Santas on the naughty list or veloscrooge comment?

Is the Santa Cycle Rampage the wrong way to spread holiday cheer and introduce people to riding bicycles in the winter?

The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin received the comment below on their Facebook page as a result of posting Santa Rampage info:

“Not sure I can get behind this one. I nearly crashed my bike on the way to Hollander so went home to get my car instead. When I followed the group from Hollander to the Distillery in my car I wanted to strangle quite a few of the cyclists for bad behavior. One example: about 20 of them were going round and round the roundabout at the south end of the 6th street bridge. I had no idea which way to look first… to the right where none of the cyclists entering the roundabout were yielding to me or to the left where all of the cyclists were using the road as a merry-go-round. By mid-afternoon there were a lot of overserved santas. Not good. Not good at all

Scrooge? No, just safety minded and looking for cyclists to not fuel the driver/cyclist fire. It was fueled as far as what I witnessed.”

Never fear little one, the Santas will rampage again next year.

First, I have to take issue with driving a car on the santa cycle rampage.  If you don’t feel comfortable riding a bicycle in the winter, that is cool, but don’t drive along with 300 santas on bikes just to be part of it.  Maybe drive to meet the group at one location, but don’t follow along. I also hope the person was not drinking and driving to each of the stops, because not only is that illegal, it could result in an innocent death. 

Second, I did write a courtesy email to the police department again this year, as I did last year.  Here it is:

The Santa’s will ride their bikes to spread holiday cheer this Saturday beginning at 10am at Cafe Hollander. I have attached a route map and schedule. This event started out small a few years ago, but has grown virally through modern networking like Facebook. Also, one of the Cafe owners has done some advertising to promote the event at his restaurant.

Last year there were about 200 Santas and the police squads were very cooperative and helpful.  As usual, everyone will be directed to obey all traffic laws, the ride leaders will stop early at all yellow and red lights, and everyone will have maps and schedules, so santas need not worry about getting lost if the group gets split up. But I am afraid the herd instinct may result in a few Santas going through a red light or two if the lights change while the large group goes through an intersection.

The santas will not try to block traffic and will keep a move on to stay on schedule and not be in any one area for long.  But some Santas do hand out presents and candy canes to kids along the way and this large a group of santas on bikes will likely cause some traffic delays through gawking and sheer numbers.  In the spirit of the holiday season, a bit of understanding from the district police officers would be greatly appreciated. Of course the Santas will obey any direct instructions from police along the route.

Last year the we MPD squads escorted the santas along some of the route, especially at busy intersections.  There were no problems last year and the police were wonderful.  A couple of squads even broadcast Erich’s rolling FM Santa Station. This year there were no police despite the early warning.  I guessed because we didn’t have any problems last year they decided to skip the event and look for real criminals.

Should the Santas stop at every red light?

This year I was stopped at a couple of red lights and some errant santas blatantly rolled through the red, which was uncool. I think it is OK to roll a red or stop sign once in a while as a large group, but when there is a natural break in the group and the signal turns, the group should stop. That said, even though there were some naughty santas, the vast majority of motorists who had to wait a bit seemed to enjoy the santa show, not get angry.

I did witness a bunch of santas rolling around the roundabout, heck I did it too. It only lasted a couple of minutes. But I did not see anyone breaking the law except one woman in a minivan who tried to squeeze in while the santas were rolling around. She should have waited a minute and she wouldn’t have been surrounded by happy rolling veloclauses.  The rules of a roundabout require vehicles entering the circle to yield to those inside.  Until the rolling santas cleared out or there was a safe gap, the van should have waited.

As to the number of over-served santas, that is a tough one and something that does worry me a bit.  I try to keep the event schedule tight so people only have time to have one drink at each stop until the Concertina Bar, which is the end for a lot of santas.  Of course some people use poor judgement and over do it a bit.  I’m not a pure libertarian, but personal responsibility is something we can’t enforce. Santas need to drink and bike responsibly.

Until this comment, I had only heard one other negative from a first time santa on the ride who was also dismayed that some santas ran red lights. Other than those two bits of negative feedback I heard only positive comments about the ride from participants as well as bystanders along the route. Perhaps next year we can do a better job promoting lawful cycling and responsible drinking, but that won’t guarantee all the santas will comply.

What do you think?

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

12 thoughts on “Santas on the naughty list or veloscrooge comment?

    • I agree. What part of Santa Cycle Rampage wasn’t clear to this person? If the route was too treacherous, it would be relatively easy to use the bicycle racks on MCTS buses to get from place to place.

