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North Hills Monthly

Mountain Biking Takes Second Place as Most Popular Outdoor Sport

May 31, 2019 12:38PM ● By Kathleen Ganster

Elizabeth Klevens

When Elizabeth Klevens’ friend started mountain biking, Klevens knew right away it was something that she wanted to do. Using money that she had saved up, she bought a used bike from him “for cheap” and has been riding ever since. That was 1986 when she was only 16.

“I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I love it,” she said.

The Indiana township resident now rides five or six days a week, year-round. “I get out whenever I can,” Klevens said. 

Mountain biking is a bit different than road biking, with specially designed bikes built to ride off-road, often over rough, muddy, hilly terrain—especially here in western Pennsylvania. The bikes are heavier than road bikes with stronger frames to withstand the wear and tear of off-road cycling with wider, heavier tires to grip the dirt and mud.

According to the International Mountain Biking Association, nearly 40 million participate in mountain biking each year. After hiking, it is the second most popular outdoor sport.

Klevens estimates that she has purchased about 10 bikes over the years, and owns seven right now.

“And that is far less than a lot of people have,” she said. One of her former bikes actually has a place of honor, hanging from the ceiling right inside the entry way at OTB Café in North Park.

Klevens will ride with groups of other riders, friends, her dog, Rio, or alone. It doesn’t matter, as long as she can ride. 

“I enjoy riding with others. It doesn’t matter what level or who wants to ride. I’m not in any hurry and just enjoy it,” she said.

Klevens has enjoyed riding so much over the years that she started sharing her love and skills with new riders. To better learn skills to share and teach, she became a certified trainer through the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA).

Like most mountain bikers, Klevens finds lots of reasons to ride.

“We have so many beautiful trails. It makes me happy—it centers me and is my meditation,” she said.

Klevens recommends that new riders visit The Wheel Mill, located on Hamilton Avenue in Pittsburgh. The 80,000 sq. ft. indoor mountain biking and BMX facility offers a variety of classes and riding opportunities for all ages and skill levels, according to owner Harry Geyer.

The Wheel Mill has daily passes or monthly memberships, offers children’s summer camps and learn-to-ride lessons including mountain bike and BMX, and hosts parties.

“We just opened up a stationary cycling studio (spin) with bikes that actually generate electricity when you pedal,” said Geyer.

A proclaimed lifelong biker himself, the Pittsburgh resident said that new riders should just give it a go.

“Mountain biking is a skill that can take hundreds of hours to acquire, but luckily it’s fun the whole time. Take a lesson or four,” he said. While friends can provide tips, Geyer recommends learning from a certified trainer like Klevens.

“Don’t fall victim to the pervasive, 

‘If you’re not crashing, you’re not 

trying/learning,’ mentality that unfortunately ruins the sport for many newcomers. We don’t expect a person to almost drown learning to swim, so we shouldn’t expect people to crash learning to mountain bike,” he said.

Geyer also recommends that new riders spend 10 percent of their riding budget on training when starting out, with the rest on the bike and equipment. You can also rent bikes and equipment before making a purchase. 

Anyone of any age can take up mountain biking, Geyer said. “There are no age limits as long as there is appropriate terrain for a person’s physical attributes and skill level, and that includes newcomers as well.”

There are lots of great trails for mountain biking in Pittsburgh. 

“North Park is great, especially the upper loop around the pool for beginners,” said Geyer. “There isn’t much in the way of trail signage, so consider using an app like ‘MTB Project’ to help with navigation.” 

The MTB Project that Geyer refers to is an online resource owned by REI that lists over 132,403 miles of trails in the U.S. Users can simply list their zip code or a region in which they are interested, and the site provides trails in the area listing length, difficulty level, photos and other helpful information.  

The local REI will offer a Mountain Biking in Western PA class on June 22 at their Settlers Ridge location. They also work closely with other organizations to promote biking. 

Gerald Cauley, cyclist and REI bike technician said, “The proximity that Pittsburghers have to great trails is unique. The topography offers great single track from the city to the surrounding county and state parks—Frick to Bavington, North Park to Laurel Ridge—there are trails for beginners to experts and everything in between.”

He added, “The trails are well used, and well maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers, clubs and organizations like Trail PGH.” 

More information on the International Mountain Biking Association can be found at https://www.imba.com. For more information on The Wheel Mill, visit http://www.thewheelmill.com. To find out more information about mountain biking trails in the area, visit the Mountain Bike Project (MBP) at https://www.mtbproject.com.