Long Live the Polish Moon Ride

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?

The cool foggy summer night gave the night a magical feel.

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 most overwhelmed by how cool it was to ride these historic urban streets at night and get cheered form the 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 is going to bring lots of friends to next year.

With almost 400 people, 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 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.

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 cool on the 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!

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 with modern polka takes on 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.

How cool is it for a kid to get to safely ride the big streets of Milwaukee at night?

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 call the police and did flag down a passing squad who 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.

The date: We all like the late summer date because it is after most other charity rides, after road racing season and before cross 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 7:30pm instead of 8pm and starting the block party at 5pm instead of 6pm. Moving the time up will mean starting at dusk instead of dark, still gives everyone plenty of night riding time, but gets families with kids back at 9pm. 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!

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 a size that can stick together and the police can easily support is more important than getting as 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.

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

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 11 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave lives with his wife Liz and daughter Frankie in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's west side.

13 thoughts on “Long Live the Polish Moon Ride

  1. Very fun ride. Beer was too expensive from MKE. People were going to the coffee shop and paying $2 less for the same beer. The tacos were cheap and awesome, but $6 beer from the place that makes it 15 feet away?

    • Thanks for the feedback. I didn’t actually get to have any beer until after the ride, so I didn’t see the pricing. I will share that with MKE Brewing though.

  2. Next year arrange so I don’t get called into work and can actually ride instead of just eat. I also think you should put the year on the shirts.

    • Noted, just share your bosses name and phone number and I will put in a request for you! Seriously, we will announce the date early, so you can reserve the evening off long in advance in ALL CAPS on the work schedule. Also noted on the shirts, but I was considering offering musette bags instead of shirts. Waddaya think?

  3. I loved this ride and appreciated that it was a group ride. However, I was disappointed that there was not a requirement that riders wear helmets. There were kids riding with no lights and no helmets. This was especially disappointing for a ride sponsored by the Bicycle Federation. It is a perfect time to promote safe riding.

    • We asked that people wear helmets and bring lights on the waiver and registration, but we did not kick people off the ride for not doing so. We also made sure Coast In Bikes had discounted bike light sets for sale at the event.

  4. Another great Bike Fed event, with perfect weather and excellent company on a really fun ride. See you next year!

  5. Congratulations Dave and the Bike Fed! 376 riders is an incredible turnout for a new event! I was sad to miss this year’s ride due to a commitment! I look forward to learning the 2015 event date as soon as it’s locked down.

    Re putting the year on event swag: in my experience with planning events, it may be better not to. That way you can order plenty knowing that leftovers can be sold or given as promotions later. If you put the year, it kills the item’s post-event shelf life.

  6. We liked being part of the inaugural ride. Fun route, gorgeous weather. I love supporting the Bike Fed.
    This year’s ride support was lacking- we had to leave a member of our party on a dark sidewalk in a busy neighborhood with no other support than the 2 folks on bikes who were able to help her. Had they been a block east, they’d have light, had there been a SAG wagon, even a van, she could have rejoined the group. The folks who stayed with her were awesome, and they all pedalled in, looking pretty defeated, about 30 stressful minutes after we finished. No one assisting had anyone from the ride’s phone #’s, & the folks designed as “rear admirals” were in the middle of the pack the majority of the ride.

    Had I not been trailing a child, I would have stayed with her, too. As it was, I had to take a break to calm my kid & led my over 60 mom over the 16th St viaduct safely til we rejoined the group. I felt lucky I’m rather experienced with group rides in urban settings.

    We will give it a shot next year, if it’s not the 15th weekend, that’s Irish Fest.

    Nice that the taco folks stayed til after the ride. Would love to see more food choices after the ride next year.
    Signed, a fan of the Fed

    • Kiara,

      Sorry your crew had mechanicals and the sag support was lacking. Next year we will definitely have better sag, including a contact phone number and radio/mobile support. The other urban rides I have organized were self-supported, and this was a bit of a different animal for me. Sorry you guys had some stressful moments.

      I’m torn about how to handle support since even if we have better mechanical support and communications, the riders will most likely have to play catch up since the larger group keeps moving. We might have to use a follow 12 passenger/cargo van with repairs inside the van to pull people back to the ride or even just bring them to the finish if the repairs are late in the ride. Do you have other suggestions for sag support?

      At this point, it is looking like the ride will be Friday Aug. 14th. The weekend of Aug. 8th is Taste of the Midwest, so all the beverage providers will be at that and we can’t do the ride on the same weekend as Mexican Fiesta. When a final decision is made, we will send that information to everyone who participated this year.

      We will also have more food vendors next year and they will stay later. Thanks again for coming to the first year event, thanks for your comments and sorry about the limited ride support for families like yours. We won’t make the same mistake again.

      • I know Ben’s Cycle were the supporting bike shop, which makes lots of sense given the location. Ben’s is a great shop that I’ve supported. If Ben’s cannot offer a SAG wagon, I know Wheel & Sprocket does a lot of ride support & does it well. (I’ve helped do so.) Perhaps that’s another option.

        Also, more Pierogis!
        Keeping it Polish,
        Kiara

        • I like the Pierogi idea! Coast In Bikes was the primary supporting shop, and they are a car-free shop who supported the ride with cargo bikes. Ben’s was a sponsor and provided their grill for sausage, but they do have a van and could provide sag. Great feedback Kiara, thanks again.

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