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A Conversation with Michael Browne

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Ask a dozen local mountain bikers to guess the home town of Dirt Rag, one of the sport's most respected and long-running magazines, and 11 will probably shoot for somewhere in Colorado, or at least the Southwest. But what's the correct answer? Try O'Hara Township, right next to Hartwood Acres. That's where Point Breeze resident Michael Browne, 26, cranks out five issues a year when he isn't testing new equipment on local trails.

 

You're originally from Indiana. How'd you end up coming out here?

I went to school out in Ohio, at the College of Wooster. And first of all, I've been a mountain biker since I was 10 or 11 years old. That was my thing. When other people were playing team sports, I was out running through the woods on a bike. When I was in school, I realized that my favorite magazine had a Pittsburgh address -- I'd been reading the magazine since issue 32. I just decided to come out and say hi. So I knocked on the door, and someone answered and I said, "Hey, I want to be an intern." I came back a few weeks later for an interview ride, and things went well.

 

Did you say an "interview ride"?

Well, it was like, "Let's go out and talk, and let's go for a ride."

 

Is that because they wanted to see if you knew how to ride a mountain bike?

I think it was a test of a number of things. That's not necessarily the standard way we do things now, but I think it's a great way to do it.

 

What do you think it was a test of?

Well, I do recall getting to a log pile in the trail, and Elaine -- who was the editor at the time -- she saw me go into the log pile and I didn't make it over. So I picked up my bike, I went back up the trail, and then came back down and hit the log pile and cleared it. And that's when she kind of gave me the nod of approval. That was the start of the internship.

 

Very cool!

Then I went back to school to finish up college. A [few months later] I heard that Elaine and Maurice, the editor and publisher, were getting a divorce, and they no longer wanted to work together. They needed an editor, and I sent in my resume. I started working on the magazine while I was finishing up school, and two days after graduation I was working full time out here.

 

That worked out well.

Well, it was really stressful. I had to write my thesis at the same time I was making a magazine, so it was a lot of juggling.

 

The magazine is actually published in someone's house, is that right?

It originally was Maurice and Elaine's house, and the magazine was produced out of the basement. Eventually it grew to the point that they had to move, but they wanted to keep the magazine there because it was such a good location. You can have a house anywhere, but if you don't have trails in the backyard and you're a mountain-bike magazine, you're probably kinda lame. Most of the really good trails were blazed by Maurice years ago, with his friends.

 

What do you think about the urban-biking and mountain-biking scenes here? Do you think they're getting better or worse?

The mountain-biking scene is great. I'd say we're in the top 10.

 

Why is that?

Most cities don't have trails. They have city parks, but no parks like ours.

 

So it's the idea of being in a city, but having proximity to trails?

Right. I mean, Frick Park is ridiculous. The quality and quantity of single track in that park is nothing like I've seen in any other city. New York City just opened up their first two-and-a-half mile trail for mountain biking this year. You go to other cities, and sure, you might find your little city park here and there, but our green space is outstanding. This city is unlike many others. But as far as the urban biking goes, I'd say it's pretty bad. The roads are narrow, the drivers aren't considerate -- things are not in our favor.

 

Are there any places outside of the U.S. -- aside from Western Europe -- where mountain biking is really catching on?

I think so. More so in Central America and in South Africa. But we did have one kid [who] wrote to us, saying "I live in the former Yugoslavia, and I have a hard time getting parts for my bike." We published his letter, and I'd say 15 people e-mailed in and said, "What do you need? Where do I send it?" There was this outpouring of support. We basically gave him new everything for his bike. He sent us pictures of him riding next to the Danube River, just cruising along. He's dedicated. And he loves it.

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