RW24 gears up for Year 5 with a record-breaking sellout

For the fifth year of the 24-hour cycling extravaganza known as Riverwest 24, more than 800 slots were sold in 80 minutes.

By - May 17th, 2012 04:00 am

The Riverwest 24 gets ready to start. (Photo: TCD 2011 files)

If this year’s record-breaking sellout for the 5th annual Riverwest 24 is any indication, the simple act of registering may start testing hopeful participants’ endurance as much as the 24-hour bike race. Bike enthusiasts set up camp on the lawn of the Riverwest Public House more than 20 hours before the initial sale time on May Day in order to secure a coveted entry to the hybrid bike race and block party on July 27-28.

More than 800 slots sold in 80 minutes.

“I don’t think any of us saw this growing as largely and quickly as it did,” says Paul Kjelland, co-founder and organizer of the phenomenon known as RW24. “With the very first one, we would have been excited if 20 people showed up.”

Instead, nearly 200 showed up. And the demand to pedal the streets of Riverwest until sheer exhaustion sets in keeps growing each year. The spirit of the event has already inspired spin-off events in other cities, including Minneapolis’ Powderhorn 24, which is now gearing up for its second successful year.

RW24’s founders are now consulting with neighborhood leaders across the country who want to create similar events that use bicycles as a vehicle to build community.

Kjelland’s strategy for RW24’s evolution is simple. “It’s more about preserving the elements that make it great and just letting things build slowly so they don’t get too big too fast.”

Expect to experience RW24’s traditional formula this year: Teams (either tandem, teams of 2-6 using the same bike, or teams of 2-6 using 2-6 bikes) and solo riders of all abilities biking for one entire day. The racers are required to hit four mandatory checkpoints to complete the suggested 4.6 mile route that winds through Riverwest and is open to traffic. Bet on non-stop crowd support and a 24-hour party.

“So much of the race has absolutely nothing to do with anything we can organize,” Kjelland admits. “It’s more about blocking off the date and empowering people to create their own block parties and backyard barbeques and organize bonus checkpoints.”

Crediting the DIY nature of the event, along with the outpouring of donations and volunteers lending their time and talent, RW24 operates on a $24 entry fee. The $1 an hour will buy bike riders two meals, a screen-printed shirt, tons of spectator support and the unique experience of pedaling non-stop (or not) while bonding with neighbors and hopefully, some new friends.

“It’s not about the race—it’s about the neighborhood,” says Kjelland.

In order to scale back the racing element and keep safety a priority, Kjelland and other RW24 organizers increase the focus each year on participation and cooperation.

“Every year we basically try to sabotage the race from being a race as much as we can,” says Kjelland, pointing to the bonus checkpoints, semi-secret locations and activities released on race day that open on a rolling basis every hour. The completion of these challenges count toward bonus laps. The catch is that it requires riders to hop off the race track and into some unexpected situations.

The checkpoints range from the ridiculous—stomping grapes in a kiddie pool at Cafe Centro, learning to kick start a motorcycle at Fuel Cafe or getting a customized RW24 tattoo—to the resourceful—using the point-hungry crowds to complete community projects like filling mulch bags for Habitat for Humanity.

“We’ve weighted it so that in order to win, you have to participate instead of just racking up as many laps as you can,” says Kjelland, adding that the off-the-beaten-path checkpoints force riders to immerse themselves in the community.

While the RW24 recognizes traditional winners, in this case the person or team in each category who completes the most laps (a combination of bonus and biked), the nontraditional awards range from the whimsical—trophies created from recycled bicycle parts—to the paradoxical—trophies sculpted from ice.

Riverwest 24 Hour Bike Race

Photo by Dylan Huebner.

Perhaps the most anticipated awards are categories that are often created during the ride. Established standbys have become the Hard Charger award, given to a person or team who shows a lot of heart in their efforts or sacrifices their performance to help other competitors and the DFL (Dead Fucking Last) award, though it doesn’t always follow the literal translation.

“It can go to somebody who didn’t place very well because their bike broke partway through,” says Kjelland.  “One year it went to a guy whose bike had been stolen a few weeks before the race started so he decided to walk the 24 hours.”

Kjelland advises those who missed the boat this year to keep close tabs on the RW24 website and Facebook page for ticket giveaways and opportunities to bid on reserved slots at various community fundraisers.

If you’re not feeling lucky or have worked through the stages of grief posted on RW24’s website following the shutout, volunteering is a popular, and often preferred, way to experience the event.

“It’s more fun to volunteer than to race,” Kjelland says from experience, “I’ve been doing it for five years…and I have a blast every year. You still get the experience of being a part of this high-energy event, but without the stress of actually racing.”

See the video below for some hilarity at the ThirdCoast Digest checkpoint at RW24 2011.



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