When Jeffrey Papcun and his wife, Joni, started biking 12 years ago with their infant daughter, Josie, they never imagined it would one day be the family sport it has become. Now a family of four, their youngest daughter, Jaelyn, joins in on the fun.
Together, the family has enjoyed eight rides within an hour and a half drive from their home in Upper Yoder Township so far this year, all as independent riders, a far cry from the baby pull carrier they once towed. They are now cycling up to 12 miles together.
Jim Fungaroli, who opened Fat Jimmy’s in Richland Township in March of 2019, says he is seeing a lot more people interested in cycling these days. “It is one of the few things you can do,” he says, referring to the many summer activities that have been cancelled due to Covid-19. “The trails have been open and it is really exciting to see a lot of people out on the trails that you normally wouldn’t. You are see seeing a lot of kids and it is encouraging.”
He says he has seen a lot of new people come into his stores (he has a second location in Bedford), looking for a bike and information on riding. “That is why I like what I do – getting people involved in cycling,” he says. “It is a really good physical activity and I like seeing people getting involved.”
Jim, who has been in the business for over 25 years, first starting out with the Cannondale Bicycle Corporation in Bedford, reports his inventory is down to about 30 percent from last year.
“We are selling entry level mountain bikes, and people are bringing in their bikes to have them worked on for the season to do more riding.”
Jeffrey says his family has been enjoying the region's numerous trails. “We have so many great rail trails around here. I don’t know if there is another place in the country that has as many in a certain radius as we do.”
The Papcuns like to choose trails that have features such as tunnels, bridges and furnaces – anything with a destination.
“I like the spooky tunnel,” says Josie, an eighth grader at Westmont Junior High School. “That one is always fun.” She is referring to the West Penn Trail, a 17-mile trail that runs along the Conemaugh River in Blairsville.
“It’s an abandon rail tunnel,” says Joni. “When they were younger, it got deemed the spooky tunnel.”
“It is a fantastic way to spend time because you are with each other the whole time,” says Jeffrey, a math teacher at Westmont Hilltop School District. “You are still cheering each other on to finish the ride, to push yourself a little bit.” Jeffrey says it is different than sports where the parent sits in the stands and cheers on a child. “To me, this is a good way for all of us to do the activity.”
The Papcun’s have developed a good routine after years of practice, but for a person who is just starting out, the Laurel Highlands On and Off Road Bicycling Association (LHORBA) has a club one can join to get the feel of trails in and around the area. The organization, formed in 1999, has over 300 members evenly divided between rail trail and road biking. Cora Pastovic heads up the beginner and intermediate rides, anywhere from 10 to 22 miles long.
“Most of the rails-to-trails have a very small grade at 1 percent and they can go up to 4 percent,” Cora says. “And they are the best to start on.”
Cora says the trails have small crushed limestone, so road racing bikes are not recommended for these trails. “Cruising bikes and mountain bikes are just fine.”
Cora recommends beginners ride with a friend and get a feel for a trail. She recommends the Ghost Town Trail from Dilltown to Vintondale in Cambria County, a two-hour, 12-mile ride, mostly covered by trees. She also recommends bringing water and sunscreen.
“This trail, with a friend, will help you see what your beginning standard is,” Cora says. For those wanting to join in on club rides, check the site’s calendar website for updates at lhorba.org.
Jim, who is a member of LHORBA, says he is excited to share his knowledge and get someone on a bike.
One customer, Micah Hemphill, an employee of Waste Management, brought in his mountain bike to be serviced so he could continue riding with his friends this summer. He also says he bikes for the exercise.
“It’s been a year since I have been on it,” the 24-year-old from Southmont says. “I bought it about four years ago and rode it pretty hard.” Micah says he rides at Seven Springs in Somerset County and Blue Knob State Park in Bedford County, both known for their natural beauty.
“I like (cycling) for the exercise. It the biggest reason I have it.” He says he chose a more expensive model because of all the riding he does. “You feel it when you ride it and I think it was worth it.”
Jim echoes Micah’s take on riding. Go out with people and just talk, he says, and make sure your bike is in good working order.
“We enjoy getting somebody involved in the sport,” Jim says. “Come in and talk to us and we will walk you through it and hopefully get you on the right bike.”
At Hope Cyclery in downtown Johnstown, Jarrod Bunk set a goal to give away 100 bikes to children this year. The shop, which opened in August of last year, is part of a new trend that adds a community-mission to their business plan. The first bike shop since 1976 in downtown, it is outfitting those less-fortunate with bikes. He worked with The Learning Lamp and a local veterans group last year to give away 35 bikes. This year, the Moxham resident expanded the program to include Alternative Community Resource Program (ACRP).
“I wanted to make a place where everyone is welcomed,” he says. Jarrod says he is not the “normal type” of cycler. “I am a bigger guy.”
Jarrod says wants to take the pressure off of people and just bike for biking’s sake.
“For me, it is more of a mental thing,” Jarrod says. “It is a way that I find solace in my crazy mind. It is a way I stay sane. It is a way that I experience nature. It is the way I learn to love myself through riding bikes.”
Jarrod recalls his best memory as a child, riding a bike and just staying with it as a kid. From there, he job shadowed a bike mechanic for a graduation project in high school. Twenty years later, he is still at it. While he is distressed that coronavirus has cancelled summer events, leading to an uptick in his business, Jarrod offers some positives: “It is incredible that people are riding bikes,” he says. “I think that, what it has shown a lot of people that didn’t think that way, is the validity of bikes are more than anything they could have imagined. So we have seen a lot of people who haven’t ridden in recent years start to ride.”