  1. @Dave as a first time rider I thought it was a great great event. And yes not everyone followed every last rule of the road, but for the most part it was very safe and civil.

    PS I loved the roundabout:)

  2. While I agree that we collectively need to obey traffic signs (bicyclists) I did not seem to see any major problems on Saturdays Santa Rampage. Of course if one wants to pick through the pepper to find the fly crap I guess one will be successful, for me I plan to ride in the Santa Rampage next year and will stop for red lights and will also stop to give someone a candy cane and to offer my best wishes to them. Get out of the car and on your bike for next years Santa Rampage!

  3. Oh I’d like to add to what Kevin just said, next year we will bring candy canes to hand out to all the kids along the route. It was really really fun for me and my girlfriend to see all of the smiles that santas brought to children along route, and the only downfall was we felt bad we didn’t have candy canes to give them!:) We’ll fix that next year.

  4. While I really like this event…I think it is hard to defend on any high moral ground. It is essentially a drunken critical mass. A pub crawl on bikes. Personally, I’m all for it. But I think you have to be all for it on a level that concedes that 1) laws will be broken 2) it isn’t really the safest thing to do 3) this is a whole bunch about drinking even if everyone only has one drink at each stop.

    While in a general sense I think that it is important for all road users to follow traffic laws and operate soberly…I also value the social aspect of bike culture. But part of what makes bike culture so great is the subversive nature of it. Which implies some exclusivity and perhaps some bad behavior. Once you try to act like it’s all very on the up and up…it ruins it in so many ways…and also is a little bit insincere.

    Give the police a head’s up…great. Encourage people to behave…super. But in the end…if you want to sanitize (Santa-tize) this thing it really can’t be done without ruining it and missing the entire point. This isn’t an exercise in responsible transportation or good PR. This is an underground party.

    And it is your right to take part in…perhaps even organize…a good party. Probably not the best thing for the city or BFW to be part of promoting or sponsoring though. And if they DID… it would again…ruin it. BFW’s City of Milwaukee Sunday Santa Parkways (trademark, brought to you by Trek Corp…etc) is all fine and good…but the undercurrent will move on to something more interesting if that’s where this heads.

    • You’ve made a lot of great points Dar. When I started the event in Milwaukee ten years ago I knew pretty much everyone in Milwaukee that biked for transportation in Milwaukee. We typically had 10-20 Santas for quite some time. I started it to try to get more people to try biking in the winter and to offer a fun event for those who already did. It has been very successful in both of those regards, perhaps too successful. Back in the day I knew everyone on the ride and we did not cause much of a ruckus traffic wise. With the size of the event now, it does disrupt traffic a bit. Even though it does Santa-tize (AWESOME) it, I liked the police escort. And with the number of santas drinking, inevitably somebody is going to crash and get hurt. I have been thinking of trying to turn the event over to someone else to organize because of the liability I am exposed to as a City employee. The BFW has already “officially” dropped it, though BFW staff do rampage.

      Removing the drinking stops would help some, but even then I am still liable if someone gets hurt from a simple fall. Maybe if I just drop the whole thing next year, it will shrink in size and someone else will just pick up the event. If only we did not have to worry about lawyers and we could all agree people are (within reason) responsible for their behavior.

      • Would it be possible to have Santas sign a waiver that basically says if you crash your sleigh you won’t bring a lawsuit to be decided before a jury of elves?

  5. This was my first Santa Rampage, although I usually ride all winter long, and I didn’t find the roads to be treacherous at all. After the cold snap I’m sure some city roads are a little iffy, but for the Santa ride they were great.

    As for “naughty” Santas, I was pleasantly surprised to see most Santas stopping for lights. There were a few who tried to sneak through, but once the bulk of the group stopped and cross traffic started through, the Santas were forced to wait for the light.
    As for the roundabout, I didn’t hop on the merry-go-round, but I have on other group rides. It is not illegal to go around the roundabout more than once and you are correct that any vehicle that tried to get into the roundabout with all the cycles was the one breaking the law. When I was in Europe, I had to go around many roundabouts multiple times just to get going in the right direction. Most of the Santas only went around a couple times anyhow, as there were drinks to buy at the distillery.

    Thanks for organizing the event, I can’t wait to do it again next year.

    • Thanks for the independent perspective Jeff. I like the video work you have done on your blog. Stopping to smell the roses in the spring is one thing, but stopping to go sledding shows a true commitment to enjoying life’s simple pleasures.

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