Cyclists compete in the Dirty Dozen bike race over 13 of the city's steepest streets


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By Rochelle Hentges
Monday, November 27, 2006

While most people spent the weekend sleeping off their turkey dinners, Danny Chew and more than a hundred other brightly clad cyclists challenged the city's steepest streets in an uphill extreme race.

Chew, who helped start the Dirty Dozen bike race in 1983, merged with city traffic on Washington Boulevard, winding through the streets and spanning more than half the length of the Highland Park Bridge.

Six hours and 13 of Pittsburgh's steepest street hills later, the 127 bicyclists arrived back at the Washington Boulevard Bike Track.

Covering 52 miles, the Dirty Dozen winds through the hills around Pittsburgh neighborhoods and boroughs, including Etna, Millvale, the North Side, Mt. Washington and the South Side.

"It's kind of like going to the dentist. You don't look forward to it," said Steve Cummings, 26, of Lawrenceville, who won first place for the third year in a row Saturday. The Dirty Dozen is strictly an uphill battle, giving points to the first five finishers of each hill and allowing the cyclists to ride neutrally between them.

Still, it's a grueling six hours, and the week after the event, Cummings said he always has a cough that he can't quite shake from his lungs.

But he still came out for his fourth straight race. He was joined by 126 others, some coming from as far as Cincinnati, doubling the record of 54 cyclists set in 1999. They didn't compete for prizes -- there are none -- they competed for pride.

In Beechview, they encountered the steepest street in Pittsburgh. Canton Avenue has a 37-percent graded incline, and it taunted the cyclists as they gasped for breath and their legs slowly pumped the pedals, knowing that they could now walk their bikes faster than they could ride them. Some did. Others fell.

"This is harder than a century (100-mile race) in the West Virginia mountains," argued Chris BeHanna, 37, of Renfrew, Pa.

But for those who could complete the hill, it was a matter of pride and the knowledge they came out and competed in what is known by local cyclists as one of the hardest races out there. Kevin Sapper, 44, of Erie, has finished more than 40 double-century, or 200-mile, races, and yet they don't compare to the Dirty Dozen, he said.

"I drove some of the hills (Friday), and my car couldn't make it up some of them," said Joe Padalino, 40, of Ben Avon. Padalino has rode up and down the East Coast, and Pittsburgh, with its steep but long hills, has the most challenging topography of any city he's come across, he said.

"At some points, your legs hurt so bad, and you realize you're only half-way up. But you keep going because you see everyone else pedalling," said Doug Riegner, 35, of Penn Hills. "To go up the same hill as these guys, it's an accomplishment."

The Hills

Center Avenue and Guyasuta Road in Aspinwall

Ravine Street and Sharps Hill in Sharpsburg

Berryhill Road between Saxonburg Boulevard and Middle Road in Glenshaw

High Street and Seavy Road in Etna

Logan Street in Millvale

Rialto Street across from the 31st Street Bridge in the North Side

Suffolk, Hazelton and Burgess Streets in the North Side

Sycamore Street in Mt. Washington

Canton Avenue in Beechview

Boustead Street in Beechview

Welsh Way in the South Side

Barry, Holt and Eleanor Streets in the South Side

Flowers Avenue and Tesla Street in Hazelwood

2006 top finishers:

1. Steve Cummings

2. Mike Stubna

3. Stig Somme

4. Joe Vallese

5. Mark Nicoll

6. John Minturn

7. Dan Wilson

8. Danny Chew

(tie) Ryan McDermitt

10. Ryan Mele

Where's the steepest hill Pittsburgh? E-mail us.

Rochelle Hentges can be reached at or 412-380-5670.