With the ridiculously humid days we’ve been having in Milwaukee as of late, it felt good to get together with 300+ other half-naked bicyclists and cruise all over the city on a nice Thursday evening last week.
If you weren’t on last week’s Milwaukee Underwear Bike Ride, I’m sure you saw or heard that it was happening. There were countless people that were out for their first underwear bike ride, who I’ve ran into in the days following, and who all had an amazing night. I welcome them and anyone else who’s ever been curious to come one of the rides to join us next month.
I want us to engage our city, both it’s people and places, in a positive and interesting approach. There are countless amazing things happening in this city everyday, and I’m happy that the Milwaukee Underwear Bike Ride is one of them that makes this city feel a little more like home.
This is a fun, social ride, but we also need to be riding safely and respectfully. As individuals coming out on the ride, you need to be responsible for yourself, and respecful of all others and your surroundings. For the last three summers, we’ve promoted the ride and been vocal day-of in the following way – “Please ride safely and be respectful of others around you. We will be riding at a group pace, and following the rules of the road (i.e. staying in our lane, stopping at red lights, etc.). Remember to bring your bike lights!”. Borrowing a quote I heard over the weekend at the Tour de Fat, “we aren’t anti-car, but pro-bicycle.”
We interacted with the police a bit last Thursday, but in a very positive manner. We were never in trouble, and no tickets were issused. They were actually rather nice and supportive of the event. They used their spotlight to light us up for a group photo, loaned me their microphone when mine broke, and gave one girl with a flat a ride all the way back to the ride’s afterparty. They “joined” us for a bit of the ride soon after we got off the 6th Street viaduct, and their biggest concerns were us maintaining our proper lane positioning. To bring up a specific situation, when we have two traffic lanes and our own bike lane, stay to the ride and leave the left lane open for other traffic. Even more importantly, do not ride into oncoming traffic. It’s very simple. Don’t ruin a good thing for everyone else, your actions as an indivual do reflect on the entire group.
We rode a healthy distance, and took a mid-ride stop at Washington Park. I love this park, and everything it has to offer. It has a beautiful landscape, has one of our Urban Ecology Centers, and is home to Milwaukee Bike Polo’s courts. The park was designed by famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, who also built Milwaukee’s Lake Park and Central Park in New York. Washington Park was also originally the home of the Milwaukee County Zoo. I had criticism from friends and other riders about being in a “rough” neighborhood, but I want to break down those stereotypes and how we perceive our city. I purposely bring friends and rides to places that I love in the city, and places many have never been. I want you to break out of your typical commutes and lifestyles, to explore new areas of the city, and to meet new people.
Flats and other mechanical problems are bound to happen, unfortunately. We’ll be having designated ride-supporters to ride in the rear of the group and help anyone with flats or other issues, and provide a safe transport or escort to home, or to the ride’s ending location.
A group ride of this size is completely different than a solo commute or riding with a few friends. Most of these things should be common sense, but let me break it down.. Make sure to keep plenty of spacing between yourself and other riders. Riding predictably is very, very important. No one should be swerving into other riders on either side, or bumping into the riders in front of them. Give yourself and others enough room, and ride in a straight, steady line. Communicate well with others around you, both vocally and with your hand signals.. “passing on your left”, “pothole”, “car up”, “turning right up ahead”, “group up”, etc. If you hear any of these, echo them back to the rest of the group.
No one needs to be an “expert” bicyclist or have any special type of bike to come out on group rides, or even commute by bicycle in general, but you do need to have adequite bike-handling skills and know how to ride safely, following the rules of the road. This includes your actions or decisions that might impair your ability to do so. We all are out on a fun, liberating ride, but do not do anything that would jeopordize the safety of others. If you can’t do these things, I’m sorry, but please don’t come out and ruin it for the rest of us.
To encourage these things with others, I ask that you all lead by example. This goes for on these rides, and your daily commuting. Communicate well with others, friends and strangers alike. To make sure we see all these things happen on future rides, and to make sure everyone has a fun and safe time, we’ll have more clearly designated ride “ambassadors” to lead throughout the group. If you want to get involved and help, simply get in touch.
I’ve counted on close friends to be these ambassadors, and I appreciate their help tremendously. A number of core riders I thought I could count on as leaders have been turned-off by the growing size of the group and all the new riders, and that’s unfortunate. I don’t know why I’ve allowed this to get under my skin as much as it has, but it does. I’m trying to filter my feelings and emotions into something positive, and want to thank my friends and new aquaintances that have been keeping me upbeat.
To friends that have been with this from the start, or anyone for that matter, feel free to reach out and talk to me if you see things you think need working on. Or better yet, address them when you see it happen. It’s obvious that this thing has grown into something we never expected, but I still want you to be able to come out and enjoy yourselves. Without his permission, I’m going to quote something my good friend said that sums up this relationship with the ride a little better.
“A group of individuals are remorseful that something they once valued so highly has distinctly changed, and are now reacting by making potentially hurtful comments. In my mind, these public statements are a clear demonstration that this group had a deep fondness for the underwear rides and clearly it affected their lives to such an extreme degree that they are now acting like jilted lovers instead of just letting it go. In addition, It should be obvious that this ride is undeniably linked to our friend Steve, and any comment you make henceforth is clearly a valuation of him.”
I’m addressing a lot of issues that impact the ride day-of, but it’s clear that this ride has deeper impacts in all of our lives. The new friendships, relationships, and community-building that we take from it and into our everyday lives is invaluable. I sometimes think of myself being sixty and telling my grandchildren stories of these rides and my summers spent here in Milwaukee, and get the biggest grin on my face.
An old and new friend recently just shared some thoughts that truly warmed my heart that I’d like to share with you.
“If it wasn’t for you and the underwear rides, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with Dan.. dancin’ in our underwear! They always hold a special place in my heart.”
“Thursday was my first underwear ride, and I had a freaking amazing time. We were riding up Farwell off of North and I was in the middle of the pack. Seeing the whole street packed with bikes both ahead of and behind me was exhilarating and made me immediately realize that we’re a pretty powerful force when we all get together.. I think we have a real chance of making a difference in this city, both in the present and for the future, and I want to be a part of that.”
Thank your for reading this, but more importantly being a part of this.
(see you on August 16th!)