This was the 30th annual DD and it is always held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Known for it’s “notorious climbs and vicious
weather” it targets thirteen (i.e., a dirty dozen) of Pittsburgh’s steepest hills.
Arriving in the early afternoon on Friday under sunny skies my first stop was at the local bike shop and DD sponsor – Big Bang Bicycles to purchase a quality rain jacket given the rain/snow forecast for Saturday. I met the owner Glen and decided on a Castelli shell Next stop was the Hampton Pittsburgh – University Center to meet up with Dan and head out by car to do some reconnaissance of the course. Our first stop was the infamous 9thclimb – Canton Avenue, at 37 percent gradient it is the steepest road in the United States. We decided to park at the bottom and walk up it. You can youtube lots of past year’s DD video of cyclists falling over and crashing atop one another on this hill during the race. Our walk up Canton showed us why.
While the road is entirely cobble-rocks, the only good line to ride up was to the far right hand side next to the pedestrian steps and railing. Since it is largely unused, the left hand side of the road was overgrown with knee-high weeds! At the early part of the climb in the middle of the “road” the cobbles were heaved like speed bumps and filled with moss, leaves and dirt meaning that If you lost traction (and momentum of course you were going over). That and the fact that you couldn’t control other cyclists and their actions made for some anticipation on our part After eating our fill of half price chicken pesto pizza pies at Joe Mama’s in the university district we headed back to the hotel for the night.
At least the roads looked just wet. Dressing for a cold, wet day we headed to the start at the Bud Harris Cycling Track $25 for day-of registration. Bob Sowga was stuck in traffic on I-79 due to accidents from the weather (he made it there just in time for the 10 am start). Danny Chew gave the pre-race announcements despite the cold you could tell the peloton was fired up and ready to go. There were 200 registered despite the snow and 28 degree F start. Of the group only the top 10 males and five females were going for KOM points and cash prizes for overall places. The rest of us just wanted to ride all the hills and finish. The format for DD was unusual in the respect that the peloton rode neutral (i.e., no racing) between the climbs and then a whistle was blown and the “race” started at the base of each climb. The other unusual aspect was that unlike other races where those ahead of the group would try and maintain a time advantage in this case everyone regrouped at the top (yes, on some hills it was a mad cluster..) but overall it
worked very well. The first few hills were steep but not until number five, Logan street did I have a glimpse of what was to come. This thing was at least a Savage road gradient and went on and on and on. The crazy thing was there were houses, parked cars and lots of crowd support (and plenty of cowbell) to help with the suffering. For this year Rialto street (aka. Pig Avenue) was undergoing construction so we could not ride that so there would be a true dozen instead. The first food stop came next with Gatorade, water,Mt. Dew knock-off, Red Bull PB&J, pop tarts, bananas, etc.. All of the climbs are listed on the website so let’s skip to Canton Avenue.
By the time you get to Canton everyone knows what’s up. There’s basically this impossible looking wall in front of you and part of your mind says “no way” while the other half thinks that maybe on a good day by yourself you “might” think about riding a bike up it. However, the atmosphere and the Tour-de France-like crowd is enough to give you all the inspiration you need. You just do it and carefully pick when to make a run for it. I went off with two other guys and lost my line, going into the dreaded heaved cobbles, stood to climb, spun and had to quickly unclip but didn’t crash, quickly got me and the bike over to the railing and walked back down for attempt number two. This time there was no way I was going to let anyone go to my right. A marshal needed to let a few cars through on the road below and after they passed I seized the chance for a solo attempt and went for it. This time I stayed right, and seated until I could no longer and had to stand. My quads were on fire but with each pedal stroke I was moving up the hill and not falling over! And before I knew it I was at the top – hallelujah! Canton is crazy steep and cobbles of course but relatively speaking it’s short. At the top I met Bob who made it up before me on his second attempt also. On his first attempt he took off in the front group and was on the verge of gaining points but had a collision and had to go again. Unfortunately Dan had
been having trouble all day getting into his biggest cog on the back and on his attempt crashed with a couple other guys and went down hard, broke his shoe buckle and decided to wait until next year to conquer Canton.
After Canton there were still four major climbs to go (another thing to mention is that Pittsburgh is basically all hills so there are lots of “climbs between the climbs” that of course don’t count for points). The one after Canton had Dan the most psyched up – Boustead street but it was the one after that when I was getting starting to get tired Eleanor street with wall after wall that was my toughest. Everyone talked about how tough the final climb, Tesla street would be (and it was) but after everything else, it was just another, and the last monster climb. I kept it slow and steady and grinded it out, happy to be finished and a tired looking group we
were. Cold all day, and although the roads were either just wet or dry it flurried all day long, Typical DD weather of course. My Strava showed 5,846 feet of climbing in 52.1 miles while Dan’s showed 6113 feet in 51.6 miles.
As we all know, the first most important step of accomplishing something is showing up! I highly recommend DD to anyone around central Ohio who thinks they know hills. Really, no offense but until you have ridden DD you don’t have a clue. I can honestly say that doing any of our “tough” hills like Savage, Chickencoop or Tarklin doesn’t even hold a candle to these Pittsburgh climbs. They are tough, but do-able! Part of the draw of DD is the tremendous camaraderie and support not only of the fans but the other cyclist who get to the top before you do and cheer YOU on. And the friends you make along the way. The road of life as I like to call it Like the couple on the tandem. The entire Canton Avenue opened up for them to make the attempt turning it into a cheering wall of sound, and yes, they did make it (this one’s for you Mark and Karen Rossi!) And also Katy the hard-core mountain biker back to Pittsburgh to visit family over Thanksgiving who signed up to do her first ever DD just to “have something to do” on Saturday, And while dropping her brother not only did she complete the whole ride she did it on her mountain bike! So now I will forever associate riding up Canton Avenue with the movie “Gladiator” J Dan and I have decided we will be going back next year and hope you’ll join us!