Ohio Valley - Ambridge

  • About 40 miles round-trip (shorter and longer routes possible)
  • Mostly flat, with a longish but mostly gentle climb on the North Side
  • Moderate traffic most of the way
  • When I first arrived at CMU, I looked with interest at my maps of the three rivers, and decided I'd spend some time exploring all of them. (And they all are, in fact, worth exploring.) So I looked at the map, saw a route marked "51" on one side of the Ohio and "65" on the other side, and decided I could just go up one and down the other, and have a nice leisurely trip.

    Well, it didn't quite work out that way. Route 65, for the most part, is a high-speed, high-traffic four-lane road that was never designed with bicycles in mind. Route 51 can also be quite narrow and heavily trafficked in parts, especially around the West End Bridge. And, for roads right by a river, they still have more hills than one would normally expect.

    So, is the Ohio River explorer stuck with these roads? Not at all. Below I sketch out a considerably friendlier route (which is also quite scenic in parts) down the Ohio as far as Ambridge, home of a well-stocked bike shop and an interesting historical area. Riders who don't want to go quite that far can just go as far as Coraopolis or Sewickley and return from there. More ambitious riders can continue north along the river, though Beaver Rd. eventually merges into route 65 north of Ambridge. (For an interesting "inland" route to Ambridge, as well as descriptions of the Ohio Valley north of Ambridge, see the "rochester" route.)

    To start out, get yourself to the North Side, via the 16th Street bridge or one of the Downtown bridges. Make your way to Allegheny Center, and then go north and admire the houses on the Mexican War Streets. (This part is not strictly necessary, but is a fairly quick and enjoyable diversion.) Make your way west through that district until you read Brighton Road, a north-south avenue at the western edge of the Mexican War Streets area. Head north on Brighton. You'll climb for a while, but the climb is gentle for most of the way, and flattens out now and then, so you shouldn't have too much trouble. There is no longer climb in the rest of the route, in any case.

    After you get up into Brighton Heights, take a left on Termon Avenue. (If you miss Termon, just keep going until you hit the Blue Belt, make a left and follow the belt. That will lead you back to Termon before long.) Follow Termon/Blue Belt west to the McKees Rocks Bridge, and pedal across. You'll get a nice birds-eye view of the Ohio River while crossing the bridge. You'll also probably get a noticeable cross-wind at that height, so be a bit careful when crossing.

    Go all the way across the bridge until you reach route 51. Turn right (north) on 51. At this point, route 51 is a nice wide (and recently repaved) two-lane, so for the couple of miles that you follow it, it's a good road for bikes.

    A couple of miles after the bridge, 51 angles to the left up a steep hill, while a secondary road goes off to the right, crossing a bridge to Neville Island. Take the bridge. You'll end up on a long east-west road going past a bunch of oil terminals (and, with the usual weather patterns, a wind blowing right into your face.) It's not the most scenic road, but you can turn right onto an alternate road at the third traffic light (not the Gulf oil terminal road, but the one after it). This takes you along a more residential road, and some of the side streets off the road lead you to spots where you can look out on the main Ohio channel.

    Shortly after crossing under I-79 and passing a 7-11, you'll cross a bridge back to the mainland. Turn right as soon as you're across the bridge; you're now on one of the main streets of Coraopolis. There are lots of stores and places to eat along the route, and railfans can visit the old passenger train depot at a certain point on the right. (It's all boarded up now, unfortunately, but the brick exterior is still in decent condition. CSX freight trains still go by here.)

    As you leave Coraopolis, the main street merges in to the modern route 51 for a short distance. (Fortunately, the road is still reasonably wide.) Follow this for about half a mile until you see signs for "Orange Belt - Sewickley". Exit to the left for the bridge, and cross the Ohio once again. Follow the Orange Belt across route 65 and into the center of Sewickley (which is a fairly scenic town in its own right).

    Turn left onto Beaver Road when you reach the town center. Beaver Road runs parallel to route 65 for several miles north and south of Sewickley, and enjoys more trees and much less traffic. You can follow it all the way to Ambridge.

    At the moment, Ambridge is perhaps best known to cyclists as the home of the Ambridge Bike Shop, reputed to be one of the best bike shops in the area. (Some folks take the ride to Ambridge just to go to the shop there.) Before that, Ambridge was better known for its bridge steel industry, from which it got its present name (since the "American Bridge" division of US Steel was headquartered there). Before that, though, the town was known as Harmony, and was the home of a 19th-century utopian religious community. If you go to the far end of the town, you will see many of the buildings and gardens the community made and used. The main meeting house has been turned into a museum, which runs hourly guided tours on the weekends. If you have the time to go on one, they are well worth the price.

    Last updated 11-Oct-95 by John Ockerbloom (spok@cs.cmu.edu)

    Thanks to Dale Moore for routing.