Erin Petersen
The Giving Season


By - Nov 5th, 2010 04:00 am
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Photo courtesy of Cranksgiving Milwaukee.

Don’t be alarmed if you see a horde of bikers shredding it up near your local grocery store tomorrow afternoon.

Beginning at 3 p.m. in Lakeshore Park, dozens of bicycle messengers and bike enthusiasts alike will gather together for Cranksgiving — an annual alleycat race and food drive to benefit the Hunger Task Force.

It all started in 1999 when a handful of messengers in New York City crafted this creative way to give back to the community on two wheels. Over  a decade later, various incarnations have popped up all over the nation — everywhere from Ann Arbor to Miami and of course, our fair city.

The Milwaukee race was set in motion by Steven Kasprzyk three years ago, although after a recent move to Portland, friend and fellow cyclist Josh Weis has taken the reins for Cranksgiving 2010.

Photos by Brian Jacobson

Here’s how it works:  Those who want to ride simply show up at the predetermined meet spot. There is no entry fee. Each rider/team gets a manifest, listing several stores and specific food items for each location. Riders then have about 3 hours to hit as many checkpoints (stores) on the manifest.

The concept is modeled similarly after the normal workday for a bicycle messenger. There are no pre-planned routes — riders can go in any order they choose. The goal is to get as many items on the manifest as possible in the allotted amount of time. At the same time, it’s not so much about speed as it is about thoughtful planning.

At the end, everyone meets at a local bar to hand in their manifests, receipts and food items — riders purchase the food with their own money, hence why there is no entry fee (Weis says most people spend around $15- $20, but it’s up to personal discretion). All of the food collected is then donated to Hunger Task Force.

There are two classes — Class A is for the more experienced and avid riders that are interested in the race aspect of the event. Class B is for those who aren’t necessarily interested in competition, but who just want to ride and have a good time.

Weis says that  roughly 70 people participate in the ride each year and since 2008, they have donated 2,000 pounds of food. In keeping with the season, all of the food items collected are traditional Thanksgiving dinner staples like stuffing, cranberry sauce and canned vegetables. Last year, a few particularly brave (and strong) riders even bought whole turkeys.

This year, Weis says he expects a similar turnout (80 people have RSVP’d on Facebook) and the goal is to raise at least 1,000 lbs. of food.

Though the event’s origin is rooted in giving back to the community, it also advocates for urban cycling in an attempt to show people that bicycles can be a viable means of transportation. sums up this mission quite well:

“Even though the roots of Cranksgiving began among hard working messengers, with its spread the event also demonstrates how almost any person can use their bicycle as a means of transportation for typical shopping errands. As a result, cycling reduces an individual’s dependence on expensive automobiles and the ever increasing cost of gas. Riding a bicycle also contributes to a person’s good health through exercise and the resulting reduction of air and noise pollution.

A bike also reconnects people to their communities by slowing them down a little and providing exposure to a person’s neighbors and surrounding environment.”

So if you’re thinking that this is only for the hardcore cyclist, think again.

“There’s a good amount of people who ride just for fun,” says Weis, “I’d say it’s about 50/50. This year, I’m trying to keep it as tame as possible — no matter what, it’s always fun.”

The 3rd Annual Milwaukee Cranksgiving Alleycat Race takes place on Saturday, November 6. Interested riders will meet in Lakeshore Park (near Summerfest Grounds) at 3 p.m. for registration. The race begins at 4 p.m. with an after party at the Irish Pub, 124 N. Water St. Interested riders are encouraged to bring $15-$20 to purchase food. For more information, click here.

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