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James Knox's Biking Blog

July 1, 2016
by James Knox

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The Pump Track



King Ted hisself


Many writers like to extol the virtues of riding a bicycle by recalling the feeling of that first ride as a kid and the child-like exuberance that one feels as an adult rolling down the street under your own power. I get that feeling when racing my road bike or mountain biking through the woods.

This past week I took my 7 year-old to the local pump track at the local park. For those of you who don’t know what that is, a pump track is a “continuous loop of dirt berms and “rollers” (smooth dirt mounds) that you ride without pedaling. The name “pump track” comes from the pumping motion used by the rider’s upper and lower body as they ride around the track”. Thanks Google!

That he had a great time is of no consequence: he’s a kid. He’d have fun playing with an empty cardboard box or eating dirt. I however, had a blast. I had only ever been on one before at the Wheelmill in Homewood. My butt hurt for three days after that episode. I thought, “I race bikes. I’ve done the Dirty Dozen. This will be cake.” The beauty of riding continuously in a circle, without pedaling blows my mind. And my glutes as well, apparently.

King Ted and I hit the track at North Park and we didn’t want to leave. That feeling when mom is calling you home for dinner but you just want one more at-bat was taking hold. Ted mastered the terrain but was having trouble getting the “pump” concept. He also fell pretty hard twice or thrice. I had him wearing elbow and kneepads though so he soldiered through.

When we were done we met up with the rest of the family at the OTB Bicycle Café at the Boat House on North Park Lake a little dusty and battered. The whole “reliving your childhood” thing came to an end immediately once they asked us what we wanted to drink. Ted had a Roy Rogers and I had a beer.

Sometimes it’s good to be the grown-up.


May 2, 2016
by James Knox

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Covering the Marathon is a marathon




So, I did the Pittsburgh Marathon yesterday. My time kinda sucked. It was 8 hours.

But, on the good side it was ALL overtime pay.

Covering the marathon is a Herculean effort if done right. I can say our team at the Tribune-Review killed it. I was one of four shooters covering the start/finish, Homewood, Bloomfield, Oakland, North Side, Shadyside and all in between. We had a team of reporters and editors and multimedia gurus working from the back of trucks and the rainy neighborhoods. We also had one nut cover it on his bike.



The last time I covered the marathon, I covered it as the only photographer. I also did it on Rollerblades. I made it from the start out to Oakland and back to the finish to get all the winners and back out to the Strip to get all the stragglers sweating in the 80-degree heat. I crushed it. I was also 25 years old.

This year I mounted my trusty steed: Old Blue. My coverage responsibilities were the Birmingham Bridge, Oakland, Shadyside and Highland Park. I never made it to Highland Park but it was a success nonetheless.


I carried a laptop, two cameras and lenses as well as all my rain gear on my bike and slogged through the early rain and ended quietly sending pictures from a park bench in Shadyside to the sonorous rhythms of the Pittsburgh Steeline, the Steelers official drum line.

Covering by bike allowed me to cover way more area and with startling speed. I never realized how slow running is. Man I was flying. Birmingham Bridge up to the Pitt campus back to the bridge back up the hill into Shadyside then back to my car parked in Schenley Park.

After logging my 26.2 miles (estimated distance) I was flying down Fifth Avenue riding the double yellow in the middle of the four-lane street blowing red lights and waving at the cops. I have to say it was a good day.



March 4, 2016
by James Knox

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PJ Maloney



KQV-AM 1410 news anchor PJ Maloney, 69 was among the first voices on the radio on that first day they switched from playing Top 40 hits to the current all-news format in 1975. He co-anchors the early morning shift starting his day around 4:30. He also is a serious bike commuter riding his Trek Hybrid almost every day to work from his home in Shady Side to downtown. We had a little chat about transit strikes, 30 year-old Chevys and gravy.

What started you riding your bike to work?

I’ve loved riding a bike all of my life. In 2008 they were talking about a transit strike and I live in Shady Side and normally I would take the bus in and I thought “man, if they go on strike I’m going to have to pay $20 a day or something like that to park my car downtown. I’m going to get a bike. So, I went out and bought myself a Trek.

Do you ride every day?

I ride almost every day the only exception is if it’s actually snowing or raining—I don’t. Otherwise the cold doesn’t bother me. I can be as cold as it can get and that doesn’t bother me. But, I don’t like to ride in the rain or the snow or when the streets are slushy or icy.

