Monday, November 30, 2009

first fixed dirty dozen

"a) you're retarded

b) you're crazy
c) you're insane
dd on fixed has never been done.
you'd need at least a 39x27, or maybe a 34x20 could do it."

"Your knees will explode and shower surrounding riders with fiery bone fragments"

"It could be done on a single speed with some fairly low gearing (low enough to get up canton). Staying with the group in between hills would be somewhat hard. 
Fixed is out. No way would that work!"

(two direct quotes and one paraphrase. I will not reveal which is which)

The Dirty Dozen has been held for 25 years without anyone completing it on a single speed or fixed gear. And with good reason. But I'm young and stupid, and someone was going to be the first to do it eventually, so I decided to take a stab at it.  

I hatched the plan to ride the Dirty Dozen on a fixed gear about a month ago. I figured (correctly) that if I picked the right gear (39X20), the hills would suck, and the flats and downhills would suck even more.

I knew riding 60ish miles in such a small gear was going to be hard, and when Don, Aaron, and I rode over to the Washington Blvd. Oval, my suspicions were confirmed. They were easily rolling away from me while I was spinning my brains out.  

We arrived at the oval and registered, then proceeded to stand around in the cold for almost two hours 180 as riders trickled in and got suited up. The whole time I was worried more about being dropped between the hills than I was about actually getting up them. 
(photo cred Fred Jordan)
(The day before the race I decided to throw a yellow wheel on my bike to keep it nice and low-key)

Eventually everyone registered, and we grouped up and prepared to head out. 
(Rob Lochner)

To my delight, the pace to the first hill was completely relaxed. I chatted with a few people on the way over, and was asked for the first of 180 times that day "What gear are ya runnin?" Eventually we hit the base Center Ave., and I took it easy on the way up. It didn't feel to hard, and before I knew it, the first climb was over. Only 12 more to go.

I have never felt comfortable taking my feet off the pedals and fixed gear coasting down big hills. So when we hit the first big descent of the day, I decided to pedal it. That was the dumbest decision I've ever made. I was spinning so fast my back wheel was skipping on the pavement. My legs felt like noodles as riders streamed past me. Finally it ended, and everybody bunched back up.

So one yelped in place of Chew's whistle to signify the start of the race up Ravine St. I swung wide into some gravel, and started pounding up the hill. I had managed to start fairly near the front, so before long I saw Tim off in the distance. I sprinted up to and passed him, and he countered and passed me back. Before the finish of the hill I put in another sprint, and beat him to the top. That was my little victory for the day (I think I was in the top ten.) 

We rolled across some flat, and I let my feet dangle while Gunnar gave me a little push. Another big downhill was coming up, and there was no way in hells I was going to try to spin again, so I tucked my feet onto my seat stays and held on. 

The downhill led immediately into the climb up Berryhill. For the 179 riders that could coast, the goal was to carry as much speed as possible into the hill. For me, the goal was to stay upright. I couldn't get clipped back in at any speed above 8mph, so I had to keep my feet out for the first part of the climb, then quickly pull them back in when the grade had slowed me down enough.

I got about 1/5th of the way up the hill before I captured both pedals, and was able to start mashing up. It got really steep at one point, and I passed a group of walking riders who had apparently hit the climb in too hard of a gear and been unable to shift down. The irony was killing me. 

The next few hill didn't stick out in my mind, but at the top, we stopped for food. I grabbed a couple oatmeal cookies and filled my non-coffee bottle with iced tea before heading out. 

When we hit Logan, I almost cried as I looked up it and saw how steep and long it was, but I got myself together. Two years ago when I rode my fixed gear (in a 39X15) up Laural ridge from Greensburg, PA to Johnstown, I realized that every time I turned the cranks over, I was a meter closer to the top. That little realization has been super helpful on spirit crushing hills, because when I break it down to one revolution of the cranks at a time, the climb does not seem so bad. I topped out on Logan with a nice view of the city, and the group headed over to Rialto.

The points leaders headed down the hill first to race up, followed by the womens field, and then the rest of us poor schmucks. Rialto was another steep one, but it was short. Oddly, I thought it looked steeper in the down hill direction than it did riding up. After everyone had attempted the hill, we started the longish roll over to Suffolk.

Suffolk was hard. It started out steep, became steeper, then shot skyward one more time on  rough cobbles.
(los fotos por Roberto Lochner)

On the top we stopped again to fill our bellies (some more than others) with crap from the expired food store.

