It’s not a bike race. It’s a community event.
What’s the longest amount of time you’ve ever spent riding your bike? An hour? Maybe a couple hours? How about 24 consecutive hours? The Riverwest 24 encourages cyclists to do just that – bike for 24 hours throughout Milwaukee’s eccentric and tight-knit Riverwest neighborhood.
In 2007, some bicycle-loving neighbors decided to create this volunteer-run event to encourage Riverwest residents to go outside, engage with their community, find comfort in biking on the city streets, and create enthusiasm for the neighborhood. The rules are simple: between 7:00 p.m. on Friday and 7:00 p.m. on Saturday during the last weekend of July, over 1000 cyclists hop on their bicycles, unicycles, tandem bikes, or even double-decker bikes to complete laps throughout the neighborhood. Riders can take any route they want, as long as they go to each of the four checkpoints in the correct order to complete a lap. Each lap completed counts as one point. At the end of the 24 hours, the riders in each category with the most points are the lucky winners of an ice sculpture and a case of their favorite local Milwaukee beer.
But wait – doesn’t that sound like a bike race? Sure there are “winners,” but the real magic of the Riverwest24 comes from the “philosophical thumb tacks” that are thrown into the road in the form of bonus checkpoints, forcing the riders off their bikes and into the community. These bonus check points are where the riders gain a lot of their points: creating a piece of art for a community center, cheering on the little bikers in the Kids 24 (a 24-minute bike race), or getting the annual Riverwest 24 tattoo (a new design created each year by local Milwaukee tattoo artists) for example. The bonus checkpoints are different every year, but if you want to make it to the podium at the end of the 24 hours, you must complete the bonuses.
The riders aren’t the only ones who get to have fun during this day-long event. The ride itself is 100% volunteer run. From those who organize the event each year, to those directing traffic to keep the riders safe, to those who serve a complimentary breakfast sometime around hour 12, it’s the enthusiastic volunteers who keep the ride afloat and keep the riders’ spirits up.
The Riverwest 24 is so much more than a bike race. It’s the spirit of the community coming alive in the form of pop-up block parties, residents camping in the parks and staying up all night to cheer on the riders, local coffee shops staying open for 24 straight hours, and neighbors coming together to celebrate what has been affectionately called “The People’s Holiday.” It’s a sense of family and comradery that you won’t find in any other city or neighborhood. Only in Milwaukee. Only in Riverwest.