So, the transit strike prompted you to ride not some health reason?

The main reason was the possibility of a transit strike, which never happened by the way but I had also gained some extra weight. I was in the mid 190s when I started riding the bike and I started loosing weight almost immediately. So I’m pretty much where I want to be somewhere about 175. So, yeah that’s a big incentive for me. But, my main incentive now is that I just like riding a bike. If I don’t ride my bike in the morning…well, something’s wrong. I don’t know if it’s the endorphins if you get addicted to that. But, if I don’t ride my bike I’m not in the mainstream.

Do you own a car?

My wife has a car and she gets a brand new car every two or three years. I own a Chevy Cavalier that I bought in 1988. I just use to get around the neighborhood like if I have to go pick up a case of beer in Bloomfield.

Tell me about the route you take to work.

Mine is fairly easy. I live in Shady Side not far from Shady Side Hospital. So, it’s about five miles from there into town. (The trip home) up the hill (Liberty Avenue) is good. That is the workout and you loose a little weight and I go to Ritter’s afterward and have mashed potatoes and something with gravy on it. And, my wife is vegetarian so at home I’m a vegetarian but at Ritter’s I’m not.

For me it’s easy. It’s almost all bike lane. I would say to people, test it out if you want to ride your bike to work. Test it out the route. See what little shortcuts you can take. Maybe you want to take a bus halfway in depending on where you live. Or, ride in and take the bus home. I think all the buses have bike racks on the front now.


February 11, 2016
by James Knox

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#BikeShareLove is in the Frigid Air



It was going to drop to single digits so it was time to get out and ride. That’s what you were thinking too? Great minds. It stuck me as odd when perusing the Bixi Montreal site (that’s the Canadian equivalent of our Pittsburgh Bike Share program) to find out they close up shop for the winter. I guess winter in Canada would be a little worse than here in the “South of Canada” but that got me wondering. When does Pittsburgh Bike Share go into hibernation? Well, it doesn’t.

David White, executive director for Pittsburgh Bike Share said that for winter operations, they reduce their fleet from 500 bicycles down to 300 in late December. They perform a complete overhaul on every bicycle and increase their maintenance routine and with a smaller number of bicycles.

“A tremendous benefit to the smart bike system is the ability of our customers to use our mobile app ‘nextbike’ to report any mechanical issue with a specific bicycle,” White said. “We encourage our riders to supply as much feedback as possible and we’ve been happy to go pick up bikes with mechanical issues that we’ve been made aware of.”


Pittsburgh Bike Share kicked off last June and the data they share on their website lists over 40,000 rides in the program’s first three months. It dips to just over 16,000 when the weather gets cold through the fourth quarter but that is still pretty good. Pittsburgh experienced mild winter weather up until the second week of February. Now that winter has come to Pittsburgh in earnest, ridership has dwindled but not gone into hibernation.

“We have had some mild weather this winter and a couple stretches of very cold temperatures. During the warmer days we’ve seen as many as 300 trips in a single day on our bicycles. That is very encouraging and shows that Pittsburghers are committed to getting outside and using a bike for their daily commutes. On the colder days we see our trips decline. That is expected. People just don’t leave the house as much on days when its 7 degrees,” White said.


I went this past Wednesday to give the system a shot in close to zero wind chills. I have never used the system or signed up as a user before that February 10th. I set up an account and unlocked a bike from the corral with my phone in about three minutes. I did have to use a stick to clear the ice from the keypad just to see the display. The app designed by nextbike makes it so you don’t even need to see the screen anyway.


I just punched in the number from the bike (after scraping the ice away to read it) pulled and I was gone. I rode around Oakland for a good half-hour before my fingers were numb then, returned the bike back to the corral. The protected bike lanes around Phipps were cleared of the previous day’s snowfall. I did notice that only three bikes seem to be at the stations around town now that the weather has changed. That must keep the rest of the bikes inside sipping hot cocoa.

“Although our numbers are lower in the winter, and we will evaluate the costs of shutting down and storing equipment after we get through this winter, we are committed to providing a reliable alternative for transportation in Pittsburgh,” White said. “I believe that if we can demonstrate to the public that the bicycles will be there and that they will be reliably functional throughout the year, we’ll start seeing increases in the number of people who choose to make a bike ride a part of their everyday routine.”


