By Rebecca Lessner
Marty Maloney and Mike Kotyk noticed a growing popularity of cyclists in Pittsburgh around 2008.
This spurred the friends to open their own business called the Over the Bar Bicycle Café, or OTB, a Southside bar and cafe decorated floor to ceiling with murals, upcycled bike gears, wheels, and whole bike-frames.
The café is also home to the first installed bike corral, thanks to Bike PGH. The ‘Parking Swap’ takes up two car spaces and is extremely space effective, according to Scott Bricker, Executive Director of Bike PGH. Where a car usually carries “one point two people on average”, a swapped car space can hold six bike racks.
“When you replace a single car, you can replace it with six bike racks,” said Bricker. “That’s 12 bikes that can fit in that space and 12 people that are potentially visiting that can fit in that same footprint of a car.”
Maloney and Kotyk said the corral is hugely successful because customers are able to leave their bikes locked up with peace of mind, knowing that their rides are safe just outside. The café even holds locks behind the bar for customers in need.
“It was great,” Maloney said in reference to the corral. “Mike worked with the state for over two years to get that put in and we’re looking forward to more places around the city having it.”
Another draw to the café is the unique menu offering dishes with names that play off of everything to do with biking, including ‘The Gap’, a grilled Cajun chicken sandwich named after the Great Allegheny Passage. OTB won Best Vegetarian Soup two years in a row from the South SidSoup Contest and a recent Best Burger in Pittsburgh award from WPXI channel 11.
Ads for OTB featured in the Allegheny Passage trail book encourage bikers to step off the beaten path for a bite to eat. The cafe is excited to see the trail finished because Maloney believes the missing link will draw in riders who were once wary of merging into the road traffic.
“Once you’re on the trail you’ll never have to get off”, says Maloney. The OTB owners are planning a trip of their own. Once the trail is completed, Maloney and Kotyk will put a group of bikers together to test it out. Maloney has already ridden sections of the trail, but is looking forward to going further than Pennsylvania.
OTB also has sponsored their own team in the Pedal PGH ride, a team that has increasingly grown from 10 to 30 riders in the past years. They are encouraging the growth of bicycling, working with Bike PGH in the past to create ‘Pedal for Pints’, a competition that ran from May to August 2012.
The participants would receive a punch card with for levels of mileage. Once each milestone was reached, participants proved their logged mileage by showing a smartphone tracker at the bar- for every punch in their card they would receive a celebratory pint.
“There was a national competition to see which city could log the most miles on the bike as far as commuting to work,” said Maloney. “We thought we’d help Pittsburgh out and give a little incentive for people.”
While Maloney believes that the city is on its way to improving the overall experience for cyclists, he is concerned about the need for awareness.
“Awareness takes a while,” Maloney said, “The biggest issue is cars and the small city streets – it’s a narrow hilly city to be riding in, you have to be aware of your surroundings of both people and cars.”
Cyclists look forward to completion of missing link Marcel Means began biking with encouragement from his wife in 2008.
Since then, he has enjoyed
conquering the hills of his Stanton Heights home while commuting
to all four corners of the city for his job.
Now, with the final link of the Pittsburgh-to-Washington D.C. trail being finished this summer, Means, along with thousands of cyclists from both cities, is looking forward to the new conquest.
“It’s a challenge that’s out there. I hear great stories of people who’ve done it before me,” said Means.
Means exemplifies the fast-growing emergence of bicycling in Pittsburgh not only through the ever increasing collection of folks who use local trails and streets to commute to and from work, but the recreational cyclists who can now enjoy the 335-mile trip to Washington D.C. on former rail lines that were turned into trails.
“I think it’s great when you can bike from here all the way to Washington DC,” Mayor Luke Ravenstahl stated at the unveiling of the cities Bike Share program. “I know a number of people who have actually taken that trip over the course of a week and they had great experiences with it.”
Ravenstahl encouraged cyclists to utilize the completed trail this summer to visit the Capitol.
The number of bike commuters in Pittsburgh has increased by 270% according to the American Community Survey, 2011. The culmination of a decade of work by the vibrant and growing cyclist community will be highlighted when the missing link of the Great Allegheny Passage bridges the final gap to the C & O Canal; creating a 334.5 mile trail ride between the two cities. Bike PGH has been a key advocate for the community, making commutes safer for pedestrians and bicycling enthusiasts while also organizing events throughout the city.
Around 2008, Means’ wife’s encouragement and increasing gas prices motivated him to buy a bike.
“I started riding and really enjoyed it,” stated Means.“I felt like I didn’t need to drive to work; it’s actually quite simple and cost effective to start commuting.”
Means sold one of his two cars and committed to biking. With his wife taking the only car to work in the opposite direction, it left no other option but for Marcel to use cycling as his mode of transportation.
“In that situation I just learned to enjoy all four seasons,” Means said. “I enjoyed the freedom of just riding around.”
His commute to work is three to four miles and commuting to school is a total of 20 miles, because according to Means, there’s no easy way to get to Stanton Heights.
The physical fitness level Means has achieved now has prepared him for the Great Allegheny Passage trip. He has a few Metric Centuries, rides totaling 62 miles each, under his belt with plans to do more as spring approaches. With more rides to come, he hopes to be prepared for a fall trip.
Means, age 37, President of local bicycling group Flock of Cycles, is plotting his trip across the states when the trail is scheduled to be completed this June.
Means is still in the planning stages of the trip, but when traveling with a guided tour one can typically expect to lodge five nights at inns along the pathway. The rich historic past of Pennsylvania is highlighted along the path as remnants of the 1900’s and civil war battlefields add to the scenic ride merging into the C&O canal tow-path.
The route itself has a 761 foot elevation throughout the length of the trip even though it appears flat, being a torn out railroad bed.
Means perceives the only trouble will be the muddy and rocky sections.
“It’s almost like a rite of passage for me,” Means stated, explaining that the bike ride through the peaceful countryside and wilderness will be a rewarding experience.
David Mooney, a 64 year old retired librarian of CCAC, moved to Pittsburgh in 1973 to the Northside where he began commuting to work by bike. He stood leaning against his bike as the mayor spoke of the worthiness of biking in Pittsburgh at Bakery Square. His dulled reflective windbreaker and muddied cycling shoes victoriously alluded to the miles they had seen.
“Some of the road surfaces could be better, but in the last 10 to15 years things have improved unbelievably,” Mooney said, adding that when he first began commuting by bike during the winter he never saw another soul riding, but now he sees multiple other bikers daily.
“The more bikes, the better,” Mooney stated.
Last year Mooney completed the Great Allegheny Passage trail and the C & O Towpath one way to DC. He said that he had “been waiting for years” for the completion of the trail, frustrated with the troubles the missing gap caused when navigating by bike.
He traveled with Wilderness Voyageurs Club at Ohiopyle, an organization that plotted the route and lodging for the trip. Although the beautiful September weather that year held the ride up to his favorites, he now plans to try longer rides after successfully completing the DC trip. He now has his eyes set on rides through Australia and New Zealand.