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Biking: Come on, have a freeride
Saturday, July 09, 2011

The grand opening of the North Park Freeride Area, the sixth annual Mountain Bike Festival and a Bring-A-Dish wrap-up party July 17 are a celebration of a three-park week of mountain biking hosted by the Allegheny County Parks Department, the Pittsburgh Trails Advocacy Group and the Pittsburgh Offroad Cyclists.

It all begins at the Sharon Shelter at noon Sunday with the official opening ceremony for the new freeride area adjacent to the Pie Traynor Field and the swimming pool.

In addition to a ribbon-cutting conducted by the scissors-wielding indefatigable individuals who volunteered thousands of hours to make the freeride area a reality, there will be freeriding demonstrations, food and beverages.

Freeriding was started by mountain bikers who wanted to take the sport to another level -- up, over, down and out. Participants enjoy such features as jumps, drops and narrow bridges. Mastering those skills on their sturdy bikes repeatedly reintroduces riders to gravity.

Ouch.

To make the learning process a bit easier on the body and psyche, the North Park Freeride Area has a small, self-contained skills area where beginners can practice on short trails with progressively larger features. Want to sample them? Take your bike and helmet and at least some body armor for elbows and knees.

The North Park Freeride Area, a project that took three years to design and build, consists of the skills area and the Dr. J Freeride Trail, a downhill ride with drops, jumps, elevated bridges and a rock garden.

It's named for Dr. H. James "Jamie" Pfaeffle, 42, of Pine, an orthopedic surgeon who was instrumental in the design and construction of the course. Dr. Pfaeffle, who holds a doctorate degree in mechanical engineering, said the North Park Freeride Area is the only public area of its kind in Pennsylvania.

In addition to the new freeride area, Pittsburgh Trails Advocacy Group members have spent more than 2,000 hours maintaining, re-routing and building trails designed to be enjoyed throughout the year.

Mike Connors of McCandless, a key organizer of the festival, said the goal of this year's event "is to get more people interested in helping [advocacy group members] work on the trails."

"My son Riley, now 11, is riding on trails that he helped to build," Connors added. "It's really helped him to enjoy the outdoors."

There will be organized rides during the festival on:

July 15 -- Hartwood Acres from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.. Park in the Middle Road lot between the concert stage and the school.

July 16 -- North Park from noon to 3 p.m.. Meet at the McCandless Grove to the left of the swimming pool and the big playground.

July 17 -- Boyce Park from noon to 8 p.m. Meet at the Pack 2 shelter by the soccer fields. The annual festival party will follow the ride. Participants are asked to bring a covered dish to share. Beverages and snacks will be provided.

"Ride levels are advanced beginner and above," Connors said. "No beginners. Riders should bring a helmet and water."

The rides will last one to three hours, depending on the participants' skill level and stamina. Those who run out of energy will be directed back to the starting area.

The festival is free, thanks to Penn Brewery and Dirty Harry's Bicycles in Verona, the major sponsors.

For more information on Pittsburgh Trails Advocacy Group and Pittsburgh Offroad Cyclists, go to www.ptagtrails.com and www.porcmtbclub.org. And for more information on Dr. Pfeiffer and the new freeride area, see Kathleen Ganster's July 7 story at www.post-gazette.com.

County park maps are available at www.county.allegheny.pa.us/parks/.

Larry Walsh writes about recreational bicycling for the Post-Gazette.

First published on July 9, 2011 at 12:00 am