The Dirty Dozen is one of Melbourne’s most iconic recreational bike event’s which is now in its 6th year. The concept of the ride was originally conceived in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, USA way back in 1983. Riders were challenged to climb hills so steep that they wouldn’t normally dare to ride up! The Melbourne version began on a wet day in May 2012. The Climbing Cyclist, Matt de Neef and David Blom put together their own version of the Dirty Dozen based around Upwey in the Dandenong Ranges.
This event challenges riders to get out of their comfort zone and climb 13 hills that are so steep that even a car would struggle to get up them. The first three editions of the Melbourne Dirty Dozen were held in the Dandenong’s. The last two were held out at Warburton. This year ride will be held in Dromana, which is a town on the Mornington Peninsula. Approximately an hour south of the Melbourne CBD.
2017 Dirty Dozen
I’ve always loved this event. The vision that Matt de Neef and David Blom have brought to cycling community has helped many riders believe that they can climb, and has brought awareness to a number of climbs that most riders would never have known about.
Or dared attempt!
The course they put together is without a doubt the most scenic of all of the Dirty Dozen coures. Which is good for me, as I was here to snap some pics and catch up with mates. Honestly I was gutted not to be able to do the ride this year. I’ve made the starting line-up since 2013. Nothing I can do though, due to a near fatal crash late June I’m off the bike indefinitely. Thankfully, my love of cycling hasn’t waned, and whilst I couldn’t ride I really looked forward to getting down to the Peninsula to discover a whole new world of climbs.
The course was roughly 65 km long with about 1,600 meters of climbing. There are 13 designated ascents predominately up narrow back streets. Plus one easier transitional climb along the way. The ascents are clustered around three main areas:
- Mount Martha (climbs 1 to 5)
- McCrae (climbs 6 and 7)
- Dromana (climbs 8 to 13).
The toughest climbs of course are left for last.
Riders are given a course map, and hope that they don’t get lost.
Journey to the centre of the storm
On the drive up, I went through a storm of biblical proportions. Visibility was so poor I could barely make out the hail and thunder that was crashing down everywhere. I had to wonder whether the event would be going ahead? Sure there are those that would ride in anything. But there is a fine line between being a ‘cycling nut’ and just a plain ‘nut’. Guess the weather was there to test peoples resolve. Many sat it out in their cars wondering whether it would end.
YouTube clip provided by Martin Emptage
Given Melbourne’s reputation for crazy weather it was no surprise that the weather did a 360 and by the time I reached Dromana we were surrounded with clear blue skies and a stiff tailwind to push the riders up most of the climbs
I was joined in the photographers car by Jeff Servaas, who has had a similar misfortune as me injuring himself quite badly. Whilst we can’t ride, there is still that love to get involved with grass roots cycling and we were super pumped to be at the 2017 Dirty Dozen.
We had no idea what to expect of the course, and as soon as we headed into the foothills of Mount Martha we were salivating. The climbs were super extreme and every street had a pinch that looked like it went in excess of 20%. The road was either straight up or down. I wanted to climb!
The roads looked just as fun to descend as they were to climb.
The event attracted riders of all ability. Many stepping well and truly out of their comfort zone to pit themselves against the super steep slopes. We were a bit surprised to only see one rider get off to walk. And there was no postman delivering the mail (whilst we were around).
We moved from climb to climb. Each climb had a stunning panoramic view of the ocean below, whilst we had an unbelievable view looking past the riders. They were going in the opposite direction, and all they could see was these incredibly steep climbs that looked ultra painful. Especially as most would often have a long dead straight sections which no matter how good a climber you are, does your head in.
Riders were fortunate that there was a schweet tailwind coming off the ocean and it was giving the riders a much needed invisible push. I wouldn’t have been surprised if a number of KOM’s were to fall on the day.
There were a number of riders I knew and had a chance to say g’day. Though often the only reply I’d get was;
“huff, huff, huff, huff, huff!”.
The climbs were pretty extreme.
