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If you participate in organized rides or races in Wisconsin, you are accustomed to seeing the distinct red jerseys of the Wisconsin Bike Patrol. The all-volunteer Wisconsin Bike Patrol serves as the medical first responders on bikes at your favorite events across the state – including the Bike Fed’s Ride Across Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Bike Patrol started as a state chapter of the International Mountain Biking Association’s (IMBA) National Mountain Bike Patrol (NMBP). Volunteers served as mountain bike trail ‘assistants’ – watching and caring primarily for state mountain bike trails and occasionally assisting at local mountain biking events. As requests to provide services at a variety of different events came rolling in, and volunteers enjoyed the variety of opportunities, Wisconsin Bike Patrol became an independent nonprofit organization in 2013.

The number and variety of organized bike events in Wisconsin continues to grow and the Bike Patrol is in need of more volunteers. Think you might be a good candidate for the Wisconsin Bike Patrol?  Volunteers must have a minimum prior training as an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) or have training in O.E.C (Outdoor Emergency Care). Bike Patrol members also must have basic emergency bike repair skills like fixing a flat, chain or derailleur.  Finally, you must be a competent mountain bike rider (off road), willing to work at least five events per season, commit to wearing the jersey or jacket in order to be identified, good communication skills, and a desire to help others.

Volunteer Eric Howden came to Bike Patrol after serving as a member of the Alpine Valley Ski Patrol for 10 years. Howden is also a NICA (National Interscholastic Cycling Association) parent and was getting out on his own bike while his son practiced and raced with the Lake Country Composite/Kettle Moraine High School Team. He soon became both a NICA coach and a Wisconsin Bike Patrol Member which gave him the opportunity to ride with his son’s team during practice  – and to enjoy the races with the unique perspective of being on the course with the racers..

Wisconsin Bike Fed sat down with Eric Howden to learn more about serving with Wisconsin Bike Patrol.

WBF: What do you enjoy most about volunteering with the Wisconsin Bike Patrol? 

EH:  Bike Patrol brings together a bunch of what I really enjoy – mountain biking, helping others as a medical first responder and all the while hanging out with a great group of people who are volunteering their time and enjoying what they are doing.

The NICA races are probably my favorite. Wisconsin has such a tremendous league that has absolutely exploded in size and so there is plenty of need for support at the races.  But what is best about being out with the NICA racers is that there is every level of rider out there.  I get to see riders who are inching along and doing their best just to get through but not giving up and really pushing themselves, all the way through to riders who have found their “thing” and are aiming to earn points and keep improving their riding. When our services are called upon when there is an injury or a rider in need of support, the riders, family members, coaches, league…are all super supportive and thankful of the effort that the patrol members put in during the races.   

WBF:  Was there anything you found surprising or remarkable when you joined the Wisconsin Bike Patrol?

EH: The level of commitment that so many of the racers (not sure if the cyclo-cross folks or mountain bikers reign supreme in this area) bring to the sport is amazing to watch. There have been a handful of injuries that I’ve witnessed, or helped out with, that would have for sure had me taking the rest of the day or week off.  But plenty of times the racers get patched up and head right back out to keep on rolling. 

 WBF:  Why is this a good time to join the Wisconsin Bike Patrol?  

EH: Mountain biking, cyclo-cross and so many other races that the Wi Bike Patrol helps to support are absolutely booming in Wisconsin.  WORS has expanded their race series. NICA has expanded their series and is seeing astronomical numbers of racers coming out. I believe Wisconsin is now the second largest NICA league in the US! The number of requests from race directors for Bike Patrol to service their events keeps growing.  So much so that the patrol is currently seeking to develop two “units” in the state – a southern and northern patrol.  If we can add enough patrollers to make this happen, patrollers can reduce travel time (if they wish, there are still plenty of opportunities to experience races across the state) while allowing the patrol to service races statewide.

WBF:  If someone is interested in joining the Wisconsin Bike Patrol what should they do?

EH: They should visit the website to learn more and submit an application. Wisconsin Bike Patrollers have a wide mix of backgrounds, ages, riding abilities and medical training. There are folks like myself with Ski Patrol background, and others with EMT experience, firefighters, nurses and physicians.  Patrol members don’t need to be “racers” – it is about supporting the riders on the trail and at the medical tent.

Wisconsin Bike Patrol continues to grow, but requests for their help at events has now far exceeded the available manpower and equipment to fulfill the requests. The Bike Patrol recently purchased a second rescue unit and are currently getting it outfitted to be ready for the season.  Now, the Wisconsin Bike Patrol urgently needs more trained volunteers to be able to serve more events. Please consider joining the Wisconsin Bike Patrol.  And, when you see them out at races or rides throughout the year, thank them for their service.  They are an indispensable part of Wisconsin’s cycling community!