By Jeremy Prach
Photographs by Peter DiAntoni
Riverwest is a neighborhood in the center of Milwaukee which I believe to be one of the last true neighborhoods left. I love living here for many reasons. I can walk into any one of the many bars, coffee shops or other local businesses and ask any one person for anything without regrets. I have walked to the corner bar and asked for tools, babysitters, help fixing my bike and each time I was given immediate assistance towards my request with overwhelming support and encouragement for my project. I am proud to walk the streets and introduce my children to the many colors, and styles of the residence here. Each person that we walk by returns our "Hello's." I enjoy being a few minute bike ride from all things a big city has to offer. I enjoy having a beer on my porch on a hot summer night. The streets have an energy and an excitment of danger. There are times the crime in Riverwest challenges my foundation, however, I speak for the endearing residents when I say we always rebuild. Each resident of Riverwest has a portfolio of crime stories. However, it is this continual destroying of what we have and rebuilding that creates such a strong pride in the neighborhood. The Riverwest 24 came from discussions on porches amidst this backdrop.
The Riverwest 24 is not a bike race as much as it is a means of bringing the community together. Bicycles are the medium for a 24 discussion. This is done through a strong philosophy. It is the belief of the organizers of the event that if we know our neighbors, we will be safer. In order to communicate with your neighbors one needs to get out of the house and cheer on passing riders. We are creating an event that gets people out of their air conditioned homes, air conditioning, although a guilty pleasure, is uncivilized. Communication with your neighbors begins when you get out of your car and get in line with your neighbors and pedal a bicycle. Cars are also uncivilized. This event had been kicked around for awhile, however, it came into focus when Paul, the graphic manger, and I were part of a team that participated in the Baja 1000. The Baja 1000 is a motorized race from Ensenada to Los Cabos, Mexico. Paul and I were inspired by the community building that was centered around the event. Entire towns came out to watch to riders pass by. The locals cheered every vehicle with equal amounts of passion. It did not matter to them that we were near the back of the pack, they were excited to meet us and gracious for our visit. Paul and I were privy to a sporting event where the winner is not the sole star; participating is very near winning.
Completing 4.8 mile laps within the 24 hours between start and finish is the soul of the competition for the Riverwest 24. Riders go to checkpoint one, to get their manifest stamped. They continue on to the next checkpoint until they have completed all four checkpoints. At the start/finish line they are awarded one lap; laps are counted in real time via the website, www.riverwest24.com, and a chalk board, which is used as a back-up. Riders are encouraged to go to bonuses that showcase the greatness of the neighborhood. A different bonus checkpoint opens every two hours. Bonus checkpoints include participation in the anarchist's collective silk-screening, the Catholic Church's breakfast, a crap's game, getting a hair cut (barber's choice) for three bonus laps and get a pre-set RW24 tattoo for five bonus laps. All of these bonuses are part of what makes a true neighborhood so diverse. Riders were also encouraged to stop at each of the checkpoints to eat food, watch live music or movies or dance in the 3AM dance party. It is in the Riverwesterner's mind set to participate in a mundane event such as this because a Riverwesterner has no illusions of grandeur. They understand that to participate is to win, to create for the now is all one needs.