Aside from the area’s numerous multi-use trails—converted from former railroad corridors into well-worn, crushed-gravel thoroughfares—Pittsburgh isn’t especially known for its epic gravel rides. Yet, despite this dearth of options for the gravel enthusiast, the Steel City’s surroundings boast a pair of excellent routes that are sure to challenge the most ambitious cyclists.
As with many mixed-surface rides, cyclists may be sharing the road with vehicles at times, so staying alert is critical. And even the best roads in western Pennsylvania can dish out abuse to the most robust tires, so having a patch kit, spare tube and a few essential tools will serve you well. Finally, while the ability to backtrack, bail out, or circle back is always an option, many of these routes can find riders “in the middle of nowhere,” so bring enough water and snacks to see you through.
The Bavington 50
This 48-plus-mile route starts in Hillman State Park, known by most local mountain bikers as Bavington, west of Pittsburgh. Composed of three loops increasing in size, the meandering route bisects and skirts the park itself before heading west, eventually crossing the border into West Virginia.
As with most rides in this part of the world, the elevation profile reads like the teeth of a bow saw, with many short-ish (but punchy!) climbs and descents spread continuously across the ride. All those ups and downs add up to a hefty 4,365 feet worth of elevation gain, so prep your quads for the burn.
Parking is allowed near the intersection of Kramer Road and the non-motorized Raccoon Creek Rd. Once saddled up, take Raccoon Creek Road down to Lyle Bridge, a quaint covered bridge, and start the course. Map Info: ridewithgps.com
The Bavington Road House is the type place you’ll want to land after a punishing ride: a down-to-earth, welcoming eatery with unpretentious food and an extensive craft-brew list, including a few drafts from the Coal Tipple Brewery a stone’s throw away.
The Quick and the Dead (Short Course)
Part of the Quick and the Dead Gravel Grinder Race, this mixed-surface route takes you up and over Mount Davis, the highest point in the state at 3,213 feet, treating riders to some spectacular scenery, and a whole lot of climbing.
Less sawtoothy than the Bavington 50, the Dead Short course has more of a camel’s hump elevation profile, with many plateau-like climbs leading to the high point in Forbes State Forest. Be sure to stop at the Mount Davis Lookout Tower for an unobstructed view of the surrounding area. It’s slightly less than halfway through the 46.4-mile route and makes a welcome rest stop/snack break.
Park at the Great Allegheny Passage Parking – Confluence (just down the road from Lucky Dog Cafe), and hang a right onto State Route 281/Robert Brown Road. Take the following right onto SR 523/Oden Street to start the route in earnest.
For riders looking for a bigger challenge, or wanting to test their mettle against other like-minded gravel gluttons, sign up for the Quick and The Dead Gravel Grinder. The nonprofit event features a 76-mile full course, with proceeds benefiting local fire departments. Map Info: ridewithgps.com
Stop in at the Luck Dog Cafe on the Confluence, Pa., shores of the Youghiogheny River for some easy-going vibes, good eats and a serviceable craft-brew selection.