In the week before the Dirty Dozen, I’d tried to estimate how many riders might turn up. If everyone that said they’d turn up did turn up, we might have 25 if we were lucky. But with the weather looking pretty bleak and the queen stage of the Giro d’Italia finishing late the night before, 15 seemed a more realistic number.
So when the Donvale Demon and I arrived at the 7-Eleven in Upwey on Sunday morning and saw 50 cyclists waiting for us, I got an almightly shock. But I’m getting ahead of myself …
The Demon and I met at the Chandler Highway end of Yarra Boulevard at 8.15am and we were promptly joined by two other guys, Matt and Will. We got underway at a comfortable pace, riding down the Koonung Creek Trail toward Ringwood.
After about 10km a yell went up from the back of our small group — Will had a flat. Worse: his tyre was basically worn through from too much time spent on the trainer and even if he replaced the punctured tube, he was likely to puncture again. After a couple of minutes Will pulled the pin and called someone to pick him up. Our now-three-rider-strong group continued on.
By this point I was starting to get a little tetchy — we were going to be pushing it to get to Upwey by 10am. When I got a flat tyre no more than five minutes later, I went from being tetchy to downright irate.
I battled unsuccessfully for a few minutes to get the ridiculously tight back tyre off, my cold fingers lacking any real dexterity. After taking a few photos of my efforts (‘You’ll thank me for this later … you might just hate me for it now’) the Demon gave me a hand to remove the stubborn tyre and within a couple of minutes we were back on the road.
But the two stops had set us back and it was going to be a real struggle to get to Upwey on time. We toyed with the idea of catching the train from Ringwood to Upwey but when we had 15 minutes to ride from Nunawading to Ringwood, we knew it wasn’t going to happen.
We picked up the pace slightly and pushed on, and on, and on. Up and down the rollers to Ringwood, through Ringwood to Bedford Road, on to the Belgrave line rail trail, up and up and up. It took far longer than I expected to cover the ground to Upwey, traffic lights adding an extra element of frustration. I’d like to apologise to Matt and the Demon for pushing a little too hard on the way to Upwey — I was frustrated and disappointed in myself for not budgeting enough time for the trip (and any potential mishaps).
When we summited the ‘Mad Mile’ climb and pulled into the 7-Eleven it was with a real mixture of emotions. Embarrassment at being late to my own freaking group ride, surprise at the sheer number of people that had turned out, and relief that said people hadn’t packed up and left. All in all we were 15 minutes late for the party — not a great look. I apologised on the day but I’d like to say sorry again to everyone for keeping you waiting in the cold.
After a few minutes of ‘hello’s and ‘sorry!’s, it was time to get started. The guy who was instrumental in putting the ride together, David Blom, made a couple of announcements and after a short burst from his whistle, we were off. The first ever Melbourne Dirty Dozen was underway.
Here’s how the climbs unfolded:
1. Hughes Street
I started somewhere near the back of the climb and worked my way through the group as I went. I said ‘hi’ to a bunch of riders and thanked them for coming out. By this time the embarrassment was starting to wear off and the adrenaline was starting to kick in.
There’s no two ways about it: Hughes Street is a nasty climb and a tough way to start the day. There’s a couple of pinches there that are well in excess of 10% and I’m sure a few people were thinking ‘if this is #1, what are the other 11 like!’ I know I was.
I’d never ridden Hughes Street (in fact, the only climb I’d done of the 12 was Terrys Avenue … but more on that later) but I had seen it in Google Street View. Of course, photos never do steep roads justice and Hughes was a perfect case in point.
We regrouped at the Mt. Dandenong Tourist Road before descending toward Upper Ferntree Gully. Taking a left a Janesleigh Road, we were on to the second climb of the day.
Follow this link to see Marcus Nyeholt’s video of the Hughes Street climb.
2. Janesleigh Road, Jones Avenue and Olivette Avenue
I started this climb dead last having waited for a couple of the slower riders on the first climb. As I’d done with the first climb, I moved my way toward the front, chatting with some familiar faces, so excited that we’d managed to get a great turn out.
One of the things that stood out about this climb was the wonderful switchback as you turn left on to Jones Avenue. Steep corner, narrow road, plenty of cyclists around: awesome.