There were plenty of smiles all throughout the day, but started to notice towards the later part of the course a really deep seated look of concentration. Usually associated with being in the Pain cave. A place that I am all too familiar with. Guess that’s par for the course of doing an event like this, and the only way to get through it is to have a spoonful of HTFU!
An event like this certainly attracts riders who are tough as nails.
The final climb of the day was up Arthurs Seat. The Mornington Peninsula’s most iconic climb. Overall its steepness doesn’t compare to any of the other climbs of the day. But at 3 km in length and some very steep pinches along the way, this was going to be tough for all of the riders to get up.
The day was really heating up, and you could see sweat pouring off a number of theriders. Many opted to wear their winter kit after the arctic start, which looked painful to see riders grinding up Arthurs still with arm warmers in the hot conditions. One of the biggest challenges of the ride would have been to adapt to the spike in temperature from start to end.
Some seemed to cruise, others dug deep to survive to the summit. Others popped wheelies whenever they saw an UP sign on the road. Kudos to all that survived the 2017 Dirty Dozen.
The thing that I took from the Dirty Dozen 2017 was the amazing scenery, which was truly unbelievable. Everyone I spoke with thoroughly loved the course, and many are already looking towards DD18.
I have driven through this area a tonne of times before and had no idea how good it was to ride around the backstreets in and around Dromana.
Many thanks to the organisers; Matt de Neef and David Blom and to all the amazing volunteers for putting together yet another amazing event, and an event like this has done so much for the cycling community. It encourages riders to get out of their comfort zones and to believe they can climb.
Guess the big question now is where will DD18 be held?
The climbs for the ride included:
- Ellerina et al: 1.7 km at 7.8%
- Hearn Rd: 1.8 km at 7.9%
- Park Rd: 800m at 9.6%
- Stanley Cres: 1.1 km at 8.2%
- Bradford Rd: 1.7 km at 7.8%
- Three Laneways: 1 km at 9.4%
- Cairn/Somers/Cook: 1.4 km at 7.1%
- Mary/Manna: 1.4 km at 8.3%
- Scott St: 500m at 10.8%
- Hillside Ave: 600m at 11.3%
- Caldwell Rd: 700m at 12.9%
- Tower Hill/Bracken Ridge: 900m at 10%
- Arthurs Seat: 3 km at 8.1%
Please enjoy a selection of my favorite pics from the ride:
There’s something special about bringing together a group of strangers and introducing them to new roads. I put together this little event which included some of the Dandenong Ranges finest gravel climbs. I invited a small number of riders to join me for a Dirty Dandys ride. We had rain forecasted overnight. It was supposed to dry up by the time the ride was due to start. On the drive up it was raining quite heavily and just kept on raining.
I was really excited about this ride. There were a number of riders who were travelling quite a distance just to eperience this ride. All the way from the western suburbs, & one of the riders ventured all the way from the beach to join us. There was going to be two groups with the second group due to meet us in the Basin car park at around 8:00 am.
The first group consisting of Adam, Geert & Fabian headed out to Old Coach Road. This is a climb which I found so hard that I’ve only ever done it once. Old Coach Road is a dead-end road, which then turns into a walking track. Most riders are turned off venturing up it due to the dead-end sign (plus the fact its ridiculously steep). Very few have done this climb. When you get to the gate which leads onto the National Park, this is super steep and littered with really wet rocks and debris all over the path. There was very little in the way in traction, and was really hard work to get up today.
The guys worked out pretty quickly that this wasn’t going to be an easy ride.
Climb no# 2 was up Basin Olinda Road which is easily the Dandenong’s most popular dirt climb. Its a stunning road to climb which is easy to access and located right next to the start of the 1 in 20. The road was wet and slightly muddy and everyone had to work overtime to climb. It was great conditions to ride though. We were treated to a low hanging mist on the second half of the climb. Things were going well until the skies really opened up on us. I love riding when it rains, but these were conditions where the last place you wanted to be was on a bike. As everyone crested the climb, we weren’t giving each other high fives. Everyone went and huddled under the shelter next to the shops to hide from the rain.
Many were wondering whether to pull the plug and head home.
