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Riverwest community spirit goes on the road for 24-hour bike ride

The RW24 was born through community block watches in Riverwest, as way to welcome new people to the neighborhood and strengthen relationships within the community.

The Riverwest 24 is a 24-hour community sponsored bicycle race held in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. The event was conceived to inspire biking in an urban environment while bringing the people together for support, awareness, and showing everyone what makes Riverwest an amazing area. The event is also proudly known as “The People’s Holiday.”

The start and finish of each approximately 4.5 mile loop is at Pierce and Center Streets. The route takes riders from the heart of the neighborhood, north to Keefe Avenue, west to Humboldt Boulevard, south to the Brady Street Marsupial Bridge, and back north to the finish line. This route is only suggested, and riders can take a variety of streets to suite their style of riding. Every team is given a manifest, which is punched at each checkpoint, four punches equals one lap. As one rider collects laps and manifests throughout the 24-hours, there are also bonus checkpoints which help to slow the race down and encourage participants to enjoy the neighborhood and bond with its neighbors. These bonus points can happen at a local business, park, or school, and brings attention to community needs, culture, or the beauty of some previously undiscovered location.

Requirements include the use of helmets, front and back lights, and a friendly attitude. During a previous year’s ride, a bonus check point had instructions on proper bicycle helmet usage, signaling, and car observation. If a helmet or lights are missing, if volunteers are not treated with respect, or basically anyone riding like an idiot, that individual could be forced to do an extra Dunce Lap before continuing on with the race. It is highly recommended that bicyclists obey all traffic lights and rules, as the roads are not closed to traffic. It is up to the rider to keep themselves safe.

Team configurations can be any of the following: solo male or female, tandem, and teams of 1-6 riders. “A” Teams are riders using only one shared bike and “B” Teams have riders using their own bikes. Some teams take the lap gathering very seriously, while others are more casual and just enjoy the people watching and camaraderie in-between a lap or two. Bikes range in style from simple cruisers to road racers. There are unicycles, BMX, cargo/delivery vehicles, and homemade tall/art bikes.

Riding attire could be a category within itself. Many teams have their own themes, from matching red flannel rider jerseys, to homemade iron-on shirts, to full body light outfits like in the movie Tron. There are fun hats, tutus, bride and groom outfits, and decorated bikes as well.

With more than 250 teams registered for its 9th year, the organizers have the process down to a science. They spend several hundred hours during the year on planning and scheduling. The public was encouraged to volunteer at anytime before, during, or after the event. This year there were more 550 volunteers that helped with dinner or breakfast, checkpoints and bonus checkpoints, safety patrols, and set-up or take-down. Many volunteers are not riders, they are people from all over the area who just want to be apart of the excitement.

The organizers recently added a Kids RW24 to include youth and families. For 24-minutes, children can race each other on a closed course at one of the local school parking lots. They ride laps while completing different tasks. The location is also a mandatory bonus check point for every team.

The Riverwest neighborhood itself gets into the spirit of the event as homeowners, businesses, tenants, and beyond do a fantastic job of cheering on the riders for the full 24-hours. All through the night visitors and participants will see gatherings and picnics in the front yards and porches, lit tiki torches, and music playing. Cow bells and encouraging words can be heard by everyone. Kids love to get high-fives or hand out licorice. RW24 is a family friendly event, with several riders pulling their children in bike trailers or having them ride along side for a few laps.

From the Start/Finish line at Center and Pierce Streets, riders head to friendly Checkpoint #1 which sometimes has bacon, watermelon, or baked goods to snack on. Checkpoint #2 is a fun block party with Robert Collins at the helm. He travels to Milwaukee each year just to punch manifests for 24 hours. Collins has words of inspiration for every single rider as he punches their lap card. And if you need something a little stronger, there may be some liquid encouragement to be found. On the way to Checkpoint #3, riders usually find free espresso shots at Colectivo Coffee on Humboldt Boulevard, and more licorice on Reservoir Avenue. This is where the real party takes place. DJs play throughout the night, with strings of bright garden lights above onlookers who keep the Swing Park hopping. The last mile back to the finish line is uphill, some participants take the path through Kadish Park while others opt for the route of Holton Street and back to Pierce Street.

For the 2016 Race, the ride officially began at 7:00pm on Friday, July 29 and concluded at 7:00pm on Saturday night, July 30. A group photo of all the riders was taken, then riders began to mingle and share stories of their ride with each other. First, second, and third places were called to the stage with hundreds of their peers cheering and congratulating them for a job well done. Everyone was then able to have their photo taken in front of the 3ft high ice sculptures as a trophy.

The ride is a commitment, with all the bragging rights that go with it, but Riverwest 24 is about being apart of a community with common goals for one complete day of 24-hours.

For July 2017, the count-down clock has already begun counting down on the event’s official website. Everyone is invited to join the eclectic Riverwest community with a long walk, a bike ride, or to just pull up a lawn chair on the sidewalk and cheer on the riders. It is all meant to celebrate and enjoy this passionate neighborhood with a couple hundred of your newest friends.

About The Author

Marcia Zalenski

As a transplant from Michigan, Marcia has lived in her adopted home of Milwaukee since the 90s. An affinity for beer and bicycling has taken her across the community, to embrace and share all that the Milwaukee spirit has to offer.

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