Once back at Hughes Street we descended to Burwood Highway and headed toward Belgrave and our third climb of the day.
Follow this link to see Marcus Nyeholt’s video of the Janesleigh Road climb.
3. Alexander Avenue
This was a candidate for the easiest climb of the day. Roughly 1.4km long but only 6% in gradient, I never felt as if I was at my limit nor even close to it. Before I knew it we were up at Mast Gully Road, surveying the road that would cause such carnage a little later on.
We descended Alexander Avenue for a bit before turning on to the marvellously tight switchbacks of Oakland Avenue. A few people remarked that we should earmark Oakland Avenue as a possible inclusion in the next installment of the Dirty Dozen.
Follow this link to see Marcus Nyeholt’s video of the Alexander Avenue climb.
4. Gordon Avenue
If Alexander Avenue wasn’t the easiest climb of the day then this one probably was. A simple up-and-down one-way street, Gordon seemed like barely a challenge after Hughes Street. We got to the top, rolled back down and bunched everyone up for the twisty transition to climb number 5.
Follow this link to see Marcus Nyeholt’s video of the Gordon Avenue climb.
5. Brenda Grove, Tinto Grove and Acacia Avenue
If ever there was a way to lull riders into a false sense of security it was stringing Alexander, Gordon and this climb together. Sure, climb number 5 had one particularly steep corner but it was over in no time. Easy, right?!
At the end of this climb the bunch managed to get split in two (nice work Blommy!) but we eventually regrouped as we made our way to Wright Avenue.
Follow this link to see Marcus Nyeholt’s video of the Brenda/Tinto/Acacia climb.
6. Wright Avenue
If you asked the riders on the day which climb was hardest, they’d probably say Mast Gully Road or Terrys Avenue. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree, but for mine, no other climb had the same ‘WTF!’ factor as Wright Avenue. The road just heads dead straight up the hill and its brutal gradient is plain for all to see. At least Terrys and Mast Gully have the decency to twist and turn a bit when they’re at 20%+!
I started Wright Avenue toward the back but by the top I’d passed plenty of riders, including a whole bunch who were using the whole road to cut down the gradient. This road is freaking steep! I was using every tooth on my 34×28 and I was still wishing for another gear or two. The gradient eased off a bit toward the end as the road bent around to the right. After summiting the climb, we all rolled back down to regroup at Mast Gully Road.
Wright Avenue played host to perhaps the only negative moment on the day when a grumpy old resident of the street took it upon himself to swear at every cyclist as they rode past. I’m not quite sure what we did to anger him so much but he certainly wasn’t too impressed.
Follow this link to see Marcus Nyeholt’s video of the Wright Avenue climb.
7. Mast Gully Road
I’d heard a bit about Mast Gully Road and how it reaches 20%+ not once but twice in less than 2km. I’d also seen images of the climb thanks to Google Street View, the steep sections in particular. That said, I’m not sure anything could have prepared me for just how horrendous that climb is.
The first pinch, as the road bends around to the right and disappears skyward, was a real kick in the face. I saw more than a couple riders walking up this first pinch, shaking their heads as they did so. The second pinch was even worse, not because it was steeper (which it might have been) but because the road was so thoroughly soaked and covered in bark.
Whenever I got out of the saddle, my back wheel spun out on the slick surface. Whenever I sat down, the front wheel lifted off the ground with every pedal stroke. As the road kicked up into some ungodly gradient the choice was made for me: I couldn’t generate enough power while seated to keep the bike moving. Out of the saddle it was!
I reckon my back wheel slipped every second or third pedal stroke in the final section of the climb and one occasion I had to unclip for fear of falling over. The second time I wasn’t so lucky. After my back wheel slipped on three or four consecutive pedal strokes I decided it was probably time to unclip my left foot. Of course I fell to the right.
Luckily I was more or less stationary at the time, thanks to a lack of traction and the ridiculous gradient, and I didn’t do any significant damage to bike or rider. I did manage to get a small scrape on my elbow and a banged-up hip but it could have been a lot worse (if I’d been moving, say).
