Not many cities can boast an 80,000 sq. ft. indoor bmx and mountain bike park. Pittsburgh is one of the exceptions.
Welcome to The Wheel Mill, brainchild of owner and longtime Steel City resident Harry Geyer. The project, which opened in 2013, was inspired by a visit to the first such complex ever built: Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park in neighboring Cleveland. As the story goes, the riding was so good, and the accompanying drive through a snowstorm so bad, that Harry immediately became convinced of one thing: “There’s gotta be a way to do this in our town.”
And so began a truly epic 10-year adventure to create a bike park befitting America’s self-proclaimed City of Champions.
Experience Pittsburgh’s Must-Ride Indoor Bike Park for Yourself:
That the trend took root in the heart of the Rust Belt shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Cities like Cleveland and Pittsburgh provide a key resource for tackling such ambitious ventures: specifically, vacant industrial lots. In Harry’s case, it was a nondescript brick warehouse in the city’s Homewood West neighborhood that finally won out, offering an immense commercial canvas on which to craft his masterpiece. It’s work that continues even to this day.
“We’re still building, so yeah, it’s a huge space,” Harry says with a laugh, noting that the methodical process of earning money, buying materials (70% of which are reclaimed), and adding to the park has its unique challenges. “It’s really fun, creating something that people usually do over miles and scaling it down to feet. We get a lot of input from mountain bike and bmx professionals, so we’re able to constantly improve our design.”
What they’ve created thus far is truly a testament to their passion for the sport. Jump rooms, flow rooms, pump tracks, cross country loops, technical skill zones, a skate park, a resi ramp – the list is as extensive as it is exciting, with new line options regularly being developed by both staff and cyclists alike. One thing that’s conspicuously absent from The Wheel Mill, however, is attitude – an omission that Harry proudly draws attention to.
“Last time I checked we were at 46 states and 11 countries,” he says, in reference to the park’s growing global clientele. “The culture we try to maintain is that everybody’s really supportive of each other. You don’t need to rely on bravado to get to the next level. We’ve got kids who have just learned to ride without training wheels in the next room over from guys who have won multiple medals in the X-Games. I don’t feel like there are many places you can go in any sport to experience an atmosphere like that.”
So appealing is the sense of community here, in fact, that it recently caught the attention of Specialized – yes that Specialized. The manufacturer has partnered up with Harry in an effort to get Wheel Mill customers on some of its most high-end mountain bikes, whether they’re riding in the park itself or headed out to any of Pittsburgh’s 20-ish surrounding trail systems.
“We’re talking $8,500 bikes you get to rent for $50 per day,” Harry says, with just a hint of incredulity. His fleet includes everything from S-Works Stumpjumpers to Rhyme Pro Carbon 6Fatties. “This is a phenomenal opportunity for all of us, but it’s definitely a win for the customers.”
Which is, in the end, what this entire project is all about anyway: giving bmx and mountain bike riders the best possible opportunity to better their skills in a fantastic communal setting. If a building or a neighborhood or a city happens to transform along the way, well, so be it. After all, with four years of business under its belt and still plenty of new park additions in the works, The Wheel Mill is just getting warmed up.