newbie bike commuter needs route advice

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kat
Participant
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Hi all! I’ve just started bike commuting — bought a new hybrid instead of a bus pass this month. And I’ve survived my first week, so yay! :)

I’m new to riding as a commute (though I’ve ridden my crappy old mountain bike off and on over the years, and am reasonably comfortable with street biking) and am also pretty new to Pittsburgh (I just moved here last January).

I work on the North Shore, near the 16th St bridge, and live in Shadyside. The commute TO work is lovely (and an easy ~30min) — up Liberty, over the 31st St bridge and down the North Shore trail — but I’m struggling to find a route back that doesn’t involve a grueling hill-climb, leaving me sore and dispirited (and walking my bike as I pant, my thighs protest, and my commute time doubles in length).

Liberty or Penn? Ugh. Penn to Butler and then up Main… double ugh. Can anyone point me in a better direction? Herron Ave looked tempting but everyone I’ve mentioned that idea to has reacted with horror. I’m pondering braving downtown, making my way to the Eliza Furnace trail and then heading up through Schenley and up Neville (though that hill also sucks). And that route, though very pretty, does take far longer.

So, yeah. What do y’all think?


orionz06
Participant
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I hate to say tough out the hill for a week or two more, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you no longer thought they were tough. Stick with it.


the beast
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+1 to what orionz06 said. When I first started commuting a few years ago, I would go through an entire water bottle about halfway through the trip and stop for about 10 minutes to refill the bottle and take a little rest. I only did that for a few weeks before I was able to do the whole thingin one shot. I do occasionally have a day where I just feel off and may still pull over for a minute or so just to regroup.

I will also say that knowing an alternate route does have many advantages.


the beast
Participant
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HiddenVariable
Participant
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i actually like going up herron. maybe they thought you’d keep going to bigelow? also, don’t forget polish hill on the way to work. it’s a nice, quiet little alternative.

my way up to shadyside from the strip when i’m tired is either to go up herron (sure, it’s steeper, but it is over with much more quickly), or to take the 28th street bridge to brereton, then hang a left on dobson before brereton gets too steep (or stop for a beer at gooski’s on your way home), then a little jog across herron to melwood/gold way, and down denver to melwood past pittsburgh filmmakers. it might be about as steep or hilly, but the lack of traffic makes it much less stressful and it seems less tiring.


Lou M.
Participant
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Tough out Liberty…in no time you’ll see a difference just as orionz06 said.


HiddenVariable
Participant
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oh, also: if you’re going to go all the way around the city, i would say hop across the fort duquesne bridge, then take boulevard of the allies to grant. even at its worst, boulevard is a fairly easy street to bike on, what with the wide and multiple lanes. i wouldn’t make a habit of this for purely commuting purposes, but it’s always fun to switch up your route from time to time, or go for a bike ride right after work.


dmtroyer
Participant
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I know it’s a bit circuitous, but you could head northeast through the strip and larryville, and climb the hill through Allegheny Cemetery. This is longer, but the climb would be much more peaceful and offer plenty of places to stop and rest. Once you’ve mastered that you’ll find it may not be worth the longer distance and eventually might even find yourself looking forward to the commute home :-) Good luck and stick with it!!!


WillB
Participant
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You could always do the Lawrenceville Wiggle – that’s where you go up the hill for one block, then cut over on a flat street before heading up again (it should work pretty well from Fisk to 44th or so). It doesn’t cut out the hill, but at least you don’t have to do it all at once.


AtLeastMyKidsLoveMe
Participant
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There is a way to wiggle up through Polish Hill to Gold Way that’s really not that bad. I don’t know all the street names, but I’m sure someone else here could provide the lefts-and-rights.


kat
Participant
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Thanks! It helps to hear it’ll get better. Even if it’s hard to believe it right now. :P

HiddenVariable – where would you go on Herron, if not to Bigelow? I have heard the following things about that stretch: “It’s dangerously narrow and twisty, cars go too fast, there are buses, the road is rough, that’s not a good neighborhood and you’re likely to get mugged by junkies.” o_O

The route you described looks pretty good on Maps though. I didn’t notice the 28th St bridge before.

dmtroyer – Thanks for the tip about the cemetery! May have to give that a try. If nothing else, I’ll get better at hills faster if I find a route where I can actually stay ON my bike… pretty sure walking it doesn’t use the same muscles. :P


kat
Participant
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The Lawrenceville wiggle sounds like a good idea. Part of my problem with the Penn or Liberty stretch is there’s no way to zig/zag — it’s just this one long grind. Anyway. I will continue exploring and report back. :)


Mick
Participant
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For some people- like me- it helps to have a low gear that is lower than the lowest most commuters have.

I’m not sure how much of a difference it might make to you, though – Liberty

is long, but not all that steep.

Sometimes beginning riders don’t realize that the maximum efficiency comes with a fairly high spin rate for the pedals (“cadence”.) In the case of a practical commute “more efficient” really means just easier.

This is more important going up hill than down or on the flat.

You have to accept that it takes about twice as long to go uphill home than downhill to work. It’s not as fast nor as fun going uphill.

The traffic on Liberty isn’t great, but I don’t think you’ll find a topologically easier way to get to Shadyside.

For me, if I’m to be walking my bike part way, I’d rather pick a seriously steep hill (like Main) to walk up for a shorter distance.

The way through Allegheny Cemetary is lovely with no rushed traffic, but won’t help much with the hill.


Ahlir
Participant
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Polish Hill via 28th St Bridge / Brererton / Dobson/ (Herron) / Melwood.might be the easiest in terms of climbing (of course you can’t avoid it altogether.)

