The Dirty Dozen is a Pittsburgh tradition stretching back forty years. In 1983, local legend (and 2x RAAM winner) Danny Chew set out with his brother Tom and some friends to ride some of the steepest hills the city has to offer.
Today, the Dirty Dozen pulls in 300+ riders while remaining a true underground event.
I first heard about the DD in 2012, shortly after moving to Pittsburgh. I was instantly hooked; how soon can I start training? But I had a problem: the race is held the day after Thanksgiving, and we always traveled to eastern PA for the holiday.
In 2019 the date was changed to late October; 2020 was cancelled, so 2021 was my first shot. It was a tight squeeze, but I got in enough training to pull off my first finish. In 2022, I once again completed the race.
The "race" winds its way through 13 hills in Pittsburgh. Between each hill, the ride is casual. Once the hill is reached, riders race to the top. The fastest earn points, and the top three points winners podium.
Most riders are there only to see if they can finish. To finish, you must complete all 13 hills. For a hill to be completed, you must ride to the top and:
You can retry a hill as many times as you like. Aside from the competitive heats everything works on the honor system. Mileage-wise, the race is ~60 miles, with ~6000 feet of climbing.
Support is spartan; there is typically a snack spread after hills 5, 9, and 12. There are no road closures (or coordination with the city, AFAIK). Cars can (and very often will) "join in the fun".
I modeled my training around the Western PA Wheelmen schedule I cribbed here.
The official site recommends riding at least a 1.21 lowest gear; I've ridden it at a 1.2 and a 0.95.
You can find training groups without too much effort if you ask around.
As previously mentioned, I've done the Dozen twice. Here were the hills, along with some distance/elevation estimates based on Google Maps.
260 ft over 0.4 mi
There's a long runway to the good parts; the hill gets sharply steeper a few hundred yards from the top.
370 ft over 0.7 mi
Starts off super steep, with some torn up sections on the right. Halfway through it flattens out before a smaller climb up Guyasata.
400 ft over 0.6 mi
A longer hill with an incredibly steep start. Unrelenting until Midway, which is still a gasser. You'll get a break at the VFW atop the hill.
246 ft over 0.5 mi
A long ride to get here from Ravine. If you're lucky with traffic, you can bomb straight into it from the Brownshill descent. The initial steep ends at a deceptive turn; don't be fooled, you're only 1/3rd of the way.
220 ft over 0.4 mi
As fun as it gets - great crowds and a steep switchback. Slowly ramps up into the switchback, followed by an easier climb with a flat spot or two.
230 ft over 0.2 mi
The first real test. Steeper in the last 1/4, with limited room to weave. The road surface is in poor condition. Huge crowds and great energy though, plus you'll be rested after the snack break.
Kent Way / Kendall Street / Celadine Street was swapped for Logan in 2023 due to road closures; techically it was the second hill but you're not exactly training for the ordering, amirite?
240 ft over 0.3 mi
A short on-ramp takes a 90 degree turn into a challenging cobblestone2 pitch. Be aggressive here or risk losing your balance. You're rewarded with a brief flat before another 90 degree turn onto paved Celadine.
360 ft over 0.4 mi
The dream killer. An absolute wall to start, with frequent traffic. Doesn't relent until you're nearly 75% done. A short flat section joins Suffolk to Hazelton, which is as steep as the start of Suffolk. Beat that to take a left onto Burgess and huff up more Belgian block. Pat yourself on the back.
340 ft over 0.6 mi
Starts slow before rising to its sharpest pitch about 75% of the way through. Settles back down after the switchback turn. Enjoy the view from the top.
60 ft over 250 ft
The steepest street in the US, but the shortest hill on the ride. Keep speed from the Coast Ave approach and stay to the right. Leave space - things get crowded quick. Huge crowds here and tons of falls.
140 ft over 0.1 mi
Almost as steep as Canton and much longer. Goes to 11 immediately and stays that loud until right before the end. Who designed these neighborhoods? Boustead is an affront to God. Hang on and don't be afraid to weave.
140 ft over 0.2 mi
Steep and narrow but very short and uncomplicated. You can carry a little speed from the approach if you're lucky. Almost done.
340 ft over 0.4 mi
The worst part of the day. Barry climbs steadlily with a sharp rise as it turns onto Holt. A flat section on Holt preceeds the agony of Eleanor. Save some gas for the final pitch at the end. A huge crowd and a South Side Slopes Neighorhood Association party waits on the top.
417 ft over 0.8 mi
What it lacks in pitch it makes up for in length. A short flat before a short, steep climb to the finish.
The dirty secret of the Dozen is that the route will take you over hills between all the hills. If you're doing the math, you'll notice that only a little less than half of the total climbing is accounted for by the actual Dozen - the other half you'll pick up along the way.
These include hills that would almost qualify to be in the dozen on their own. It's a very strenuous day; schedule a few long rides during your training and try and ride as much of the route as you can.
I hope my entry here helps other folks who might be interested in doing the Dozen. I'd encourage everyone to give it a shot; it takes a little preparation, but it's absolutely doable no matter what shape you're in or how much you ride.
After the race, East End Brewing has hosted the awards and an after party, usually including a free beer or two.
Participating not only gives you bragging rights; you take part in a truly Pittsburgh tradition that is one-of-a-kind. And who knows, maybe you'll find out you love hills after all.