How to deliver 500,000 packages

A week or so ago was the 15th anniversary of Breakaway Bicycle Couriers, Milwaukee’s longest-lived modern bicycle messenger service. Since Breakaway was started by Wayne Wallner and three others (John Sharpe, Andy Miller and John Trusky), they have safely delivered more than half a million packages, on time, with short notice, in every kind of weather, with zero emissions. Happy anniversary to the current hard-working crew at Breakaway and all their (in)famous alumni!

Delivering a "six pack" Breakaway style. Photo by Breakaway

While making all those deliveries and running a successful business is worthy in itself of celebration, Breakaway have done much more for Milwaukee. They broke ground for bike messengers in a city overflowing with empty loading zones. Not since the days when Edward Steichen pedaled the streets of old Milwaukee for Western Union at the turn of the last century, did Milwaukee have bike messengers.

Milwaukee's first bike messengers, outside the current location of the Swinging Door, still a hangout for hard working professionals.

Because Breakaway proved you could save time (and make money) dependably delivering important packages for advertising agencies, law firms and restaurants, we now have other courier companies, like Milwaukee Courier Company and Flavor Cycle.  They have to work hard to do that in a city where it is notoriously easy to park a car.

Beyond that, our bike messengers, and Breakaway in particular, are the foundation on which much of our urban bike culture in Milwaukee has been built. Our couriers are “roll” models for every skinny jean wearing, fixie riding urbanite with a Timbuk2 bag over his or her shoulder. They made it cool to ride a bike for transportation, inspiring thousands of young people to get around on two wheels instead of getting into a car as soon as they turned 16. They helped local bike shops sell lots of Bianchi Pistas, 1/8 Inch, Milwaukee Bicycle Company Bruisers, etc. to people who had perfectly good road bikes, but suddenly wanted that second “cool” but inexpensive ride to pedal down to the local Alterra for a coffee.


Breakaway alum Kevin Sparrow delivering a heavy load of cargo. Kevin now pedals around the arrondissements municipaux in Paris with his wife and daughter. Photo by Peter DiAntoni

Professional couriers from across the country will soon be visiting the 414 to take part in one of the best courier races in the world, the Milwaukee Messenger Invitational. The MMI turns 12 this year, and I am proud to say I still have (and can still fit in) my Von Munz designed shirt from the first MMI. Beyond the MMI and our weekly alleycat race series, Milwaukee’s world famous bike polo scene owes its start in large part to our bike messengers. COG Magazine, the preeminent fixed gear publication in the world is produced in the Riverwest neighborhood. The organizers of the Riverwest 24 was certainly inspired by the urban bike culture Breakaway helped legitimize.


Nicole, a fashion designer for Kohls still bikes to work. Pictured here in her professional workwear back in 2004. Photo by Peter DiAntoni

Wayne, a bit younger looking, but still living the life. Photo by Peter DiAntoni

For all you have done for Milwaukee, for all the packages you have delivered to the Bike Fed offices, for making it look so easy and for politely sharing the occasional beer with an old guy who has never owned a mini-U and just can’t do skinny jeans, thanks Breakaway. Rubber side down!

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.

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