|Steve Cummings, overall winner of the Saturday's "2011 Dirty Dozen Bike Race"|
It started out in 1983 with a quirky idea among 5 friends .... Outrageous bike rides where they could challenge themselves and hang out with their buddies. They decided on a "Dirty Dozen" Bike race where they would take on twelve of the area's steepest hills. Why not celebrate one of our biggest "natural resources" ...... our hills.
The friendly, low-key, quirky race for five has grown over the years to a friendly, low-key, quirky race with over 300 participants this year. Even with increases to these numbers, organizer Danny Chew, one of the original co-founders, still resists making the event more formally organized. Even though there is now a $15 registration fee, the grass-roots race which is now Pittsburgh's biggest bike race, still doesn't take out permits with the cities it runs through, there's no title sponsor, and all finish lines are hand-drawn orange chalk lines on the streets.
This year, anticipating more riders, Mr. Chew rounded up more volunteer marshals to help control traffic and watch the cyclists at each of the 87 intersections they cross during the six hours they are out on the streets of Pittsburgh and several surrounding suburbs. He also asked his two supporters, Big Bank Bikes and Eat'n Park, to help out a bit more with funding and contributions. Brooks Broadhurst, vice president of Eat'n Park and a cyclist, came out to help as a marshal and contributed Smiley Cookies, peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and hot chocolate.
Two years ago, Pittsburgh Police let Chew know that the event was becoming "unwieldy." They asked him to not take the cyclists through the Liberty Tunnel on the way back into the city near the end of the race. He stopped going through the tunnel because he wanted to remain on good terms with them. Mr. Chew, a nationally renowned long-distance cyclist who has twice won the Race Across America, still resists the idea of making it an officially sanctioned race.
Many who have supported the race and spread the word of its insane beauty over the years believe that its current popularity means it will soon have to change. 300 cyclists simultaneously clambering to the top of hills with a MINIMUM 20 percent grade, on narrow streets designed two centuries ago, is at least a very good definition of "unweildy."
Only a couple dozen riders ever hope to score a point in the race -- the top 10 men and top five women up each hill get points in descending order. The one with the most cumulative points at the end of the day is declared the overall winner. The rest of the racers are merely trying to complete each hill, whether riding, walking or whatever. Walking up the hills does not count as completing a hill, however.
Bob Stumph had just finished 4th in the race to the top of Canton Avenue, the steepest of this year's "Baker's Dozen" 13 hills. Nearly 200 spectators lined both sides of the 100-yard-long cobblestone street to cheer on other cyclists trying -- many in vain -- to climb the 37 percent grade hill.
Ann-Marie Alderson of Etna won the women's race for the first time, one of only three women to finish every hill out of 13 women who competed. In the men's race, Steve Cummings from Lawrenceville, won the men's race for the eighth time in a row. Before the race he insisted he was "scared" because it was "so much pain" to contemplate doing the race again -- a sentiment he couldn't completely let go, even after winning. "I don't want to come back," he said with a smile while leaning on his bike, still breathing heavily after completing the last hill on Tesla Street in Hazelwood. "I hope it snows a lot next year so we don't have to do it."
"Well, racing this is like hitting yourself with a hammer: When you stop, it feels real good," said Jim Switzer, 56, a high school automotive technology teacher from Dimock, Pa., who came out for his first race Saturday.
But with all of this year's success, the question remains, would Mr. Chew allow it to become more professionally run with a title sponsor and all that that means? He would, though he conceded, "It is a little upsetting, because it started so small, and it was kind of nice when I knew everybody in the race, but there's something nice about having hundreds of people trying all of these hills."