Pittsburgh geography creates some unique challenges for finding good bike routes for outdoor training. The city lies in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, so no matter where you ride you’re going to encounter terrain ranging from moderately to comically hilly. Of course, this is also an advantage – if you’re used to riding here there are very few races that will challenge you.
A good rule of thumb is that for every hour you ride, expect 1,000 feet of climbing. And if you are used to more flat terrain, your average for local rides will be about 2mph slower. Experienced, high-end cyclists will average 18mph on longer rides, while it’s not uncommon for newcomers to average 13-14mph. You can use this chart to classify your expected speed and ability on a group ride (more detail here):
|A||19+mph Advanced pace, few stops|
|B||16-18mph Vigorous pace, occasional stops|
|C||12-15mph Steady pace, stops every hour|
|D||10-12mph Moderate pace, frequent stops|
|E||10-12mph Moderate pace, focus on riding as a group|
Another challenge are the rivers. Pittsburgh is split into several regions based on the location of the rivers, so group rides in a different region are not really an option for training. The routes below are popular with PTC members. Routes are organized based on region. Members typically post to the PTC Facebook group when they are organizing a weekend ride. These are typically Saturday mornings, but watch the group for specifics about planned pace or route deviations.
There is a book that lists riding routes out of Pittsburgh. It’s out of print so some routes may be out of date but if you can snag a copy it might spur some ideas.
Rides from the North Hills
Most rides leave from North Park. One easy option is to do circles of the lake loop. It’s a 5-mile circuit, and though there is traffic, the loop does not involve any cross streets as long as you are traveling clockwise. It’s got hills but it’s manageable, which makes it a good spot for even beginner cyclists. Keep your head up though – it can be crowded!
Additional routes from North Park:
- Visit the Alpacas (option 1). An out-and-back that you can shorten into a 2 hour ride if you turn around at the alpaca farm.
- Visit the Alpacas (option 2). A slightly different route that hits most of the same markers. Note that both alpaca routes get more hilly the further you get away from start.
- The Cement Plant ride – This route is 112mi but since it’s out-and-back you can make it as long as you like. Bonus Elk farm and alpaca farm! The actual cement plant is on a one-mile 7% hill that’s pretty tough.
- North Park to Moraine – you can get from North Park all the way to Moraine State Park without too much trouble (although the start of route 528 can be challenging). This makes for a pretty good bike-swim-bike combo. This route is a good prep for the Syracuse 70.3 bike course.
Rides out of Cranberry and farther north:
- 50 mi Cranberry loop – Brought to you by Heather Slater: I start/end in Cranberry… from Crazy Mocha parking lot for pre-ride caffeine with post-ride Simply Yogurt and Champs Pizza right next door… could just as easily start/end at Sewickley Crazy Mocha
- Farm Fresh Ice Cream! – Brought to you by Heather Slater: This one starts at the same location, but the little out and back at mile 41-42 leads to a farm that sells fresh homemade ice cream
- Slippery Rock area ride – Brought to you by Kelly Collier: Nice country roads with decent climbs. But be careful, we did get pulled over by a cop for not completely stopping at a stop sign. In the middle of nowhere.
Routes from Downtown/inside the city
- 75 mi Red Belt Loop – Brought to you by Sarah Quesen
- Washington Blvd Oval and Highland Park Loop – Brought to you by Kelly Collier: some basic bike riding spots to know- the Bud Harris Cycling Track on Washington Blvd which is a 1/2 mi oval. Great for short intervals, testing out a new bike, or anything you need a flat controlled area for. The 1 mi loop around the Highland Park reservoir is also a good place go if you want to focus on riding with no traffic stops or the need to come out of aero, plus it goes slightly up/down hill along the loop so you get short bursts of flying down hill and climbing. It’s also easy to get between these two spots, if you have a need to hit them both in the same ride.
- Loop around the Burgh – Brought to you by Kenny Drombosky: 35 mi loop starting in Squirrel Hill -> Highland Park -> Lawrenceville -> North Shore -> Point Park -> Heritage Trail -> Schenley Park -> Squirrel Hill
- Saxonburg/Deer Creek loop – Brought to you by Sarah Quesen: 49 mi – Head out towards the 62nd street bridge. You can pick up Middle Road. In fact, Middle Road to Yellow Belt back down Saxonburg Rd is about 35ish miles and is a great training ride.