Inside Pittsburgh's Wheel Mill bike park
Welcome to the Wheel Mill
Pittsburgh, Pa. has always been something of a summer riding oasis. The past eight years have seen the construction of three cement parks as well as the creation of two new sets of trails. But this region is subject to ride the full wave of seasonal shifts that preclude certain outdoor activities for almost a quarter of the year. Mark Potoczny describes why a BMXer might descend into winter doldrums come mid fall: "Riding was pretty much non-existent in Pittsburgh for the months of December through March, unless you made the long haul to other cities to ride. At most, people only got to ride once a week if they were lucky, but more realistically, once or twice a month." All this changed with the opening of the Wheel Mill skatepark in April 2013.
Harry Geyer is the proprietor, backbone and driving force of the park. He describes the parks beginning and some attending hurdles: "I've lived here in Pittsburgh for the last ten years. My cousin and I went to Ray's MTB Park for the first time about seven years ago. Like so many other people who rode there, I started thinking of how we could have this much fun in our own hometown. I got laughed out of a lot of community development meetings when I would talk about a bike park as a legitimate use for a former industrial building. Surprising to me, in a rust-belt town, it took five years to find a suitably large vacant building. Eventually I hooked up with a group that owned a number of commercial buildings, saw this one, and here we are!"
Geyer continues about the struggles faced, "Things did not go smoothly from the start. We've been open eight months now and I leased the building 12 months before that. This is the kind of business that without possessing the building no one wants to have a conversation with you -- not banks, not investors, not sponsors. So we had to take the chance and go all in from the start. We did our best to get as far along as possible with the financing before signing the lease, but we had to resort to family, friends, and some creative methods of generating enough capital to start construction. Only after we had a couple of features built did we finally get a bank to commit. Then there was the city. In order to get our occupancy permit we were subjected to what turned out to be a seven-month process and over $100,000 in building modifications. This was just to be allowed to open our doors."
The Potoczny brothers
Mark and Mike Potoczny have been integral to the parks construction long before any construction could even occur. Mark explains, "My brother Mike and I have been heavily involved since Mike Halahan got in contact with us upon hearing of the park's inception. We had torn down a closed skatepark prior to hearing about the Mill and we kept most of the ramps in storage. Those became the foundation of the mini ramp, park and rhythm rooms."
Mike Cottle, tabletop
Mike Potoczny reflects on his initial thoughts as he learned of prospects for the park: "I was excited for the scene. We haven't had a good indoor park in years. This was finally the chance to have true rider input in a Pittsburgh park again." And even as Harry Geyer trudged through the inaugural mire of code and financing there were specks of light. Geyer says, "Trying to get the park off the ground has been the most stressful thing I have ever done in my life, but the people involved are beautiful. Not from a looks standpoint. Everyone is bringing something unique and awesome to the table."
The process of transforming the Wheel Mill from concept to a business with open doors has required long periods of strenuous labor of the mind, the body, and the wallet. Mark Potoczny explains his realization of the effort necessary: "It was a lot more work than my original estimate. Not just the ramp building itself, but also preparing an old mill to house these kinds of ramps. Some of the first days of demolition and clean up were the hardest.Many people ask why things took so long to build without realizing that some of the rooms took days or weeks just to get cleaned up and ready."
Mountain bike section
According to Geyer, "We build what we want to ride and also reflect the great BMX and MTB trails and dirt jumps we are fortunate to have in the area. For the time we've had to build and the funds available, I think we've done really well. Mike, Mark and I clicked immediately on our vision for the park and I have the greatest respect for their talent, experience, and how they are as people. We just finished the pump track and the guys absolutely killed it! I was in construction before this and I have never seen a crew work that hard for that many hours and that many days in a row."
"Our initial construction has been heavy on the BMX side and I'm primarily an MTB trail rider. And this is fun for me. I love how much a better rider I am now after focusing on BMX skills like the big jumps, mini ramp, and the spine. I am happy that we are focusing on MTB trails next though, including a beginner skills area and another flow section. Putting together a good technical line at 3mph can be just as rewarding as clearing the big step-up," continues Geyer.
According to Mark Potoczny, "The all-inclusive nature of the park is something that is positive for not only the Mill itself, but for the entire cycling community. To see all different kinds of riding come together under one roof and make a place like this possible is something I am so excited about." Mike Potoczny expands on this: "It's done exactly what I hoped for it to do. Not only has The Wheel Mill become a good place for people to come to ride when the weather is bad, it's become a central meeting place for everyone who rides. It's as much a community spot as a riding spot. I've visited many parks and have never gone back because of the vibes there. I've made it one of my goals to not have that happen at the park and Im excited to see it develop into an awesome scene."
In conclusion Harry Geyer concurs, "I love the sense of community that has developed here. That is one thing the parents especially comment on over and over, is how supportive all the riders are of one another. For as much talent as everyone has, there are no egos or bad attitudes. We agreed not to tolerate that from the beginning, but it has never been a problem anyway and that makes everyone closer. Getting together to hang out and ride with friends is where it's at."
The Wheel Mill is located at 6815 Hamilton Ave. in Pittsburgh, Pa. To learn more about the park, visit www.thewheelmill.com.