This was the first year I have participated in the Riverwest 24 Hour Bike Race, so I made a point of reading the goals and the rules before I rode down there. The website states the intent is “show off Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood and encourage biking in an urban environment.” My first impression is that the event was a fabulous promotion for a great neighborhood. I was extremely impressed with the community DIY volunteerism and the positive attitude of everyone I talked to during the race. From one block party to the next, I was overwhelmed by the 24 hours of generosity from residents handing up homemade cookies, fruit, water, lemonade, etc. to volunteers manning the check points.
Another reason I participated was I really liked the rules listed on the webpage:
All rules subject to change prior to race start
- You must be 18 or older, and fill out the required waiver and paperwork to participate in the race.
- Helmets are required
- Lights are required after dusk and before dawn.
- RW24 organizers reserve the right to disqualify any participant of the race for any reason.
- Alcohol or illicit drugs are prohibited.
- Participants must obey all traffic laws.
That is my emphasis on the last rule. Perhaps because I was not there for the start, I missed when they announced that the last rule was the one subject to change, because as soon as people started rolling, the rules of the road were forgotten and the race took on the character of an alleycat. In fact, some of the fastest racers turning in the really hot laps on full race bikes possessed the skills of urban bike couriers and the fitness of neo-pro racers.
Regular readers will know I am pretty strict about obeying traffic laws on the bike and in a car. During the first lap, I was stopped at a red light at Humboldt and Locust with a horde of other RW24 revelers. Before the light turned green, it was just me and a bunch of people looking through their windshields as the bikes sped south on Humboldt. Now I was never in it to win it, but as I chased to catch back up, I seemed to drop my principles. Before I knew it, those principles were off the back and I was sucked along a the lawless draft pulled me through the red lights. Two days later, I’m not so proud of the way I rode.
Don’t get me wrong, the RW24 is a great event, but I wonder what impression it left on all the motorists who had people on bicycles whizzing past them on all sides blazing through red lights. I bet the the RW24 confirmed to most of those people who bikes are toys used for racing and the people who ride them are maniacal scofflaws with no respect for others.
What if instead, the participants obeyed all (or at least most) of the laws. Perhaps then all those people trapped in their cars surrounded by smiling, costumed people on bikes might have wondered what they were missing. Even if they did not drive home and pump up the tires on their dusty bikes, they might have smiled back at the contagious joy felt by most everyone I talked to in the race.
I will most likely do the race again next year, but I probably won’t make as many laps. My principles tend to slow me down.