Austin Bible spends most of this time on two wheels.
Whether he’s hauling whole-bean coffee for La Prima Espresso Co., carting people around town in a pedicab or cycling across the state, life just looks better from behind handlebars.
The 25-year-old South Side resident holds the record for fastest eastbound time in Crush the Commonwealth, an informal race between Pittsburgh’s Point State Park and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. Bible crossed the finish line in 27 hours and 14 minutes.
The Steel City’s steep terrain and inclement weather don’t phase Bible, who missed only one day of deliveries this winter (and that’s because Mike Bogdan, his boss at La Prima, told him it was too cold to go out).
“You have to be consistent,” he says. “If you let the weather stop you, you’ll never be able to do what you want to do physically.”
Bible started riding bicycles professionally about four years ago, which is around the same time La Prima debuted its cargo bike. Supplied by Green Gears, a local company that specializes in pedal-powered vehicles, the modified tricycle can carry up to 600 pounds in 55 cubic feet of space.
Bogdan, La Prima’s operations manager, said he was inspired to institute a bike delivery service by Mayor Bill Peduto, an advocate for local cyclists who envisions Pittsburgh to be a sort of “Copenhagen of America” where cars and bikes peacefully co-exist.
The bike goes out three days a week, delivering coffee and other supplies such as filters and syrups to businesses within a 25-mile radius of the Strip District. Although the company still relies on two motorized vans to haul its goods, Bogdan says the bike is faster and more efficient, since factors such as fuel and parking are not a concern.
“I’m essentially being paid to train,” Bible says, noting that he plans to tackle Crush the Commonwealth again this year. “There’s no way I can turn away from it. Whatever opportunity I have to ride, I’m going to do it.”
Like Bible, Zack Hawthorne relies on his legs rather than an engine to get around town. He hopped on his first bike at age 2 and rode recreationally. At 13, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and his favorite pastime suddenly became integral to his health and well-being.
“Riding helps lower blood sugars and live a healthy lifestyle,” says Hawthorne, now 26. “So many diabetics think that their life is over when they’re diagnosed. It’s not over; it’s just a whole new outlook that you get to have.”
Last November, Hawthorne launched Fast N Fresh, a bicycle courier service.
Currently the company’s sole rider, Hawthorne zooms all over the region, from the North Shore, Troy Hill and Lawrenceville down to Oakland, Bloomfield and the South Side all the way out to Aspinwall and Wilkinsburg dropping off everything from Giant Eagle groceries, pastries made by the Gluten Free Goat Bakery & Café in Garfield to Lawrenceville’s Driftwood Oven pizza.
His handlebar mounted basket can carry up to 80 pounds, but he’s building his own cargo bike similar to La Prima’s that can hold a lot more.
Customers simply call or send a text to 412-378-2768 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and give Fast N Fresh a detailed list of the items they want from the store of their choosing and Hawthorne can send them an estimate. Delivery charges range from $5 for distances under one mile to $7 for deliveries over two miles. Accepted forms of payment are cash or PayPal.
Hawthorne plans to donate a portion of his earnings to diabetes research once his business is up and running, or, in this case, rolling.
Unlike a lot of major cities in the United States, Pittsburgh is seeing a significant increase in its bike commuter rate, which jumped from an estimated 0.4 percent in 2000 to 2.6 percent in 2016 according to the latest U.S. Census data.
Organizations such as BikePGH are working to make the streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians through community projects, education and advocacy, says Alexandria Shewczyk, marketing and communications manager.
The group sponsors events such as Open Streets Pittsburgh, which is held three times a year. On those days, four miles of city streets are closed to vehicle traffic, giving bike riders and walkers a chance to roam worry-free. Other happenings include Pedal Pittsburgh – the largest charity bike ride in Pennsylvania – and Bike to Work Day, which, this year, falls on May 19.
Bike safety classes are held throughout the region, including in Pittsburgh Public Schools, to get residents acclimated to riding in an urban setting. A local pedestrian is hit every 34 hours; a bicyclist is involved in a crash every six days.
Bicycle commuter David Hoffman founded BikePGH in 2002 after he was hit by a car at the intersection of Negley and Penn avenues. He decided to use the horrific experience to bring attention to bicycle safety.
“Things are definitely getting better. I think what needs to be improved is to have more bike lane connections,” Shewczyk says. “We have a total of 83 miles of bike lanes. We need to connect those lanes, especially between Lawrenceville and Downtown and the universities in Oakland.”