But I agree that you should stick to Liberty; in a few weeks you won’t remember what the fuss was about. Penn has calmer traffic. Also, what Mick said re cadence.


HiddenVariable
Participant
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HiddenVariable – where would you go on Herron, if not to Bigelow? I have heard the following things about that stretch: “It’s dangerously narrow and twisty, cars go too fast, there are buses, the road is rough, that’s not a good neighborhood and you’re likely to get mugged by junkies.” o_O

once you cross the busway and railroad tracks, herron becomes a short, windy, and steep road up into polish hill. you won’t find any more junkies there than in lawrenceville or bloomfield, and my experience has been that it is relatively light on traffic, and that the switchback forces cars to go at a relatively low speed. i just stay a few feet away from the curb the whole way, and i tend to get a wide enough berth to be comfortable from the few cars that pass me.

about two thirds of the way up to bigelow, you’ll run into the section where dobson and melwood intersect with herron. you can then take melwood as in the other directions i gave.

i don’t know why, but i really hate going up liberty. much more so than herron or even main.


Lyle
Participant
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Liberty.

There’s not much traffic on Melwood, but every so often somebody decides to try out their Mario Andretti impression.

Penn has slower traffic, but it’s narrower and so you end up either squeezed into parked cars or blocking traffic for 15 minutes, or you pull off to the side to let traffic by and then you can’t get back out in the lane again.

Butler to the cemetery has its attractions also. The butler st traffic can be annoying, but it does average a pretty low speed.


Boazo
Participant
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Bike in, bus home, use 10 ride tickets @ same faire.


salty
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I usually take liberty home, it is long but not terribly steep. But I like melwood/gold a lot too, either of HVs routes will work but for my money herron is not as bad as 28th.

Also, I like 39th to go up the hill from butler if you want to go that way.


fungicyclist
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Kat: Went through the process you are beginning a while ago, though I live on the northside, so my ride home from work was all downhill.

There is no secret route to avoid the rise. Accept it; Shadyside is higher in elevation than the northside. You will have to climb. There is no way around it. Once you accept that, it is on to building the bike legs you need to become dismissive of the ascent. Now the routes everyone describes above are nice and I’ve ridden them all and more. I like going all the way to the 40th street bridge on the trail, then straight up, somedays. The jersey barrier setup on I guess it’s Rt. 28(?) has created a defacto and perhaps intentional bike lane to the bridge, which is very sweet. If you feel like walking your ride up a short steep hill once across the bridge, this a the way to go. Walking does use different muscles then biking, so you won’t be building bike legs.

For building those budding bike legs nothing is better then the grinding slow torture of Liberty. (You may hurt your knees mashing up a steepie, or otherwise damage your body or your mind’s resolve. Still, remember it’s a workout and it helps to change things up now and then.) Accept that you won’t make it without dismounting for a couple/few weeks and don’t burn yourself out. Consume protein within 15 minutes of finishing your ride to fuel muscle growth. Your body will adapt to how you are tasking it. Be patient and soon you ascend uninterrupted. Then there will be a few weeks, or even months, when it is grueling, but always doable. At some point you’ll notice scenery instead of the climb, and it will come to be about how much time it takes to get home, rather then about the whine on way. Then you will have bike legs.

And take the bus and use the racks when you feel too beat. Be patient with yourself.


StuInMcCandless
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+1 fungicyclist, salty on using 39th, and following the white line through AllegCem.

Tip: Have someone knowledgeable make sure the bike is fitted properly to you. Your muscles will eventually adapt to climbing hills, but knee joints will not.

That said, I used to hate climbing 40th/39th, but now I just pedal. Yeah, it’s a hill, we have a lot of them around here.

Hot and sweaty and thirsty are OK; pain is not.


Lyle
Participant
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muscle pain is ok, burning lungs is ok, joint pain is not.


Mary
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Try giving yourself little landmarks on the way up the hill. Sometimes it helps to think, “I won’t take a rest until I pass the speed limit sign,” or some such thing. Just make something up. Over time, keep moving the landmark a little farther. That way you get mini-victories as you’re on your way to conquering the whole hill.


ejwme
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I second Mary’s advice, it also helps because, like others have said – there just is an elevation change. But your legs will get stronger amazingly fast, and while “that stop sign” might have been too far last week, by Friday this week maybe you can go to “the mailbox after that stop sign”. Little victories!

I changed out gears (hybrid “standard” to… something better, shop staff picked it out for me) at Mick’s suggestion a little while ago and it’s changed my life – don’t be afraid to stop in a local bike shop with your bike and ask if there are options! We don’t live in Kansas – being able to accelerate to 40mph isn’t as vital as simply staying on the bike up the likes of Negley, and most bikes aren’t geared from the factory with Pittsburgh commutes in mind.

Regardless, you will get better, faster, and stronger – it just takes a little time :D


rsprake
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Herron is not an alternative for a commuter who is just starting out. I take it on my road bike every now and then for fun, but it’s a bitch on my heavy commuter bike. I take Liberty everyday, you will get used to it. The sun and heat this time of year makes it harder than it needs to be but it is the easiest hill to climb for a number of reasons, the bike lane being one of them.


chefjohn
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+1 for “little victories”

Can’t commute in Pgh. for very long without occasionally encountering a hill that seems insurmountable. Stick with it and don’t judge yourself against more experienced cyclists. Remember you’re just starting out seriously commuting and will take some time (to build stamina, cofidence, etc.). Patience Grasshopper.

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