Santa Cycle Rampage Spreads Across the Nation

This guy gets the award for the littlest Santa with the biggest heart for scooting along on the ride!

Milwaukee’s 14th annual Santa Cycle Rampage was bigger than ever.  Nobody officially organizes the ride, and there is no registration, so we don’t know exactly how many people spread holiday cheer on two wheels last Saturday. Although there is no official count, this year there were so many skinny Santas that they could not all in the huge Palm Garden at Lakefront Brewery. In fact, it appears that all of Milwaukee is not big enough, as Santa Cycle Rampages have sprung up across the country.

With hundreds of Santas packed like sardines in the Palm Garden, there were still hundreds more outside Lakefront Brewery who never made it inside!

Again, there is no official organizer, and the Santa Cycle Rampage has not been trademarked, but a quick search of Facebook yielded events in Boston, Chicago, Fort Wayne, Kansas City, and Minneapolis. If you are aware of another Rampage somewhere else, let me know about it in the comment section below.

I cannot take credit for the first Rampage though, as I stole the name from Chicago. Back then their event involved about 20 Santas and the odd Dreidel or two who pedaled down to Michigan Avenue and sang anti-consumerism carols to the shoppers on the Miracle Mile. I loved the name and the idea of creating a fun ride in the winter, but didn’t like the message.

Yukon Corneilus left his pick and his brand new Badger Fattywampus fatbike unlocked, believing the spirit of Christmas to protect his cool new ride.

So back in 2000, I invited a handful of friends to Milwaukee’s first Santa Cycle Rampage, and tried to create a fun ride that encouraged people to try bicycling in winter. We dressed up in $14 Santa Suits from Wallgreens (remember those deals?), makeshift elf costumes or basically anything that gave the feel of the holidays. We didn’t have any official stops, but because our group was small, we could stop in anywhere.

I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but it was kind of a life changing experience for me. You will never feel as safe or as welcome on the road as when you are bicycling around in a full on Santa suit. Everyone is honking at you and rolling down their windows to yell at you, but instead of angry shouts to GET ON THE SIDEWALK, they are hollering MERRY CHRISTMAS and pulling over to shoot photos and video with their phones. It just might be the best introduction to riding a bicycle for transportation that you can have.

Remember, reindeer are not legal in Wisconsin!

Reindeer in training.

That first year we spent more time riding than we did sitting in taverns, and we even rode over the Hoan Bridge. We figured what sheriff would arrest Santa? Since then, the ride has grown every year, no matter the weather. Last weekend we had sunshine, forty degree temperatures and somewhere between 500 and 1,000 Santas, but we have had almost as many in recent years when it has been raining, sleeting and snowing. Even in the years when the temperatures have been in the teens, we have had hundreds of Santas.

As awesome as the Santa Cycle Rampage is, I have distanced myself from it as it has grown and there is more drinking. Some Santas on the ride end up on the naughty list because they drink too much. The Wisconsin Bike Fed is not opposed to having a few beers after a ride, but we pub crawls are outside our mission.

Ho, Ho, Ho, Santa has mad skills!

That said, a number of people approached me this year suggesting this should be a fundraiser for the Bike Fed since I started this ride back in the first years that I opened the Milwaukee office for the Wisconsin Bike Fed. Even the owners of a number of the stops on the ride this year mentioned they are willing to sponsor the ride. They each make thousands of dollars in a couple of hours, and since they are bicycle friendly businesses, they want to give back.

That offer is very generous, and I appreciate those members who have offered to help organize registration for next year, but in order to insure the Santa Cycle Rampage, I would have to change it up a bit. I would have to make the ride a bit longer and eliminate official drinking stops. I could start the ride over near Lakefront Brewery and end it at Great Lakes Distillery or Kochanski’s Concertina Beer Hall with an after party, but I cannot insure a ride in which the participants drink.

If we want to insure this ride, the shot skis at Kochanski’s have to be left until the after party and not part of the official ride.

I managed to do that with the Polish Moon Ride. We put together a super fun ride that ended with a great party and 400 people registered for it. The Bike Fed earned about $8,000 from the Polish Moon Ride the first year, so if we did something similar to the Santa Cycle Rampage, I see no reason why it couldn’t generate $10,000 for bicycle advocacy in Milwaukee.

As I mentioned, I would only do this if we could get insurance and permit the event with police support, like we did with the Polish Moon Ride. It would mean a little longer ride through the neighborhoods, but I like that idea. One of the best times of any Rampage is rolling down Chavez Drive and throwing candy canes to the smiling kids. I think people could keep much of the tradition of different groups of Santas gathering for breakfast at various bakeries, cafes and coffee shops around town and riding in to the start. People could also keep the tradition of after parties at different bars around Milwaukee, so they can take their party closer to home.