So, to warm you up get out and ride. It’s pretty easy and painless (except for the frostbite). And, just in time for Valentine’s Day, Pittsburgh Bike Share is offering a two-for-the-price-of-one deal for lovers and everybody else this February 14th.

#BikeShareLove is in the frigid air I guess.


January 28, 2016
by James Knox

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Suffer in Style



Just in time for it to be in the 50s in Pittsburgh this weekend, I’m going to show you what you need to have a successful indoor training set up. Training indoors kind of sucks. But, if time is not your side, the roads are impassable and your fat bike is in the shop, the Pain Cave can be your only hope.

There are a few things you will need to create the perfect cycling sanctuary.

Besides the obvious bike and trainer there are five things that will help with the comfort and boredom of doing intervals in the dark.

A Dedicated Trainer Tire

trainerThey’re usually red or some other color that screams, “not for outdoors!” but they are also made of a more durable heavy rubber blend that will hold up over hours of spinning. My current tire has lasted two years. A soft rubber racing tire would last about two minutes.

A Fan


When you ride a bike you have the wind in your face regulating your body temp. The fan gives you that feeling that you’re in a Peppermint Patty commercial.



I am addicted to the Walking Dead and have small kids. I can’t watch it anywhere but in the cave. The episodes are 45 minutes. Long enough for a good short work out. I always stand and mash a heavy gear when zombies are on the screen. I don’t know how you would work Downton Abbey into an intense workout. Maybe when a lady stands, you also stand. It is just good manners.

A Good Training Video


I use Sufferfest videos only. Never tried anything else. They’re well done and they mock you to push. And, they will kick your butt. The Sufferfest website has an impressive gallery of Pain Caves all over the world. I also am a member of the Zwift community which is an online, real-time racing world pitting you against riders stuck in their basements all over the world.

A Riser


I used to use a 2X4 as my block then I got a real one. It keeps your bike stable when you’re really mashing it and it raises the bike to level so as to stave off sore hands and butt.

I built a stacked bike rack out of two 9-dollar garage bike-hangers and a 2X10 bolted to the cinderblocks to hold three bikes in the cramped space of my cave. The Knox cave is painted a splendid puke green from paint leftover from painting an insane asylum. I even hung some artwork on the wall we were going to throw out. They help you keep an eye on a level horizon on your balance as you vision fades from suffering so splendidly.

sideview bikerack

Some would say a bare bulb, a bike, a trainer and a bucket are all you need but these creature comforts might just make you actually want to head down to the pain cave. Only bring the bucket in if you REALLY mean it.


December 8, 2015
by James Knox

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Al’s Bike Drive



As Christmas morning approaches memories of my first bike come flooding back. A gleaming 1978 Schwinn Stingray awaited me on Christmas morning under the tree. It was navy and silver with a sweet 70s sparkle glinting under the paint job’s surface. It sported a banana seat with matching color scheme, a fat tire in the back and a skinny one in the front and had chopper bars with silver sparkle handgrips. It was a big deal. More importantly I was a big deal. That bike meant speed and freedom. It also meant a job as a newspaper carrier.

Maybe you can remember your first bike with the same detail but for a lot of area kids Christmas will come and go with no presents at all — let alone a new bike –waiting under the tree.

That’s where Toys for Tots and Al’s Bike Drive step in. Al Todd, 47 of Allison Park attended a luncheon to benefit the Marines toys for tots program. Wanting to make an additional monetary contribution he asked the Marines what the most popular toy was for that year. You guessed it.


“They explained to me that when cash is donated to their program, they are only permitted to buy a toy up to $30 in value,” Todd said. “Larger items, such as bicycles, must be donated directly. Growing up, bicycles were a huge part of my life. I decided that I would raise money and donate bicycles to benefit the program. The first year, we raised enough to donate 31 bicycles.”

In the eight years since, Al’s Bike Drive has donated nearly 2000 bicycles to the Marines through the Corps’ 68 year-old Toys for Tots charity raising over $125,000 with the donated bikes finding homes all over Western PA.

“I always ask the Marines every year whether or not my program is still important,” Todd said. “They explained that they are trying to find toys for tens of thousands of children that are in need every year. The Marines assure me that this is a consistent and ongoing need. It fills an important hole in the program.”