At the top I shared a few words with other riders about the sheer insanity of it all. But, as horrific as the climb was, there’s part of me that would like to try it in dry weather to see how much of a difference a lack of wheel-spin makes.
Once everyone had made it over the climb (by bike or by foot) it was time to head back down to the 7-Eleven. At the servo many of us grabbed a drink and something to eat and a handful of riders decided to leave. The late start had disrupted some people’s schedules (sorry guys!) and others had only planned on joining us for a few climbs anyway.
After a short break, the remaining riders (about 35 of us) jumped on to Burwood Highway and headed toward the eastern portion of the course. We turned left on to Sandells Road and made our way to Frame Avenue as a bit of light drizzle started to fall.
Follow this link to see Marcus Nyeholt’s video of the Mast Gully Road climb.
8. Frame Avenue
In the article I wrote prior to the ride I calculated Frame Avenue as having an average gradient of 18%. I think the Google Earth data might have been a bit misleading — it was definitely steep, but it wasn’t 18% average.
After the long, painful grind of Mast Gully Road, Frame Avenue’s 300 metres felt like a walk in the park. Eight down, four to go.
Follow this link to see Marcus Nyeholt’s video of the Frame Avenue climb.
9. Kitchener Avenue
We took a right at the top of Kitchener Avenue and descended to the end. As with Frame Avenue, Kitchener was definitely steep (above 10%) but at only a few hundred metres long, it paled into insignificance compared with what had come before (and what was still to come).
We regrouped once more, and descended Frame Avenue to Sandells Road and took a right turn.
Follow this link to see Marcus Nyeholt’s video of the Kitchener Avenue climb.
10. Sandells Road
The third-to-last climb of the day might have been 1km long at 10% but it certainly didn’t feel like it. Maybe it was because I took it easy (saving myself for Terrys) or maybe it was because it wasn’t quite 10%; either way, I got to the top feeling fine.
At the T-intersection I looked left toward the second half of the Terrys Avenue climb before turning away quickly. There’d be more than enough time to face that monstrosity shortly … no use jumping the gun.
We descended back toward Burwood Highway and took a left on to the Serpentine.
Follow this link to see Marcus Nyeholt’s video of the Sandells Road climb.
11. The Serpentine
A number of people said to me that The Serpentine was their favourite climb of the day, and it’s not hard to see why: those switchbacks are totally marvellous. Sure, the gradient is punishing at over 10% average but the tight corners and narrow road make it a climb to remember.
I started the climb in dead last again, having waited to make sure no-one missed the turn-off. I passed a few on the way up but it’s a climb I’d really like to have a red-hot crack at at some point (preferably when the road isn’t wet).
At the top it was time for a bit of a breather: 11 down and one to go. Of course that ‘one to go’ was the infamous Terrys Avenue — one of the hardest climbs I’ve ever done.
We descended Sandells Avenue to Burwood Highway and made our way through Belgrave to the roundabout where the bunch reformed. There was a suggestion that David and I go first, as organisers of the ride, and so we both set off on the final climb of the day.
Follow this link to see Marcus Nyeholt’s video of The Serpentine climb.
12. Terrys Avenue
Of the 12 climbs we’d selected for the Dirty Dozen Terrys Avenue was the only one I’d ever done before Sunday. On my first attempt, in November 2009, I’d reached the top and said to my brother Brendan ‘I don’t ever need to do that again!’. And yet there I was on Sunday, leading 35 other riders up the climb, trying to build up enough speed to get up that first pinch of 24%+.
I managed to get through the whole of the first diabolical section before two riders passed me by: Ned Powell — who won B-grade in the recent Baw Baw Classic by a staggering 8 minutes — and George Mallory — who many of you will know from his truly amazing blog post for CyclingTips about the time he climbed Mt. Donna Buang 10 times in one day to train for an assault on Mt. Everest.
Given the credentials of the guys who had passed me, I wasn’t too concerned. I took it easy on the flat and downhill section, saving myself for the inevitable suffering that I’d face on the second steep section of the road.