So what do you say Santas? Should the Bike Fed take the reindeer by the horns and organize the Santa Cycle Rampage in 2015 or should we leave it the slightly drunken and organically organized beautiful thing that it is?


While you consider this question, I leave you with a little poem from Kurt Gering, the official bard of the Tosa Spokesmen:

Twas The Night Before Rampage

They sprang from their cocktailing to see what was the matter.

Away to the window they flew like a breakaway dash

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.


The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Shimmered like new HED rims on the objects below.

When, what to their wondering eyes should appear

But a speeding peloton with eight spokely randonneur.


With a wily ol’ Birkie veteran up front, pulling them all

They knew in an instant it could only be Saint Al.

Their pressure was constant; their cadence the same

As he whistled and shouted and called them by name.


“Now Kegel! Now, Stolar! Now, Freund and Finn!

On, Pieper! On, Bittner! On Reetz and Christopherson!

To Lakefront! To the Distillery! To the Concertina Hall!

Move yer dumb… I mean, now bike away! Bike away! Bike away all!


As the group rode past, to their amazement Reid called for a paceline

And down the street they went, with Jim Carter leading the nine.

But I heard them all exclaim, as they pedaled out of sight,

“Happy Rampage to all, and to all a safe night!”


There are more photos at the Bike Fed’s Photoshelter page here.


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.

9 thoughts on “Santa Cycle Rampage Spreads Across the Nation

  1. The Polish Moon was an excellent ride, and the format could fit well for the Rampage. Can we get the police on Harleys?

    • I think we could get police support, but I’m not sure when they stop using motorcycles or if it has to do with road conditions on a particular day.

    • There was last year, again because owners of the stops who profit by it wanted to give back. Last year we raised about $6,000. This year I received offers that might total $20K next year. As a non-profit that struggles for every penny, it is pretty hard to leave an offer like that on the table.

  2. We borrowed the idea this year for Danbury and Bethel, CT. We had 9 people but great support from hosts and lots of honks/waves from the community. Danbury is a town about the size of Racine. But, there is not one sign, bike lane, SRTS program etc. Bethel has little to no street engineering but has a more positive biking culture. The Santa Ride proved to be a very positive awareness builder for us. I think it will grow next year. Miss the Milwaukee event but at least we were able to share the joy here.

  3. This is an interesting dilemma. I’m active in both the Bike Fed and the last 4 Rampages. I’ve always thought they should be separated – that the Santa Rampage should exist for its own fun, joy-inducing, messy sake. I agree that the best part of the ride are the honks, waves and pictures from unsuspecting cars. It falls into the random acts of kindness bucket. But I also like the beers and shotskis along the way. I don’t think it needs to be tamed.

    I don’t believe every ride/run/event needs a cause. But it’s difficult to be presented with an opportunity to benefit the Fed and not take advantage. Perhaps the local businesses could make the contribution they are talking about without official sponsorship? Lowlands, Lakefront, GLD & Kochanski’s could be “Red and Green Club” members…

    And as for other rides – my brother started the KC Santa Rampage (happening this Sat) after seeing what we do up here!

    • Thanks for the comments Tom. If the Bike Fed gets money from this Rampage, I think we have to organize it in a way that is reasonably safe and insure it. As of right now, there isn’t anyone else who will do the work to organize and insure it. The brewery, distillery, cafe and tavern owners don’t want the added liability and unless another group steps forward, it would have to be the Bike Fed. As I mentioned, our Polish Moon ride was super fun and safe, which might serve as a model for how to insure the Rampage. All the outside feeder locations and after parties could still go on even if we did do a longer, permitted and insured route. Also, I heard through a comment on Facebook that the Kansas City Rampage is an insured ride. Is that true?

  4. It’s a good question, and thanks for asking for input. My inclination would be for Bike Fed to contribute organization of the event. While the free-wheeling, spirited, non-organization has an attractive history, increased drinking and larger and larger numbers will eventually give a bad name to biking. My suggestions are three: get the police (on Harleys) to dress as Santas too (at least hats or big red bows), share the organizational sponsorship with a Milwaukee non-profit that directly serves inner-city kids with perhaps an effort to include a pack of bicycling kids in the event, and thirdly, promote responsible drinking as one reason for the change. There might be some blow-back, but Bike Fed is strong enough to take that. Yes, I like the suggestion to include some stops or contributions from bakeries, sausage, chocolate, and coffee shops, and even consider a way to involve a place like Second Harvest where bikers who wanted to could go after the event to pack toys for prisoners or food for the hungry. Keep the Santa spirit high.

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