roll: Bike Takes on Pittsburgh's Dirty Dozen


For some Thanksgiving is a time to get together with family, watch football and gain a notch or two on the old belt buckle. But for the crazies who would rather tackle the steepest hills in America than hills of mashed potatoes and gravy Thanksgiving means on thing, The Dirty Dozen. 13 of the steepest and most brutal hills that the city of Pittsburgh has to offer, include THE steepest public road in the world which maxes out at a 37% incline.

A ride that pushes all riders and their bikes to the test. I’ve completed two Dirty Dozens now and the most recent one was done on the roll: Sport Model bike. We had just started testing our bikes and wanted to push them to the max of their ability and as only my second ride on the bike I was curious to see how the bike handled this challenge. I opted to go in the second heat of moderately competitive riders since the first heat required points in previous year’s ride. After the founder of the ride, Danny Chew, gave an address from his hospital bed we were off, no turning back. We came to the first hill and I sat in the back of the pack, just wanting to finish the day and drink my beer at OTB afterwards but as soon at the hill picked up I found myself not being able to hold back. The flat bars gave me way more leverage than I expected and I took off up the hill and took 4th place on the hill. I was amazed. I got looks from the other top finishers, some of respect others of “this guy ain’t gonna last long” but we continued.

Hills 2-8 came up and I found that same thing happening, 2nd, 3rd and 4th place up every hill, competing with guys from all over the Midwest. The competitors began to separate and it was between 10 guys really gunning for the first place spot, and I was right there with them on my trusty roll: bike. No one there had ever seen one before, for good reason, they had not even hit the market at that time. The race official didn’t even ask for my name, just put me down as flat bar guy in the rankings.

Hill 9 is the most infamous of the hill, Canton Ave. It’s short, just 65 feet long but is nearly as tall as it is long. Not only is it steep but it isn’t paved like the rest of the hill, it’s made up of uneven cobble stones that has weed growing up between the stones. On a wet day the cobbles turn as slippery as sheer ice. Today wasn’t just rainy, it was freezing rain, it was miserable and we were going up the steepest hill in the world. I should say now that on Canton Ave. in my previous year it took me three attempts to get up the hill. Two falls, one as a result of another rider falling and taking out the riders behind (more accurately underneath) and the whole pack slipping down the hill and all of the spectators getting a good chuckle out of it. The second was solely my fault and results in myself and my bike landing in a heap at the bottom of the hill. This year I was determined. I got a sprinting head start and busted up the hill and got it! I won the hill! I looked back and watched the carnage take place behind me.

The race continued and I knew coming into the last hill, the longest hill that I would have to win the last hill to even have a shot at winning the day. The hill started, two riders and myself went for the sprint finish. I ended up winning the hill but was just a few points short of winning the day. The rider who placed second on the last hill won the day and took home all the bragging rights.

After race all the riders congratulated each other and headed to Over the Bar, a bicycle bar in Pittsburgh to celebrate and begin our thanksgiving feast on beer and burgers. I went out with a group of 4 riders from Columbus and hope to continue to ride the Dirty Dozen year after year. I saw that each one of our bikes is designed for a specific purpose and the Sport model passed my expectations for this ride. See you next year Pittsburgh. 

John Kohlhepp,

Head Domestique 


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