Santa Cycle Rampages take root; more communities encouraged to join the fun
by Kierstin Kloeckner
Fifteen years ago marked the first Santa Rampage Ride in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Dave Schlabowske, one of the Wisconsin Bike Federation’s fearless leaders, started the event. Little did he know, a decade and a half later, his idea would attract nearly 2,000 cyclists dressed as Santa – you read the right – in Milwaukee and scores more in two other Wisconsin communities.
What is Santa Rampage, you ask? It’s part group bike ride, part dress-up, part pub crawl, part community activism and part shenanigans. The mix is a parade of smiles on the faces of everyone involved, regardless of age and riding ability, prompting passersby to wave and cheer and motorists to beep their horns joyfully.
These are not critical mass or a faith-based rides. They’re all about spreading cheer, no matter one’s religion or beliefs.
This year the Santa Rampage Ride in Milwaukee was also about raising funds to support the Bike Fed and their ever growing list of projects. Participants were encouraged to sign up and pay a nominal fee, although they didn’t have to, and in turn, received a hat or T-shirt commemorating the ride. The Bike Fed got out of it a much needed $18,000.
The Fox Cities Santa Cycle Rampage also made giving a part of the ride by adding a donation stop at the emergency shelter Homeless Connection. Mark Desjardin, one of the two ride organizers for the rampage in Appleton, said that while bar hopping was a part of the ride, he wanted to make sure it didn’t end there. The ride pulled over 40 cyclists in its first year and supported several local businesses along the way.
“How cool would it be to have the first Saturday of December be ‘Wisconsin Rampage Day’ when all cities in Wisconsin host Santa rampages and post pictures?” Desjardin asked. Although Desjardin and Sean Bee would like to see the event grow, they are also happy to keep it organic, something the Milwaukee event has done.
Madison Rampage Ride
In Madison, the Santa rampage occurred a week later. Several years ago, Madison Bike Winter was in charge of this ride but poor conditions (rain for two straight years) and low attendance, forced Aaron Crandall to give up the reins. Mia Cheeseman and Rebecca Statz stepped in and this year brought in more than twice the riders, making the group grow to about 45. By having the Madison ride the week after Milwaukee and Appleton, they were able to get participants from both areas into town to do another rampage.
Everyone will agree the weather was on the side organizers this year. With temps in the 40s and 50s both weekends and the roads free of snow, there was little to complain about. Some folks even showed up in shorts, not something you usually see in December.
How to rampage where you live
So why should other communities jump on the bandwagon and run their own Santa rampages next year? And how do they go about putting one on?
First, as mentioned above, this is really all about the community and having fun. My hope is that each town/city takes this very loose template and makes it their own. Want to raise funds for local bike infrastructure projects or nonprofits? Want to get more folks comfortable riding year round? Want a family fun event? Want to support local restaurants and bars? Amazingly enough, you can achieve all of the above by putting one of these rides on.
If you’re new to putting on a cycling event, the best way to rally the troops is through social media. Because of the low cost and ease of getting information to the masses, you just can’t go wrong with using tools like Facebook as well as advertising online magazines (say, by listing your event with Silent Sports) and weekly entertainment papers.
The best advice I would give is to start your ride at a local restaurant, bar or cafe – someplace warm where there is ample bike parking. Let the owners know you’re coming, far in advance, so they know what to expect and have enough staff on hand.
Pick a route that’s doable for all levels – 10 to 15 miles on low traffic roads – and keep the group at leisurely pace. Finally, make several stops where folks can refuel and regroup if they happen to be separated from the pack. Having several stops also makes it possible for those who want to ride fewer miles, or come at a later time, to join in on the fun.
Finally, having a “Plan B” in case the weather turns sour a couple days prior to the event. This way a gathering might still occur, just with fewer miles and stops.
My hope in writing about these wonderful events, and explaining how they can grow throughout the Midwest, is that come next December, I’ll see many more pictures of cycling santas from all over.
When the holiday stress overwhelms you, and you forget what this time of year is really about, nothing will ground you more than getting outside with others and spreading smiles to all that see you ride by.
Kierstin Kloeckner used to race bikes and now commutes by bike to work as a personal trainer and yoga/pilates instructor in Madison, Wisconsin. She blogs at twowheelsfromhome.blogspot.com.