Al’s Bike Drive accepts donations on an ongoing basis. You can visit their website, to make a secure donation. You can also send a check made payable to Al’s bike drive and mail it to 1736 Ferguson Rd., Allison Park, PA, 15101.


October 12, 2015
by James Knox

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Bikes on a Train



In mid-September Amtrak started offering what they call Walk-On service for bicycles on the Capitol Limited train that runs from Chicago to Washington D.C. For a fee of $20 (not including your train ticket) you may roll your bike into the spacious converted cargo area in the belly of a train car and hang your bike up by its front wheel. You must be able to lift your own bike to shoulder height and hang it yourself. Your bike may not exceed 50 pounds and 70”X 41” X 8.5” (so NO recumbent bikes). There are only seven slots per train.

I thought it would be fun to bring a group of trail veterans through this process just to see how it all worked out. Our team was made up of myself 42, my wife Katie, 43, Joe Brandt, 55, his wife Becky, 48 and Steve Swartzlander, 44. We have close to twenty trips up and down the C & O between us. So, here are some things we learned.


[I call this “Waiting for Santa”]
  1. Arrive early

I am someone who is always on time or way early. So is Steve. My wife, too. But, Joe and Becky were at the station by 3:50 for a 5:20 departure only to be rewarded with a 45-minute delay. The trains are usually delayed because they share the rails in the Northeast with freight trains that get priority. Amtrak had a 21% on-time rate for the capitol limited during August of 2015. That is not very outstanding. But, if you know this going in you won’t be so ticked off.

  1. Amtrak has awesome employees

It must be a great job because everyone from the ticket lady to the porters were attentive, helpful and unbelievably cheery at the early hour.

“The service itself is solid,” Steve said. “The Amtrak folks were helpful in pointing out where the bikes needed to go, since it was not really obvious. The racks were solid and very easy to use. It was also a secure area of the train. The cost was a bit high, given that it was more than the base ticket to add a bike. $10 would be better.”


  1. The cost

On the ten Amtrak trains nation-wide that offer the walk-on service the Capitol Limited is the most expensive by double. Amtrak Cascades offer 10 bike spaces per train at only $5. Not sure why this is. There was much hand wringing before this launch about the price. Which from one report was as high as $25 before it was dropped to $20. Is this price gouging or capitalism at work? Let’s call it Capitol-ism.

  1. Your bikes are safe

You must be able to hoist your own bike to shoulder height and strap it down. The porters, nice as they are have a schedule to keep and they are not allowed to help you lift your bike. But, the process is pretty self explanatory and if you are with a group you’ll have plenty of help.

“I was pleased the process was relatively simple and easy,” Joe said. “One hook, one strap and a safety chain, all done in less than a minute, even by beginners.”


  1. Order your tickets WELL in advance

We bought our tickets about three weeks out from our trip. We left on a Monday. I bought my two tickets and called Joe, Becky and Steve and told them to go ahead. Turned out that after my two bikes there was only one of the seven slots left on the train. So Joe spent the better part of a week trying to figure out a solution when all of a sudden there must have been a cancelation of the group of four and we were good to go. That said I would recommend making sure your group can all fit before you book. I would also book at least four weeks in advance.

“Current capacity limits will prevent the service from being useful for any large group, even if they book well in advance,” Steve said. “However, for individuals and small groups it is going to be quite useful. Normally for trail rides you are limited to a fixed distance from your starting point. This service opens up a much wider range, since you can plan to ride only one way. It will make larger sections of the GAP and C&O feasible for day trips. It will also make planning multi-day trips simpler and cheaper, since small groups can now get their bikes transported long distances without complicated logistics.”


Is this the best solution? Transportation is all about choices and this is another great one. We spent about $31 per-person to ride from Pittsburgh to Connellsville. It was a day trip 60-plus miles on the bike after a delightful train ride. If we were going all the way to DC you would have to weigh the cost of hiring a van to drive you and your bikes the 4 hours, take the all-day train or just rent an SUV and drive yourself. However, if your group is over 7 people the options get smaller. They all run close to the same price from Pittsburgh to D.C. when all is said and done. But, for shorter day trips it adds a lot of flexibility. You could take the train to say, Hancock, MD and ride your bike to Harpers Ferry, WV. Then ride the train back to Pittsburgh. The options are great. The train ride is the bonus to the journey.


