The Dirty Dozen, Washington Post photo.

Pittsburgh has a well-deserved reputation as a quirky city, reports Sean D. Hamill in the Washington Post.

“From its unique “Yinzer” accent, to its peculiar culinary delights (french fries on sandwiches and salads?), to its hard-to-fathom roadways that to outsiders resemble less a grid than a plate of spaghetti, that quirkiness is part of its charm.

And recently, a spectacle that had long been a quiet, underground bicycle event has begun to capture attention for the city well beyond its borders and expand on its singular appeal.”

The Dirty Dozen bike race, held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving for most of the past 32 years attracts cyclists and spectators from all over as it challenges cyclists to race to  the top of 13 of the steepest hills in Pittsburgh. “The 33rd annual ride took place Saturday, covering a mostly leisurely 55 miles but ascending a lung-searing, thigh-burning 5,000 feet on the hills,” Hammill reports.

“Over the past five years, the race’s unique challenge has gotten the attention of the national and even international biking community. But that attention has grown the field so large so quickly — 328 competed last year, 230 on a rainy day this year — that it threatens to undermine one of the race’s central tenets.

 “It’s a ride for anyone who wants to do it,” said Danny Chew, the quirky race’s equally quirky manager for the past 32 years and the person given the bulk of the credit for making it an iconic city event. “Cyclists who are just trying to finish can ride with nationally ranked cyclists.”

Chew does not take out permits with local governments for the race; he relies on a volunteer crew of marshals who hold back cars at key intersections.

“The race has gotten large enough that some of its biggest fans, including Chew’s family and friends, worry it may have to change to continue to keep it safe,” Hammill writes.

The race gained great attention through social media and in 2011,  Rick Sebak did a half hour show about it.

“I’m concerned if it gets much bigger,” said Chris Helbling, 48, a mechanical engineer and the race’s head marshal. “Should there be a format change to separate the racers from the riders? I don’t know. But it’s been discussed.”

Steve Cummings, 35, a real estate broker from Lawrenceville and a 10-time winner who lost last year, regained his status this year. He swears (again) that it is his last.

Stefanie Sydlik, 30, a former U.S. national team rower and an assistant professor of chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University, won the race in her first try. She also became the first woman in the race’s history to finish in the top 10 overall on a hill, taking ninth place on the last, reports Hamill.

Read the full Washington Post article here.

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