Hill After Hill, Hundreds Crank Away In Pittsburgh Bike Race

Dec 1, 2013
Originally published on December 1, 2013 7:55 pm

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Now to a mode of transportation better suited to the budget of a public radio reporter - bicycling. If you think cyclists are not among the toughest athletes, well, you haven't been to Pittsburgh. The city has some brutal hills which actually attract a certain breed of cyclists. As Liz Reid from member station WESA reports, cyclists have been attacking those hills for 30 years in an event called the Dirty Dozen.

LIZ REID, BYLINE: Temperatures were still below freezing when 255 bicyclists, ranging in age from 12 to over 60, gathered to ride to the top of the 12 steepest hills in the city.

CAM BAKER: This is a very Pittsburgh kind of race, steel town, iron city, mill workers. This is what tough people do.

REID: Cam Baker did his first Dirty Dozen when he moved to Pittsburgh last year. He said completing the race is a personal fitness challenge. He shares a common goal with most of the riders, not to win but simply to finish. The hills are spread out along a 50-mile loop of the city, and every one of them is an intimidating climb on its own. So it's to the rider's benefit that they aren't racing between the hills. Rather, organizer Danny Chew rides with the pack and blows a whistle at the bottom of each hill signifying that the race is on. The first 10 men and five women to the top of each hill are awarded points.

DANNY CHEW: You add up the points, and the person with the most points at the end is the overall winner.

REID: According to Chew's rules, anyone who stops or puts their foot down has to go back to the bottom of the hill to start over to say they officially finished the race. Chew estimates that each year, roughly half the field actually finishes by his standards.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

REID: The eighth hill, Canton Avenue, is the one many cyclists attempt over and over. It's only a 10th of a mile long. And with a 37 percent grade, it's one of the steepest paved streets in the country.

BETH JAMISON: It's short, but it's very, very steep.

REID: Beth Jamison lives outside Pittsburgh and made it all the way up Canton on her third attempt. At 50 years old, she's now tied to be the oldest woman to ever finish the race.

JAMISON: The cobblestones make it difficult. The grass and the mud make it slippery, so it's pretty difficult.

REID: The constant stream of cyclists up and down makes Canton one of the most fun hills to watch. Almost 100 spectators gather to cheer the riders on, lining the hill on both sides from top to bottom. Three hills later, there were just two frontrunners in the race: nine-time winner Steve Cummings and 16-year-old high school junior Ian Bond. No one else had enough points to win with just one hill left. Bond ended up getting a cramp on the last hill, and Cummings clinched his 10th win in as many years. He said after the race, he'll do what he always does.

STEVE CUMMINGS: Go home, drink some hot tea, take a shower. There's a party at a local cycling bar. Go over there and hang out and listen to Danny tell stories.

REID: What are you going to do tomorrow?

CUMMINGS: We're going to go mountain biking, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Mountain bikes.

CUMMINGS: Yeah.

REID: Are you kidding?

CUMMINGS: Go for a mountain bike ride.

REID: Now that is what tough Pittsburghers do on the weekend after Thanksgiving. For NPR News, I'm Liz Reid in Pittsburgh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.