September 15, 2015
by James Knox

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Wave to me!




[photo by Jo Harrop- she waved at me and she was in a car!]

Have you ever ridden around town and spotted two riders on “Hogs” pass and give a wave to each other?

Most see this act as a sign of shared worldview, an acknowledgement of similar tastes and beliefs, possibly. A camaraderie of kindred spirits. It could also be that they see themselves as knowing partners in an endeavor outside of the norm.

Or, they just pretend to be in some secret “club” of people who buy over-priced and underpowered toys that people ride when they are too lazy to ride a bicycle.

If I owned a Harley, I would probably want to punch me in the face right now.

I saw my buddy Chaz, a fellow photographer out riding his custom Harley today looking like the offspring of Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top fame and the Duck Dynasty Guy. I had my window down, made eye contact and gave him a wave…from the driver’s seat of my Honda Odyssey. He smiled. We’re both photogs. We have worked together for almost 20 years. We shot the last game at Pitt Stadium together amid tear gas and State Police horses trampling wayward and boozed up Pitt students. But, after all of that he had to chuckle as he waved to me in my minivan. I wasn’t on a Harley-Davidson and he had to keep his street cred. I get it.

Should other bicyclists wave at each other? We share the same kindred-spirit emotions about our human-powered two-wheeled steeds. But, have you noticed that some cyclists DO NOT wave back??

Let’s try an experiment. Take your fat-tired hybrid for spin around your local park. Wear sweat pants or gym shorts and aviators. Wave and smile at everybody you pass on two wheels. Take note of who waves back.

I’ll bet only half of the people wave back. Mostly fellow bikers dressed in the same casual manner. I bet the guys and gals riding the more expensive carbon fiber race bikes definitely DO NOT wave back at all.

What gives? Am I stereotyping?

Well, I am one to ride aggressively fast around North Park. I wear a black Italian kit. I ride a bike worth more than my old crappy car. But, I wave at everybody.

My wife does the same thing. She does it out of spite sometimes. “I just smile and wave good morning to everyone, it’s not my fault they are snotty,” she says.

Why do “elite” cyclists feel the need to ignore their fellow velo-travelers?

Well, I have two possible answers.

One is that they are knee deep in the middle of a workout so intense and painful that they can’t see two inches in front of their face for lack of oxygen. Their lactic acidosis has dulled their place in the time/space continuum plus, they would have to break out of their aero position to wave at the guy riding the unicycle while walking his dogs. (He’s got HIS hands full but HE waves.)

The second possible answer is what I think is the real reason. Snobbery. People on fancy bikes size you up and if you don’t pass the test they just stare at you through their Oakley Jawbones resting on their turned-up noses. It took me about five years of racing to finally have someone say “hi” to me at the velodrome. Racers are a shaky bunch. They are used to eyeing up the new guy and wondering weather or not he is going to be safe to ride 30 mph at close proximity for the next hour. Or, whether he is too squirrely and needs to get flicked off the back.

But, everyone on a bike has made a decision to break out of the norm to do something we’ve done almost our whole lives in some cases: to pedal on two wheels like a kid. Remember that the next time you’re rolling around town. The other people on the bicycles have the same mindset as you. They may not have the bankroll or dedication level but they are our brothers-and-sisters-in-crazy.

I guess some people can’t turn it off. But how hard is it to wave? Really. Its not like I’m wearing leather chaps or something.




August 19, 2015
by James Knox

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The Art of Wrenching



I am your friendly neighborhood mechanic. OK, I’m actually a photographer but it seems of late I have become the go-to wrench. My prices can’t be beat. Free. Or, Romolo’s Sponge Candy if you insist. And, I’m always open for a drop off or I can pick up.

The past few weeks I have serviced about 10-12 bikes for friends. From minor tune-ups to brake adjustments and wheel truing I got you covered.

