Many people might not know it, but Pittsburgh, Pa. is a mecca for mountain biking. What? You ask. Yes. Pittsburgh is a mecca for mountain biking and there are several reasons why. First of all, our terrain is hilly and rolling and there are a lot of local and State parks in the region that have developed trail systems. The Laurel Highlands just east of the city are gently mountainous like most of the Appalachian chain and again, have a well developed trail network, aside from the Laurel Ridge Hiking Trail. The local club PTAG (Pittsburgh Trail Advocacy Group) has been very active in working with other trail users and developing systems in our local and State parks. But, in my humble opinion, the two individuals that promoted the sport to its current popularity and launched our reputation as a region for mountain biking were Maurice and Elaine Tierney.
For those of you who are in the know in the world of off-road cycling, Mo and Elaine are well known aside from their Mountain Bike Hall of Fame status. In 1989, they founded Dirt Rag Magazine. Maurice, a professional photographer and Elaine a talented journalist and general go getter, launched a small newsletter from the computer in Maurice’s office. The magazine was a local riders favorite and as Lee and Elizabeth Klevens and a host of other friends stapled and folded the early copies, the magazine grew in popularity with product reviews, local race results, and off beat stories that outline what is the soul of the sport of off road cycling. The early crew of Dirt Rag worked long hours together to secure advertising,garner race results, and come up with copy that was interesting to this relatively new genre of cycling. Dirt Rag’s long time Quality Manager, Karl Rosengarth, was quoted as saying that,” working at Dirt Rag feels more like playing in a punk rock band than toiling as an employee of a business.” High praise indeed for the atmosphere that has made the magazine successful for 25 years.
I started to read Dirt Rag in 1991 and as I was fairly new to the sport, I started to ride with the crew and their friends out on the trails near their office. I can remember Maurice showing me the ropes of riding and how welcoming all of the Raggers were when I would accompany them on their rides in Harmarville and Penn Hills park. I can remember many nights with the lights on my handlebars leading me on trails that I had never ridden watching the likes of Lee and Elizabeth keeping the pace high as we rode into the night. In those days, my wife was a flight attendant and when she was out of town, I found myself in the middle of nowhere, late at night, with a fun loving, well conditioned Dirt Rag crew. You really could not describe the fun to most people because they would ask,” You were riding a mountain bike with lights on at 11:00 last night?” But it was true and the tribe grew and grew over the years. I remember Maurice leading all of us at the original Wild 100 down in Slaty Fork,WVA. The Wild 100 was a 100K point to point race and Maurice had our strategy and our course mapped out well before Gil Willis gave us the race map at the starting line. Maurice was very familiar with the area and we felt confident that if we rode with Dirt Rag, we were not going to get lost, we would have a good time, and we had a very experienced ride leader at the very least. Maurice and Elaine, and the Dirt Rag crew created an aura around the sport that enhanced the experience of creating and publishing a magazine that eventually would be full color and sold in bike shops around the world. Subscriptions have been increasing every year and as Dirt Rag celebrates its 25th anniversary,the expertise and development of the magazine is quite impressive to the likes of me who remember the early days of their visionary idea. If you look at their 25th anniversary edition, you will see pictures that show the days of post ride beers in the garage of Dirt Rag World Headquarters in Saxonburg. You will see post ride pictures from their number one shop supporter Dirty Harry’s Bike Shop in Verona with Barry and Cyndie leading rides out of their shop. The history of Dirt Rag is not just related to the magazine but in the culture that was created by the publishers. The Punk Bike Enduro was an end of the year celebration of riding near the office and often well attended by luminaries of the cycling world as well as all the local dirt heads from Western Pa and West Virginia. The weather was often horrendous but that is what made the event fun. Enduro is big now in the sport but the Punk Bike Enduro with the few who actually contested it and the many who just rode it and drank beer along the way, helped to cement the reputation of Dirt Rag in cycling lore.
Today, the attention to detail is exemplary. I was riding with Emily Walley, the girlfriend of General Manager Justin Steiner, who meticulously stopped at different places on the ride to get good digital photos for the magazine of a new Marin bike that she was reviewing. Her attention to detail and lighting was impressive to me, a guy who takes I Phone pictures. I offered to do a product review for the stick that was used to hold the bike up, but it was all for not with the laughter of the riding group at that typical McCloskey remark. In any event, Dirt Rag today is a technological marvel and is produced with the professional attitude and expertise of those who really love the sport and have made a living out of their passion. Maurice is now living in the Bay Area which is close to the living quarters of the pioneers of the sport as well as headquarters for many of mountain biking manufacturers. Maurice loves the Bay Area but also wants to keep his finger on the pulse of all that makes Dirt Rag great. He was in town last week and as we had a beer at the OTB Cafe in North Park, he told the group how fortunate we all were to have access to great trails with no interference from competing groups. Trail use is a hot topic on the left coast and there is a lot of resistance from competing groups which concerns Maurice. But we ended the night with a big bear hug and I thanked him for welcoming me into the sport so many years ago and creating an atmosphere here in Pittsburgh that encourages riders of all abilities to enjoy our Western Pa. trails. The best part is that he made a living doing what he loved. He still does. Here’s to 25 more great years, Dirt Rag. Thanks for reading.