Dirty Dozen Bicycle Hill Climb Pittsburgh

The Dirty Dozen - Pittsburgh's thirteen steepest hills in one ride. "Chew himself warns: “the hill must be respected!”

In 1983 on Saturday December 17th the first Dirty Dozen ride was run with just five starters, three of them the ride founders, Danny Chew, two times RAAM winner and self titled Million Mile Man, Tom Chew and Bob Gottlieb. Incidentally the only three to finish that year were the organisers. The Chew brothers and Gottlieb initiated their vision by seeking out the steepest climbs using United States Geological Survey maps. The tortuous course is 48.57 miles. (78.16km) the ride is neutral between each of the thirteen climbs with riders racing on the climbs, each climb has it's own special character. Given the neutral ride between climbs it takes five hours to complete the distance. Dan Chew blows his whistle signifying time to sprint up each climb, better be at the front when he blows that whistle. Points are awarded for places across the line at the top of each climb if you stop, fall off, put your foot down or don't move forward under your own power it's back to the bottom and try again until you make it in one go.

On November 26th 2011 there was prize money, not much $150 for the first woman and $150 for the first man. According to Ted King-Smith little was on offer in the past "no license, no insurance and the only support given typically consists of Little Debbie Oatmeal pies, coke and various neon green beverages". Chew recommends a low gear of 39 x 27 and for recreational riders 34 x 28. Back in the eighties riders rode like animals choosing 42 x 24 for the lowest gear.

At the finish everyone waits for the stragglers then "officials quickly tabulate points and hold a slip-shod ceremony to announce the winner and top-ten finishers.  Everyone then quickly packs up and leaves thinking fuck it, I’m cold let’s go home!" Ted King-Smith

Check out the carnage on Canton Avenue with this Video from Matt Dayak, friend of Steve Cummings - the winner for eight consecutive years.

Dirty Dozen Race 2011-Canton Ave from Matt Dayak on Vimeo.

Canton Avenue The Monongahela and Allegheny rivers of Pittsburgh are flanked by some of the steepest streets in the world, many streets with gradients ranging from 11% to 37%. In Beechview arguably the steepest street in the world awaits the dirty dozen riders each year, Canton Avenue. Have you ever tried riding on cobbles anywhere, even on a flat road they present an energy sapping challenge, try riding up a 37% wide-gapped cobbled wall, a wall where you're likely to catch your wheel in the gaps and fall! Compare this gradient to the legendary Ronde van Vlaanderen's 600 metre long cobbled Koppenberg at 22% at it's steepest point and averaging about 12%. Canton Avenue becomes one nasty cobbled street to climb, complete with leaves and debris from the trees on it's left side, once you've hit Canton Avenue at the front you'd better place yourself in the centre of the street for the sprint to the top.

Canton Avenue is so steep motor vehicles are not supposed to drive down it at any time. Some people even try driving cars up, usually resulting in them sliding right back down, some even try to perform miracles by attempting to drive up Canton Avenue when it's covered in snow. One resident said "Part of the reason we put these big windows in is so we can watch the goofballs try to drive up the hill …… I'm serious. ... I live for it."

Suffolk Street Canton Avenue may be the steepest but according to some riders not the hardest. Arguablythe seventh climb, Suffolk Street, is the toughest of all. Ted King-Smith encapsulates the challenge that Suffolk Street offers with this, "It secretly lies dormant from under a highway and whips around a curve into an exponential grade like a concrete wave dwarfing all comers.  If you can surmount this a longer slog awaits and once you’re about to 'blow your load' (as it’s been described by four time champ, Steve Cummings) it turns to a stack of cobbles." At this point you're about halfway on the ride and Canton Avenue awaits as the ninth of the Pittsburgh bakers dozen.

Riders Insights

"With hills this steep, you need to bench press your front wheel into the road to avoid wheelie-ing, which takes a huge toll on the arms and shoulders. " Ted King-Smith

"Chew himself warns: “the hill must be respected!” Ted King-Smith

"After going out too hard on the first hill, McDermitt was seen vomiting by the road side."Danny Chew

"Jacob McCrea lost his brake shoes on the 5th hill …. While stopped with his brakes on (to keep from drifting back down the hill), McCrea's rear brake pads (obviously open ended) must have shot out." Danny Chew

Full details at Danny Chew's website


Ted King-Smith's perspective, it's not for the faint-heartedhttp://www.dannychew.com/King-Smith07DD.html