Sunday, December 14, 2008

milwaukee props: santa cycle rampage

Yesterday I had the most fun I've had in a really long time.

Because when you combine santa suits, bicycling, beer and polka, fun is pretty much inevitable.

We began the day at Fat Abbey Bier Café. I met up with my friends Monica and Joe P around 10:30 and caught up to the gang with a Bloody Mary. Unfortunately I lost my pickled bean when I turned around to meet my co-worker's family.

Shortly after 11, the orders were given to head out onto the streets. We grabbed our bikes and followed the pack of Santas.
Instead of heading directly to our next location, we had an impromptu Santa Cycle parade up Milwaukee's busiest streets. We looped around to Water Street and then headed south to Wisconsin Avenue, heading west up downtown's biggest artery. There were so many excited tourists, kids smiling and waving, homeless people shouting "Merry Christmas!" was pure holiday magic. Then we got pulled over. Yes, 150 santas pulled over on Wisconsin Avenue. We tried singing Christmas Carols to appease our captors, and perhaps it did work. The cops ordered us to ride "stop at red lights and ride two abreast." The latter order elicited a huge Santa giggle from the crowd. Seriously, who doesn't giggle at the word "abreast"?

Something to note here, on our run in with the law, is that no one is "in charge" of these indie bike rides. Obviously the liability would be ridiculous. These things just sort of "happen." There's an unwritten code to follow the group and not get out of control and the whole thing happens peacefully and without major incident. It's pretty amazing to witness and really does restore your faith in humanity.

As we rode away from our detour, I overheard one of the cops say "Wow, I really needed a laugh today so thanks for calling me out on this one." We continued down 4th Street, back to McKinley, to Water and on up to Brady. Unfortunately this meant tackling the Water to Brady Street hill. This hill is a pain in the butt when you can get up the speed to fly up it solo. Inching up it in a pack (two abreast no less--we were followed by the cops) was pretty brutal. We pulled up to The Nomad, I reunited with my gang, and Joe P bought us some Boddingtons in a can. It was warm enough (40 degrees!) to stand outside and drink with the santa pack.

This was a pretty quick oasis, so we slammed our beers and headed back with the pack on the short ride over to Lakefront Brewery. This was the off-road portion of the ride and although the Marsupial Bridge was fairly easy:

...the ride down the bike path to Commerce was more like a ski hill:

By the way, that plastic Santa attached to the back of a bike, had speakers and played Christmas music. (It also played Gary Glitter at some point too, which was a bit disturbing considering Santa's interaction with children.) There was also another guy with a "SantaCam" attached to his helmet.

The Lakefront folks were WONDERFUL to our group and gave us a free beer token when we walked in the door. They also accommodated us by taking a group photo (there was huge pile of cameras to get through). Add to their generosity the most delicious beer in Milwaukee and they top my list of favorite breweries. I enjoyed a few samples of their classic, Riverwest Stein, yesterday.


After the Lakefront stop things got a little hectic (and there is no longer photo evidence). Monica had to figure out if she was meeting up with her sister and her kids later, we were chatting with some elf, not paying attention, etc. and we realized all the Santas were gone. The next stop was four miles south, in Bay View. Monica and Joe P are way faster riders than me, so I left them and got a head start. I made it all the way to National Ave and realized how far behind I was, so I hopped a Route 15 and took my bike on the bus for the first time. Although we are not getting bike racks on our buses until next spring, if a bus isn't crowded you can ask the driver if you can bring your bike on board. I definitely was an instant celebrity on the bus, as most of the passengers, and the driver, had seen my comrades ride by about 10 minutes prior.

I hopped off at Lincoln and Kinnickinnic, to head into Café Centraal. On the way in I ran into my friend Liz, her husband, aunt and uncle, who I'd all seen the night before. They thought the whole thing was a riot. I got inside, ordered a Fat Abbey Strong Ale (Lakefront) and waited for my friends to arrive. I ended up running into another co-worker who was having lunch with his wife.

Question of the day: "Is this what you do in your spare time?"

Later I ran into my Santa co-worker and gave him the heads up to be alert. About that time, my friends walked in the door looking worse for wear. Apparently Joe P's crank fell off his pedal and they'd walked the last mile to Centraal. They just wanted to get some food and figure out how to get home, but I had my second wind and wanted to finish the ride.

When the Santa pack left, I headed out with them this time. This would be to the last stop, Kochanski's Concertina Beer Hall, where I hadn't been since it was Art's Concertina Hall. Another long ride, three miles from Centraal, I ended up meeting some of the Twitter folks that were doing the ride. That was interesting, as I'm not a huge "internet friend" person, but I do have plenty of real-life friends who are.

Kochanski's had free chili for Santas, but alas I could not enjoy the meaty treat. Instead I sat at the bar drinking a Fat Squirrel (New Glarus) watching A Christmas Story. Eventually I made some new Santa friends, did the polka, was treated to an accordion serenade and snagged a much-appreciated lift the five miles home for my bike and myself.

Needless to say I will definitely be rampaging again next year (even though my whole body aches today). I also hope to do some of the other silly bike rides before that time...if I'm cool enough to hear about them.


  1. That looks like so much fun. I wish I enjoyed biking more to participate in things like that. And as always.. totally jealous you were drinking New Glarus.

  2. Nice blog... I was in the ride so I was just scanning for pics and commentary. I kind of wish I would have gone to the last stop. All the food at Cafe Centraal got to me so I ended up getting lunch there.


  3. my daughter was thrilled to see a bunch of santa claus' biking down first street. thanks!

  4. Nice write up. It was good to meet you between Centraal and The Accordion Bar. It's cool that you got to put a lot of the city's transportation to use!

  5. Yes, this ride was so much fun! It was my first year and I'll definitely be doing it again in 2009. You should check out other milwaukee bike events throughout the year.

    By the way, did you enjoy the awesome Father Christmas/St. Nicholas costume as much as I did?

  6. Couldn't make it this year. First one I've ever missed!! ;-( Thanks for giving the blow by blow. Felt like I was there.


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