Gearing up for the Riverwest 24
Unfortunately, unless you’ve already signed up for the Riverwest 24-hour Bike Race, your chance to ride this year has passed. But the RW24 still needs volunteers to help out on race day, and any and all help is appreciated.
In t-minus 10 days, I’ll be hopping onto the back (or perhaps the front?) of a vintage Schwinn tandem road bike, mentally and physically trying to ready myself for 24 straight hours of pedaling. It sounds like hell, but I’ve been looking forward to it for over a year.
I rode in the tandem category last summer with my friend Stephanie. Together, we were team “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” (which got shortened to “Meatballs” as we hit each checkpoint, so it was pretty awesome/hilarious to have the entire neighborhood cheering “YEAH! MEATBALLS! WOOOOOOO” all night). We had no idea what we were doing, much less what to expect. “Slow and steady” was our motto, and we simply committed to riding the entire 24 hours at our own pace, breaking only to eat or use the bathroom.
We sang to each other (TV theme songs and for some reason, the “Thong Song”…?) and laughed all night long. We met neighbors we’d never seen before, explored alleys and side streets and created our own series of super-secret routes. We saw the sun rise from the top of Reservoir Park after hauling ass up the Humboldt Avenue hill, which never seemed so steep.
We rode 22.5 hours straight, but had to stop just before the end due to sheer exhaustion (read: crying inexplicably = time to stop). But we were happy, and it was the first time in the 8 years that I’ve lived in the neighborhood that I felt completely safe roaming the streets at 4 a.m.
It was an amazing experience. We took second place ( WOO! MEATBALLS!) and immediately fell face-first onto the closest soft (relative term) surface.
The whole crazy thing started in the summer of 2008 (note: take a look at the post-race photo from 2008, then check out 2009’s pic above. Holy Christ, that’s a lot of riders), when a handful of dutiful Riverwesterners hatched a hare-brained plan to host a 24-hour bicycle race through their neighborhood. The idea was born out of the residual high felt by several locals who had recently participated in the Baja 1000, an off-road motorcycle race through the Baja Peninsula. Why couldn’t they do something similar in Riverwest?
After a few planning sessions, the concept was formed and the race was on. It wasn’t hard to get people on board; everyone from bike messengers to newlyweds wanted in. Businesses and volunteers showed up in droves, ready to help in any way they could. Some donated goods and services, but for the most part, volunteers lent their time and array of expertise. About 300 riders filled the streets of Riverwest for the inaugural race. Xav Leplae, a local activist and owner of Riverwest Film & Video, became a legend that year — he rode solo, on an old mountain bike, in flip-flops for the entire 24 hours. And he took first place in his category.
It’s not really about competing. Of course, anyone who’s going to ride a bike for an entire day wants something to show for it, but “winning” or “losing” doesn’t quite seem to matter once you’re part of this people/pedal-powered display of community activism. It’s about having fun, and about taking back the neighborhood.
Just in case anyone out there is unfamiliar with how it works: The race takes place over the course of 24 hours (duh). The route (one lap) is about 4.6 miles, beginning and ending on the 2600 block of Pierce Street.
There are several categories:
* Solo: 1 rider and 1 bike (male and female categories)
* Tandem: 2 riders and 1 tandem bike
* Team A: 2-6 riders and 1 bike. Split the 24 hours with your team, but if your bike breaks you need to fix it.
* Team B: 2-6 riders and 2-6 bikes. Split the 24 hours with your team and enjoy the comfort of riding your own bike.
There are four checkpoints along the route that each rider/team must hit in order to complete a full lap. Every two hours, a bonus checkpoint opens up at some random spot and riders have the option to participate (for extra laps) or bypass them altogether. The team/rider with the most laps at the end of the race wins and gets a custom-made trophy, created entirely out of recycled bicycle parts.
There’s even a DFL (Dead F***ing Last) trophy in the spirit of good fun. Winners also get an array of awesome prizes, donated to the RW24 by local businesses.
The bonus checkpoints are high points of the event, offering unique chances to explore the neighborhood and get to know the diverse cast of characters who live in it. Who knows — you could get a punk-rock haircut, bust up some concrete at a community garden, or show off some sweet dance moves. You might even get a tattoo.
The 2008 race was a huge success, and 2009 saw a record 500 riders. Most were local, but plenty made the trip down from northern Wisco, Minnesota and places outside of the Midwest. It sounds insane, and it was — that’s 500 people, on bikes, all riding the same route amid normal evening traffic — but it was perfectly safe and quite peaceful, actually. It was a sight to behold.
I think everyone should do it at least once, regardless of age, sex or biking savvy. It’s anyone’s race, and everyone’s race.
The 2010 Riverwest 24 takes place from July 30-31, beginning at 7 p.m. Friday night and culminating with a closing ceremony at 8 p.m. at the intersection of Pierce and Center Streets on Saturday evening. TCD’s multimedia team will be there shooting video and capturing the event. For more information and to get involved, check out the RW24 website, or come on down the the Riverhorse tonight.