Frontier Psychiatrist

Frontier Cyclist Rides Again: Riverwest 24

Posted on: August 3, 2012

Riverwest 24_2012_Front Psych

Every summer, like clockwork, I find myself listening to New Yorkers complain about the unbearable heat and their disdain for their hot city. Which is fair, New York in the summer basically feels like you live inside a tailpipe. As a Midwesterner, their complaints often amuse me, mostly because I get them as I bask in the beauty and social splendor that is a Middle American Summer. While New Yorkers find the need to leave their city for cooler and more open pastures, Chicago and Milwaukeeans embrace their urban summertime, presumably due to the unbearable winters the metropolises are subject to. A perfect example of Midwestern sunny resourcefulness: the Riverwest 24 Hour Bike Race.

Last weekend, two friends and I biked a total of 205 continuous miles in 24-hours around the lively and beat Milwaukee neighborhood of Riverwest, along with approx. 900 other racers. This is noteworthy because I haven’t spent much time on a bike ever since I had to suit-up for my day job. It’s also noteworthy because the entire somewhat sleepy (and often unsafe) neighborhood explodes in support with smiles and beers.

Riders are broken into four categories: Solo, Team A, Team B and Tandem. Our team (#240, Ridin’ Flirty) was Team B, meaning we were allowed to ride separate bikes, as opposed to the single bike rule for the Team A group. All riders must be 18, helmeted, well lit, traffic conscious and not an ass. The race takes place on a closed (but open to traffic) 5-mile loop of the neighborhood, including four mandatory checkpoints, which coincide with the mandatory Manifest, given to each team at the beginning of any ten-lap stretch. Each team can have as many riders as they choose on the course at any given time, but only one Manifest exists per team, per ten laps. The lap is interesting enough, as they take you through treelined neighborhood streets to smooth bike trails to bike specific bridges to semi-serious hills.

Riverwest 24_Milwaukee_Front Psych

Here’s where things get interesting: outside of the mandatory four checkpoints, there are sporadic “Bonus Checkpoints” that are only available for a limited amount of time at specific destinations that may or may not be on the designated route. These checkpoints range from the stupid easy (eat breakfast, sing “Smoke On The Water” in an independent video store), to the educational (the basics of breakdancing, attend a recreation of an ESL elementary school class), to the trying (locate all five of Riverwest’s co-ops, get a positive tarot card reading) to the laboring (cut the sidewalls off car tires with a dull razor blade). All of these bonus checkpoints are closely related to life in Riverwest, and solidify the closeness the race has to its setting. The enveloping spirit of community is plain throughout, for participants and spectators alike, as the neighborhood basically parties for more than 24-hours straight.

And that spirit of community is what sets this event apart. Despite the obvious difference in size, the Riverwest 24 is not unlike an event such as Bonnaroo, but with bikes instead of rock shows. They’re both physically demanding, populated by hipsters and drenched in alcohol. More importantly, they’re both about community, and the power good times and better friends hold.

Milwaukee is like no other city I’ve known, as a resident or otherwise. Nearly 600,000 people call “The Good Land” home, and nearly as much are proud to do so. Steeped in history, charm and green, Milwaukee and her citizens distinguish themselves by being both resourceful and welcoming, two traits that have pulled the city through many trials. Sure, Milwaukee is a far cry from New York. But it’s events like the Riverwest 24 that distinguishes it for the better.

Does anyone have any epsom salt?

Riverwest 24_2012_Front Psych_Milwaukee

Peter Lillis is Managing Editor of Frontier Psychiatrist. He is officially a resident of the state of Illinois. The lead image is courtesy of the Riverwest 24 Facebook page.


2 Responses to "Frontier Cyclist Rides Again: Riverwest 24"

thanks for the kind words. we have a lot of fun organizing and running the race each year and it warms our hearts when we get to read such honest, positive reports of people enjoying our neighborhood.

and thank you, steve, for a fantastic event year in and year out. you and your team have much to be proud of.

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