Dave Schlabowske
Bike Czar

Long Live the Polish Moon Ride!

A great turnout, a beautiful foggy night, and fun polka and Mexican music -- the ride was a big success and will surely grow in coming years.

By , Bike Federation of Wisconsin - Aug 29th, 2014 11:32 am
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Oh yeah, we got accordion! Thanks Don Turner from bringing the Polka and Tristan Klein for piloting the precious cargo. If you are an accordion player who wants to come on the ride next year, contact me! You can never have too many accordion players, right?  - Photo by Dave Schlabowske

Oh yeah, we got accordion! Don Turner brings the polka and Tristan Klein pilots the precious cargo. If you are an accordion player who wants to play on the ride next year, contact me! You can never have too many accordions, right? – Photo by Dave Schlabowske

 

The cool foggy summer night gave the night a magical feel. Photo by Dave Schlabowske

The cool foggy summer night gave the night a magical feel. Photo by Dave Schlabowske

I’m over the moon about the positive response to our inaugural Polish Moon Ride. We had 376 people on the ride according to Cycling Hall of Famer Tom Schuler, who did a manual count on the ride from front to back. It was particularly gratifying to see so many families with kids.  It seemed like the people who came in from out of town were overwhelmed by how cool it was to ride these historic urban streets at night and get cheered by residents as we pedaled past with live accordion music. One rider who came in from Sun Prairie told me three times that he does lots of great organized rides each year, but this is the one he’s going to bring lots of friends to next year.

Our string of blinking riders stretched an impressive half a mile through the foggy streets. Milwaukee Police provided amazing support for the ride. With motorcycles leading and following the group and blocking intersections when needed, even parents with small children riding felt safe enough to let their kids ride down the middle of major streets at night. That is an experience most kids never have. I think this is a first for everyone if you throw in the accordionist Don Turner who kept everyone entertained from the back of a Bionix assist Xtracycle piloted by Tristan Klein of Coast In Bikes.

I do think I found a band with enough guitars. La Rondalla Voces & Guitarras de Milwaukee are welcome back next year. I do need more accordions though next year for sure. Photo by Dave Schlabowske

I think I found a band with enough guitars. La Rondalla Voces & Guitarras de Milwaukee are welcome back next year. But I do need more accordionists next year for sure. Photo by Dave Schlabowske

We kept the group together by moving at a slow pace and stopping at red lights to let people “mass up.” It was 9pm by the time the group got to Chavez and National, so I cut the route short and we headed over the viaduct and down the ramp at Emmber Lane to get us back to the block party on schedule at 9:30. Even though it caused a bit of a traffic jam on the Hank Aaron State Trail, we took the path so everyone could ride down the cool new ramps off the 6th Street Bridge. It was really beautiful on this atmospheric foggy night.

Seventh Inning Stretch, Southside style! Thanks to the extremely professional and accommodating officers from the Milwaukee Police Dept. who provided safe ride support. I owe you guys a beer – when you are off duty of course! - Photo by Dave Schlabowske

Seventh Inning Stretch, South Side style! Thanks to the extremely professional and accommodating officers from the Milwaukee Police Dept. who provided safe ride support. I owe you guys a beer – when you’re off duty of course! – Photo by Dave Schlabowske

How cool is it for a kid to get to safely ride the big streets of Milwaukee at night? - Photo by Dave Schlabowske

How cool is it for a kid to get to safely ride the big streets of Milwaukee at night? – Photo by Dave Schlabowske

Once back at the start/finish location, people turned their bikes over to Coast In Bikes at the valet bike parking with Saris racks purchased by Eppstein Uhen Architects and donated to the Bike Fed. Then off to listen to the Polish Moon Polka Trio inside Anodyne Coffee, where they played the perfect mix of traditional polka and polka takes on modern, fun-to-dance to tunes. Although the combo was put together just for tonight, they got enough requests for business cards that I’m sure you will be able to hire them for your next party.

The only negatives were two cars broken into and one bike stolen later from a nearby restaurant. I personally chased the burglar away when I saw him leaning into a car with a broken window right around the corner from Anodyne around 10pm. I couldn’t catch him because he jumped into a get-away car, but I called the police and flagged down a passing squad whose officers stopped to help and take down all the information. The bike was stolen from outside at Braise restaurant down the street, where thieves cut the inexpensive cable lock. While that was very disappointing for the people victimized, we can easily address those security issues next year.

So what about next year? As successful as this year was, we learned a number of things that will help us make next year even better.

I was a bit nervous about this inaugural ride, but I feel pretty comfortable promising more smiles next year. - Photo by Dave Schlabowske

I was a bit nervous about this inaugural ride, but I feel pretty comfortable promising more smiles next year. – Photo by Dave Schlabowske

The date: We all like the late summer date because it falls after most other charity rides and after the road racing season. We promise, though, the ride will not conflict with Fiesta Mexicana next year. I am thinking of locking down Friday, Aug. 14th, 2015.

The route: With the shortcut we took this year, participants pedaled 8 miles in an hour and a half, which seemed just right given the number of people with kids. I think we will keep the route the same or allow a split so some people can go the longer route and others the shorter route.

