. If you brave the basement or upper levels, Gerry will provide a flashlight for your viewing pleasure. There are also stands and tools available to work on your bike, and you only get charged for parts. Bike parts are stuffed into boxes and onto shelves from floor to ceiling, wall to wall; even up the stairway. One might think that it is impossible to find things in the mix and unless you spend lots of time in the shop. That’s probably true but Gerry has most everything filed away in his mind and if you’re looking for something just ask and he’ll point you in the right direction.
The last time I spent several hours in Kraynick’s, Josh and I painstakingly assembled a complete Campy Euclid group, in an effort that covered several floors and numerous rooms, but lacked the money to buy it. There is no visible cash register at Kraynick’s. As far as I can tell, purchases are written on bits of scrap paper. Josh scored a set of brand new Suntour XC Pro cantilever brakes for a song.
The other great local shop, FreeRide, is a bike cooperative. It is open only a few days a week and is located in the back of a large warehouse store called Construction Junction. Construction Junction is a store that buys misorders, overbuys, and extras from contractors and sells it to the public. You might find french doors next to several gallons of paint of the wrong color, all for a good price. The technical details of FreeRide are right here. What I really liked about FreeRide is the lack of cool guy attitude. There seemed to be plenty of dreads, piercings, tattoos and fixies but no ‘tude. It was just people working on bikes and helping each other out.
Large drawings on the walls illustrate the proper assembly of downtube shifters, brakes and other important bike parts. Tools are color coded according to what part of the bike they fix such as the drivetrain, wheels, steering assembly etc. A demo bike has various parts painted as a guide.
Josh loves to work on bikes but hadn’t touched but our own for two weeks and had a great time helping out. He started itching to help when a couple was struggling to remove a stubborn bottom bracket. After improvising a persuader made from a cut up down tube he heroically extracted the bottom bracket and moved onto another project. If you live near Pittsburgh and have spare tools, parts or anything useful give them to FreeRide.
One last cool thing of mention in Pittsburgh is the Dirty Dozen. I have never participated but have heard numerous war stories about the ride that goes up the thirteen steepest hills in Pittsburgh . If you are unfamiliar with the topography of the area that is lots of very steep hills several of which aren’t paved but cobbled. Cobbles are abundant in Pittsburgh ; the street my parents live on is flanked on both ends by short steep cobbles sections. When Pittsburgh hosted the Thrift Drug Classic, a large professional bike race from the days of yore, the course went up Sycamore Street ; a steep cobbled affair with spectacular views of the city from the top. I have memories of doing gymnastics demonstrations with my team in a parking lot during the race. Now that I look back I’m not quite sure why we did the demonstrations but we always attracted a crowd.