I arrived in Washington the day before DC Beer Week’s Bikes & Brews tour. I happen into Pittsburgh the day before the region’s biggest cycling event, PedalPGH. As a former event planner I shouldn’t say this, but sometimes the best planning is no planning.
I haven’t registered for the ride, a fundraiser for BikePGH, but Rob, who took me under his wing when I rolled into town dusty and dehydrated, said just show up and ask for Scott the organizer.
The starting point is an easy roll from my hotel, and while I don’t find Scott immediately, other people approach me, including Erin who does marketing for the local bike share system.
Everyone I meet is surprised yet supportive of the journey. I’m given an honorary PedalPGH bike jersey and permission to ride the course, which ranges from 2 to 62 miles. I settle for a baby 7-mile-route along the waterfront so I can get back to the festival and meet more people!
At a water and cookie rest stop outside Golden Triangle Bike Rental, I’m approached by the shop’s owner Ed, who invites me in for a cold drink and conversation. Tweeting ensues.
I cross back to the South Side over the Hot Metal Bridge (love that name) and rejoin the festival. I’m sampling free snacks and beer. As much as I want. Even beer. I don’t even have to show my rider bib, which I don’t have, just proof of age. This is great.
I sit in the shade next to a cop and keep getting up for more helpings of trail mix and watermelon. I’m also given a crimson PedalPGH shirt, but politely decline the water bottle. I'm not only watching my pounds, but also my ounces. Even an empty water bottle adds heft to my cargo.
Do black women ride bikes?
The festival attracts different exhibitors. I’m standing by the Black Girls Do Bike tent thinking to myself, well, I definitely don’t need to spend any time here. The two ladies under the tent don’t judge me. They judge the bike and want to know more about it. They are overflowing with excitement at my story and clamor for a picture.
“In order to achieve your dreams, you gotta take risks,” says one as we smile for the photo.
Their interest in me prompts my interest in them. The nice thing about biking is that it’s an equalizing interest. I’m white and male and they’re black and female, yet we instantly find common ground on two wheels. There is so much to talk about.
Monica (pictured) founded the company two years ago. “I realized I saw very few women who look like me on bikes. I was surprised because it’s addictive once you do it, you get hooked,” she said.
What started out as a question — “do black women or black girls bike?” — became an affirmation and a Facebook page called Black Girls Do Bike. A woman in Florida contacted Monica wanting to start a similar group. An organization was born that now counts 45 chapters in the United States and one in Antigua.
Women and girls of any color and bicycle ability can ride with the group, which made me think of my sister who in college joined the group Women in Color despite being paler than porcelain.
We hit it off so well that I decide to meet Monica again to learn more about her story to feature on this site.
The last of the beer is tapped and the festival is wrapping up. I head off to meet Kieran who contacted me two days before I got to Pittsburgh. I had woken up in Ohiopyle, PA full of doubt. Not quite so bad as my Second Thoughts earlier in the trip, but I was seriously wondering how much more I can push this rock uphill.
Then I read a message from a guy who works for the bike sharing system in Pittsburgh:
Ummm… yes to all of the above! Kieran is his name and he makes good on all of these promises. We link up for a ride through downtown Pittsburgh, including along one of the city’s only protected bike lanes on Penn Ave, which he helped plan.
Just like a loyal Yinzer, that afternoon he’s wearing a Steelers bike jersey. This city bleeds black and gold. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Penguins and Pirates all compete in the same colors. Even the public buses champion Go Steelers! next to the route number.
We end up at Point State Park, a former brownfield site. Pittsburgh’s triangular tip marks the confluence of three rivers and the end of the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage trail that I began in Cumberland, MD almost a week ago. The fountain sprays mist and Countri Bike is caked in dirt. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
Kieran, originally from New Jersey, just graduated from Pitt and is interested in urban planning with an emphasis on place making. He’s jazzed about living here and helping launch the bike sharing system. We tell more stories at the rooftop beer garden of Sienna Mercato where a small crowd is enjoying a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
Tomorrow I’m set to meet with more bike sharing and advocacy people to learn about their stories and efforts to improve bicycling in a city on the up and up.