The time: We are considering starting the ride at 7:30 pm instead of 8 pm and starting the block party at 5 pm instead of 6 pm. Moving the time up will mean starting at dusk instead of dark, but still gives everyone plenty of night riding time, while getting families with kids back at 9 pm. The other bonus is it leaves more time to party after and maybe even have two bands or an earlier ride to Kochanski’s Concertina Beer Hall for polka there.

The music: I promise I will have a Mexican Norteno or polka band next year in addition to the Polish Moon Polka Trio, who we hope will come back if we can still afford them. We also need more accordions on the ride. I could imagine 4 accordion players on the ride given how long the group is.

The new ramp down from the 6th St. Bridge to Freshwater Way was opened as a result of our ride – Bike Fed accordion advocacy at work! - Photo by Dave Schlabowske

The new ramp down from the 6th St. Bridge to Freshwater Way was opened as a result of our ride – Bike Fed accordion advocacy at work! – Photo by Dave Schlabowske

Capped registration: While this is a fundraiser for the Bike Fed, I want to keep the emphasis on the fun, not the funds. Keeping the group at a size that can stick together and the police can easily support is more important than maximizing revenue with as many riders as we can get. The police support was amazing, but the group stretched out about a third of a mile with 376 riders. I talked to the officers about a bigger group next year and they thought they could handle more, but I think we will cap the ride at 450 or 500 and see how that goes. Given the instant popularity of the ride, we will probably first offer priority registration to Bike Fed members and residents, then allow non-members.

Community involvement: During the process of organizing this ride, we made a number of closer relationships with community groups. We also got promises of increased support from Alderman José Pérez’s office and State Representative JoCasta Zamarripa to help us increase community involvement. I would also like to reach out to the staff, students and parents at Bradley Tech to encourage them to get involved as a back-to-school event. We are also meeting with the organizers from the Southside Bicycle Day to coordinate with them. Since their successful event is during the day and in June, we might help them get a similar daytime version of our ride going. Rather than try to combine the two events and move dates, we will just support each other and do some cross promotion to make both rides better.

Additional Business Involvement: I would love to create a coupon book that people get with registration, sort of like the cool City Tins, but maybe bicycle tires. I could see having coupons from 20 or more businesses, as there are so many cool places I want to promote on Milwaukee’s near South Side. Walkers Point alone has such a fast growing list of great new places to eat and drink than I can hardly keep up. It would also be really nice to get Rockwell involved. I was hoping they might offer a limited number of visits to their clock tower so we could add that at a VIP registration level, but this year they said no. Maybe the success we had this year will convince the folks at Rockwell to get involved, even though they already provide a lot of support for Bradley Tech, the high school in the neighborhood.

See you next year on Milwaukee’s beautiful south side. - Photo by Dave Schlabowske

See you next year on Milwaukee’s beautiful south side. – Photo by Dave Schlabowske

And let me know in the comments below if you have any suggestions on how we can improve the ride next year.

Categories: Bike Czar

6 thoughts on “Bike Czar: Long Live the Polish Moon Ride!”

  1. Dana Jones says:

    it was a great ride Dave… We had fun and I love your suggestions. I would advise more food and bike related vendors next year too, and maybe a bigger after party space like HotWater/Wherehouse.

    While I know it was meant to be more ride than party, I think a half way stop would be nice; I missed the socializing and getting to know other riders that goes on at other rides.

  2. Leon says:

    Great event but Hamburger seems to have missed, unless I have missed it, the most interesting biking event in the last 10 years in this city, RW24. What gives Hamburgler?

  3. Yeah Dana, I just can’t get a ride insured if we make a stop at a bar or something like that. And I am trying to keep the event family friendly. I think it is pretty neat for kids to be able to ride those streets at night. We have already heard from other restaurants in the area that they will be involved next year. Thanks for coming and the comments.

  4. I agree, the RW24 is the most important cycling event the City of Milwaukee has seen in the last ten years. This is a fundraiser, so it is hard to compare the two, but I wanted to try to create a very different kind of ride that has a real Milwaukee flavor.

  5. Dana says:

    Dave that makes sense. What about a halfway stop to sing and dance under Col.Kosciuzko statue? With a band stationed there?

    The ride was fantastic, thanks for organzing.

  6. I love that idea. In order to stop the ride and restart the ride though, we would have to start earlier. I expect to cap the registration at 500 people next year, which will be an even bigger group, because the line of people stretched so long. It would take half an hour for them all to get into the midpoint stop and at least 15 or 20 minutes for them to leave it.

    I am thinking about starting the ride earlier though, maybe 7pm with the block party and food beginning at 5pm but so people could get there right after work and eat rather than go home. It would also get the kids home earlier. Another idea would be to have the accordion player stop somewhere along the route to play while people ride by, then get back on and ride ahead and do the same somewhere else. That in addition to having more accordion players on the ride that is. The line of riders is so long, people could stop and dance a bit if they wanted to, then get back on and rejoin the line of riders.

    I have also thought about having Polish Moon “training” rides, leading up to the ride. On those rides we would ride to a destination on the route to stay and then ride back. Like meet at Anodyne after work, ride to the Holler House, have some fun there, then ride back.

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