We descended down to Olinda Creek Road and made our way across to Silvan Road. This is a climb which is 6.7 km in length with an average gradient of 5%. I felt sorry for those sitting in the wheel of the rider in front of them. The roads were wet and muddy and all they were doing was eating mud. By now everyone was well and truly soaked to the skin.
Silvan Road is quite a hard one to climb. The gradient is nice and easy down the bottom and steadily gets steeper until it hits you in the face at 13% in a number of places on the climb. With rain adding to the misery there were a lot of riders in the pain cave on Silvan today. Near the top is the R.J Hamer Arboretum Gardens and one of the finest lookouts in the Dandenong’s. Today there wasn’t much in the way of a view, and there’s sill a bit of climbing to get to the top. One of the riders spied a shelter, and the climb could wait.
Everyone agreed that it was a good time to shelter from the rain.
Everyone looked shell shocked. Soaked to the skin, yet somehow there were grins on the guys faces. We had all traveled up some truly stunning roads, in conditions that most would not dare ride. You want all your rides to be special, and sometimes it just happens. There was 11 riders on the ride, and for most the course was completely new to them, and they didn’t quite know what to expect.
It was a bit daunting the fact that we weren’t even halfway through the ride. There was still five climbs to go.
Warwick Farm Road was next. I don’t know how it was possible but it started to rain harder. A few of the riders were physically shaking. One of the guys came up to me and said;
“we’re having a great ride but the conditions are just too bad. We’ll have to finish this up“.
Warwick Farm Road was now set to be the final climb of the day. We weren’t even half way through the course, but I was relieved that we were going to be pulling the plug. I would hate for any of the guys to get sick after a ride like this. There was some very exhausted looking riders at the top of this climb. Some were still able to smile. Then my ears perked up when I heard my favorite words.
One more climb!
Down the base of Perrins Creek Road is a dirt climb up Coonara Road. Its this great little 2 km climb with a fairly consistent gradient which joins onto one of the Dandenong Ranges most iconic climbs. The Wall. Earning itself the nickname of being “the Dirty Wall“. I have climbed Coonara Road a number of times, but today it was at its most stunning. The road is surrounded to either side by imposing Mountain Ash, and ancient ferns which can grow over 10 meters in height.
The mud was being thrown around thick & fast.
This was definately going to be the last climb for the day. If any of the riders had energy left this climb was guaranteed to suck the life out of them. At little over 5 km in length, this is a climb which many underestimate, and is quite a difficult climb to do.
From here everyon headed back down to the Basin for a Coffee except for Geert Vercruysse “aka Geert the vert”. He was loving the conditions and kept on riding. Geert headed down Falls Road, past the National Rhododendrom Gardens and then up to climb Olinda Creek Road.
Overall this had been an incredibly hard ride. But not all bad experiences are bad and a ride like this, even though it was hell may turn out to be one of the most memorable rides of the year. The forecast had given everyone false hope that the ride would be dry. Instead, it rained on us for 3 and a half hours straight.
“Has the weatherman ever told you stories that just make you laugh?“
-The Strangers, Always the Sun.
It was wet, cold and very muddy which was the story of the day. A number of riders got back to the Basin and started to shake uncontrollably. Everyone was soaked to the skin. Covered in mud, and freezing cold.
Brad Akers commented: “How good was that ride! Really didn’t want it to end”
Sing Ling commented “Ain’t no sunshine in the hills, only rain and mud. Lots of mud“.
Mark Skinner said “S0 many great climbs and due to the cold we were praying for climbs ha ha”
A big thankyou
A massive thank you to Mesh Gammune who drove as a support car & course photographer. Taking some very incredible photos on the day.
A big thanks to everyone who helped out with this ride. During the week my young son gave me the flu and I was knocked for six. I was forced to pull out of this ride at the very last minute. I witnessed a truly epic ride and gave Mesh some company in the support car. Even though I didn’t get to ride I had an incredible day, and hope to put together another ride like this one at some point in the future.
If you want to learn more about the dirt roads of the Dandenong Ranges click here. Some of the best roads out there are the one’s you are yet to ride on.