Both “RP Day” and The Western Pennsylvania Cyclocross Series kick off with a bicycle race this Saturday, September 8 in Riverview Park.

By Ashlee Green

The Western Pennsylvania Cyclocross Series is still in its infancy, but that doesn’t mean the seven races, starting with the “RP Day” race on September 8 in Riverview Park, are easy.

“I like to liken it to real life Mario Kart,” said Nathan LaValla, owner of Bear Dog Bicycles and director of this year’s race in Riverview Park. He’s describing cyclocross-style (CX) bicycle racing. “You’re on a really short track, there are obstacles—logs, fences, mud or sand—the course is relatively short and it’s tight quarters. You’re constantly bumping elbows with each other,” he said.

The Riverview Park race is the first one in the series and the first sanctioned cyclocross race in a city park. Each race is independently directed and designed, but race directors determine a set of rules and standards for the entire series together.

Cyclocross races last around 45 minutes to one hour and the intensity is high: racers sprint for most of the course. It’s a style of bicycling somewhere in-between mountain biking and road biking. While riders are not riding on backwoods trails, they’re still off-road, racing on top of grass, dirt, or gravel.

“For the most part, a mountain bike is too slow for a cyclocross race and a cyclocross bike is not beefy enough to handle a mountain bike course,” explained LaValla. Mountain bikes tend to have thicker tires and a better quality suspension.

The September 8 race kicks off the first-ever “RP Day,” a celebration of the Northside’s Riverview Park. In addition to Bear Dog Bikes, the free event is sponsored by Highmark, ALCOSAN, SSB Bank, First National Bank, Rivers Casino, Pipitone Group, Civil & Environmental Consultants (CEC), Inc., Northside Leadership Conference, Buhl Foundation, One Northside, Peoples Gas, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, and Friends of Riverview Park. RP Day activities include guided hikes by the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club and Allegheny City Society, food, activities for kids and live music.

Anyone can sign up for the cyclocross race. If you are new to cycling, just sign up in the “beginner” class. Other race classes include expert, women, juniors, 40+, 50+ and 60+. There is a registration fee to participate.

“The races are short and usually more spectator friendly, so even if you want to come out and see what a bike race looks like, this is a good way to get a feel for it,” LaValla said.

In addition to spectators, LaValla expects some playful hecklers, members of the Northside Youth Mountain Bike Club, to be on the sidelines with squirt guns. The whole event, he said, is about having fun and growing the bicycle community in Pittsburgh.

“It’s good for the bike community in general to have more events. It’s good for my shop to keep the scene going. The more people we get into cycling, whether it’s racing or commuting to work, the better it is for all the bike shops in the city.”

LaValla gives a shout-out to Trail Pittsburgh, a volunteer organization that maintains hiking trail infrastructure in parks throughout the Greater Pittsburgh area. He said cyclists make up a large percentage of the people who dig trails and cut down trees to make the trails more accessible. He and other volunteers are setting up the race course in Riverview Park, and they’re planning to incorporate gravel as well as natural features like logs, which riders must either jump or get off of their bikes to pass.

“Riverview Park is a really unique park and it sets up well for this type of cycling,” LaValla said. “One of the things you can do in the park is ride your bike. We want to showcase that Riverview Park is a great place to go ride your bike.”

Race heats start every hour from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Times are subject to change. For more information, visit
http://www.bikereg.com/39623.