We were half way done with the ride, and my legs were still feeling pretty fresh. I stuffed a couple hoho's and a banana in my pockets, put my feet up, and rolled down into the city. We crossed the Roberto Clemete bridge, and as soon as we were on the other side, someone was almost creamed by a ducky tour full of screaming children. Very nice.
(The group stops at a red light while I explaining what gear I'm running for the 93rd time that day)

The next climb up the top of Mount Washington was similar to Suffolk. Steep, Steeper, Cobblestones. The group stopped for a photo, then headed to the infamous Canton Ave.

By that point in the day, people were really starting to slow down. On the hill that led to Canton, the group was going so slow it was becoming a challenge for me to stay upright. In a granny ring, or a 39X27, it probably felt great to slowly spin up the hill. But in my much bigger gear, to go the same speed as the rest of the group I had to practically trackstand between each pedal stroke. To make matters worse, the roads started to narrow, leaving no room to pass.

Finnnaly we hit Canton Ave., which is billed as the steepest legal road in the world. The first few feet of the climb are on cement, but it quickly turns to rough cobbles. Most people get moving fast on the cement, then hit the cobbles and let their back tire fly up into the air. They are immediately robbed of all their momentum, and they topple over and slid down the hill. The carnage is mildly entertaining. I charged at the hill as soon as it was in sight, but was pushed to the left by another rider and had to dismount.

I walked down to the bottom and waited for the stream of sprinting, falling, and sliding riders to thin. I dropped a few psi from my back tire, then mounted up for another attempt. This time I stayed to the right and stuck out my tongue in an effort to produce more power. Slowly, one painful turn of the pedals at a time, I neared the top. Everyone at the top of the hill was going nuts. Then at last I made it and rolled across the top.
I shuffled back over to the crowd to join in cheering for the rest of the people who were attempting to make the hill.

On the way to the next hill, someone asked me if I had cleared Canton. "Sure did" I replied. "Ok," he said "Then I can tell you this. When I saw you at the start I thought there was no way in hell you would make these hills." I grinned. Then he asked what gear I was running.

We hit the next hill and people almost came to a complete stop.  The road was covered in little sections of pea gravel and cobblestone, so the traction was still tricky, and people were just crawling up the thing. I rode next to Don most of the way up the hill, and when we were almost at the top, someone suddenly swerved in front of us and fell off their bike. I darted to the left and made it around the traffic, but Don went right and was forced to dismount. I was extremely thankful that I did not have to get off my bike and fail the hill.

I put my feet up again and coasted down hill, and we soon hit the the sprint through Liberty tubes. I spun as fast as I could, but absolutely everyone passed me in those tunnels. It felt like it took me days to pop out on the other side. When I finnanly exited the tunnels I was next to a guy in a blue wind breaker. He asked how the hills were. "Eh, not too bad" I replied. He smacked his back side and a mechanical voice announced "that was easy" "huh?" I said. And he smacked his backside again "that was easy" "What?" I was so tired and confused. "I have an easy button in my pocket!" he exclaimed. I smiled and laughed.

We were almost to Welsh Way when my hub started to make a horrible popping grinding noise. I was a little worried, but there was nothing to be done about it, so I rode on.

Welsh was steep, but not difficult compared to the other hills. We topped out in a little muddy parking lot, and I yelled "Dirt!" gleefully when I rolled in. Is it mountain bike season yet?

Elenore was the last hard hill of the day. Traffic was heavy on the hill, and the whole time I was fervently hoping that no one would fall in front of me. Fortunately, there were no accidents and I was able to finish the hill.

The final miles of the day were a road race across flat ground to the final hill. Rob offered to push me for a while across the flat, and I was more than happy to accept.

In the last minutes of sunlight, we hit the 13th hill of the day.
The last kicker to the finish was steep, but it did not matter. I topped out, and was done. (Well almost done. We still had a six mile ride in the dark back to Aaron's.)

And with that, I was the first person in 25 years to finish the Dirty Dozen on a fixed gear. By all accounts, it was:
a) retarded
b) crazy
c) and insane


Don said...

You now own a piece of PGH cycling history. Good job! I do not think I am responsible for any of those quotes, but I did have my doubts.

Montana said...

A very small piece. But its still a swell feeling

Shred said...

OMG That was the hardest thing I've ever done in my entire life. I don't know how you did that on a fixie. Well the hardest thing I almost did. After making 12 hills a group of us got lost and I never completed the 13th climb.

Montana said...

It was a hard little ride. That's a shame that you got lost man. I guess you'll have to do it again next year to get that elusive 13th hill

Gary By. said...

ah . . .
What gear were you riding?
(Just kidding!)

Well done my Son,

Gary Bywaters
USA Cycling Official