I must admit; I love it. I always loved taking my 1986 Ross HiTech apart and cleaning it. It was my livelihood. It carried the 60 Erie Time News editions I delivered through rain sleet and snow. And, in Erie, PA: snow ain’t no joke. I still am learning the intricacies of maintaining a carbon fiber race bike so, you see the fun never ends. Right now on my work stand I have a 24” Schwinn Ranger that belongs to my 11-year-old daughter. She came in to the garage pouting that she needs a new bike. Tire was flat and torn and the front brake was wonky. I’m NOT buying a new bike. Her 8-year-old friend was escorted into the garage last night and they all said her bike needed my help. Her tires were low, her pedals stuck and her breaks were broken. Fixed, fixed and fixed and she asks me, “Do you love you job?” I tried to explain that this wasn’t my job but that indeed I do love it.

There is a book by Robert M. Persig called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The narrator takes us along for a long motorcycle trip with his son and a friend and his wife. The friend has a fancy new bike and refuses to learn how to maintain it. When problems arise he is frustrated. Kind of like my daughter. The narrator is attuned to the ebbs and flows of his older machine as the trip goes along and adjusts accordingly giving him the satisfaction of a job well done. Kind of like me. Except, I don’t have to worry about pesky motors.

It doesn’t have to get all metaphysical and heavy, I guess. It also could just be a person using rational problem solving skills to achieve an inner piece of mind. Very Zen. I just prefer to get dirty and not have to pay people to do something that a soon-to-be sixth grader could have figured out. Do you hear me Maggie??

So, if you have a flat tire or a stuck break and you also have some beer or chocolate you’d like to get rid of, let me know.

I love my job.


July 30, 2015
by James Knox

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Take The Lane


Ride 1

(photo: Patrolman Matthew Immekus)

There have been a lot of anti/pro cycling items in the news lately.

Last week a woman was shoved off her bicycle by a motorist in Lawrenceville. Her boyfriend was quoted as saying, “I just think the guy behind us was upset we were taking up his space.” The mayor announced a plan to put in bike lanes to Oakland. These two events alone have caused a social media firestorm in the ‘Burgh almost as fierce as Caitlyn Jenner or a dead lion.

What is the answer? The public is pushing back against the speed at which bike lanes are being installed and infrastructure is changing to accommodate all things NOT cars. This isn’t just about bikes. It’s about pedestrians, too.

I usually don’t weigh in on this topic. I don’t feel I personally need bike lanes. I ride some pretty gnarly roads that don’t have any shoulder let alone a bike lane. And, I’m comfortable with it. The only way people driving cars are going to be comfortable with bikes on the road is if they see them in growing numbers, riding safely and deliberately on the road. Dedicated bike lanes are a great way to get more people out and about, away from traffic and keep the two separate. But, eventually you will have to ride on a road with cars. So, how do you handle that?

Ride 2

(photo: Patrolman Matthew Immekus)

One of the worst roads in the region to walk or ride your bike on is McKnight Road. There are almost no sidewalks or bike lanes. McKnight Road is the portion of US 19 Truck that runs through Ross and McCandless Townships in the North Hills. It was created in 1946 as a bypass route for trucks that were not allowed on US 19. It is six lanes of cars going at highway speeds at times and turning lanes going to the glut of shopping along the corridor. During the month of December as we approach Christmas it is arguably one of the worst places to have as a part of your commute. (I do)

Enter Walk // Bike Ross, a grassroots committee of people working to make alternative forms of transport accessible to a community where the main drag is nicknamed McKnightmare Road.

Last night we took the right lane of McKnight Road with a group of 17 riders. One of which was Patrolman Matthew Immekus, Ross Township Police Bike Officer and an International Police Mountain Bike Association Police Cyclist Instructor. No one honked. As my buddy Steve noted, “It’s tough to honk at someone who’s armed.”

Ride 3

(photo: Patrolman Matthew Immekus)

We also obeyed all traffic stops and moved as a group through rush hour traffic two abreast on arguably one of the worst roads in the county to ride a bike (besides a one-mile stretch of Penn Avenue in Wilkinsburg).

It was the first of many Walk // Bike Ross monthly rides on the road led by Joe and Becky Brandt with military precision. The group was filled with all levels of ability, yet we rode together and made our point. With familiarity comes comfort. The more we are visible on the roads and riding safely the rest of the world will catch on. It won’t be so strange to see bikes going down McKnight Road and everyone will lighten up after a while.

So, take the lane in YOUR community. I’m pretty sure there’s a law about that. Just ride safe and smart because you don’t always have a police escort.

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