As difficult as this final climb was, I don’t reckon it was as hard as Mast Gully Road. For one, my back wheel wasn’t slipping all over the shop. Also, while Terrys is ridiculously steep, it’s consistently steep, meaning you can find something resembling a rhythm as you climb … even if that rhythm makes you look like you’re engaged in a wrestling match with your bike … a wrestling match you’re losing in an undignified manner.
I reached the top in third place with Andy van Bergen storming to the top just behind me. I’d climbed the beast in 16 minutes 19 seconds — roughly 5 minutes faster than my last effort (a greater-than-20% improvement!). I’ll take it.
And with that, the inaugural Melbourne Dirty Dozen was done. We’d started the day with roughly 50 riders and about 30 had finished — not bad given the slippery conditions and the sheer brutality of some of the climbs.
Follow this link to see Marcus Nyeholt’s video of the Terrys Avenue climb.
Given it was the first group ride I’d organised through this site (or at all) it was hard to get a sense of how it would pan out. As mentioned, I would have been happy with a turn-out of 15 so getting a group of 50+ was surprising and, to be honest, rather humbling. Tackling 12 steep climbs in a row has real appeal to me but I wasn’t sure how many others would be keen. Turns out I needn’t have worried — there are many, similarly crazy cyclists out there!
I also wasn’t sure how well the regrouping at the top of each climb would work. And with a group of 50+ riders you would think there’d be a couple that would get sick of waiting and just head off. I was absolutely stoked to find that everyone seemed happy to regroup and wait for others before moving on.
David and I had always planned for the Dirty Dozen to be a social ride and I think regrouping like that really created a great atmosphere at the top of each climb. Thanks to the faster riders for their patience!
And while I’m thanking people, there’s a bunch of people that deserve a special mention. Thanks to my partner Sharon and her parents Murray and Betty for coming out to take photos and video on the day. It was greatly appreciated!
A huge thanks to Heidi Lu Goodall and Luke Yeatman for coming out and taking photos of all the riders. If you haven’t already checked out Heidi and Luke’s terrific photos of the day, you really should. The links on their names above will lead to their respective Facebook galleries. Thanks to Marcus Nyeholt for filming each of the climbs. You can find links to each of the climb videos above.
Thanks to the handful of other spectators that turned up to watch and cheer us on. Having someone cheer you through the last section of Terrys Avenue is an amazing feeling – thank you so much!
A big thank-you needs to go to David Blom for making this ride possible. David spent many an hour researching the climbs and helping me put together a route that, we think, was pretty well balanced with the hardest climbs spread throughout the day. Thanks for your time and enthusiasm David and for directing proceedings on the day — it was greatly appreciated.
And finally, thanks to all of the riders that came along on Sunday. Having so many people turn up made it one of the most memorable days I’ve ever had on the bike. Thank you so much.
So, for those of you that were there on the day, what would you have done differently? Are there climbs you would include instead of the 12 above? Could the ride have been organised better? Do let me know, either by leaving a comment below or via email. All suggestions will be greatly appreciated.
As requested by a couple of you, I’ve left space below for an honour roll of riders who managed to complete all 12 climbs of the first ever Melbourne Dirty Dozen. Rather than trying to remember who finished and embarrass myself by forgetting someone, I’m relying on you guys to tell me if you finished or not. Let’s get a complete list here!
And here’s an interesting factoid to leave you with: only five people turned up to the original Dirty Dozen ride in Pittsburgh in 1983. More than 300 competed in last year’s event. In our first running we managed to get 50. Who knows where we could go from here …
The First Melbourne Dirty Dozen Honour Roll
- David Blom
- Matt de Neef
- Brendan de Neef
- Donvale Demon
- Matt Fletcher
- Marcus Nyeholt
- Ned Powell
- George Mallory
- Luke Chippindall
- Chris Burton
- Thomas Price
- Andy van Bergen
- Evan Henley
- Sean Morrison
- Warren Howe
- Hamish Moffat
- Craig Eastwood
- Murray Campbell
- Zach Tempany
- Glenn Ryan
- Dave Coultas
- Sam Dwyer
- David Rose
- Billy Belton
- David Kerr
- Richard Kempster
- Hermés P
- Goran Nikolic
- Matt Rodriguez
- Drew Wooding
- Pete Conradie
- Anthony Harris
- Vincent Bayliss