A guide to two-wheeling joy.
Biking in Milwaukee has never been as popular as it is today. The city enjoys miles of bucolic trails, newly installed off-road paths, bike lanes stretching in just about every direction and organized rides that guarantee a good time. Throw in a thriving, dedicated cycling community, and Milwaukee is ready to roll.
Road to Gold
Stuck on the bottom of the podium, local leaders are gearing up to elevate Milwaukee’s reputation as a champion bike-friendly town.
By Tim McCormick
This feature has been a long time in the works. The idea of covering bikes and bike culture has been a recurring favorite at many a pitch meeting. And the data on cyclists in our corner of Wisconsin have shown the pastime is only gaining in popularity.
Bicycle commuting has increased nearly 60 percent between 2006 and 2013, much of that due to the introduction and improvements of paths such as the Kinnickinnic River Trail or the Beerline Trail. Milwaukee County Transit reports that bike boardings on bus racks are at an all-time high. Currently, 90 percent of the metro area lives within 3 miles of a trail system.
Milwaukee finally got into the bike-share game with the introduction of Bublr Bikes in 2014. As a part of Mayor Tom Barrett’s High Impact Repaving Project, the city saw its first green bike lanes installed on Humboldt Boulevard. Local officials heap praise on the Hank Aaron State Trail and the role it’s played in the revitalization of the Menomonee Valley.
It’s safe to say, getting in the saddle has never been more attractive … or easier.
But even with those cycling amenities, Milwaukee has only been able to secure bronze status from the League of American Bicyclists (LAB), while other Wisconsin communities such as La Crosse (silver) and Madison (gold) find spots higher on the podium. Across the board, government representatives hope to change that.
Much of that charge rests with Kristin Bennett, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian transportation coordinator. And she notes, “[LAB] keeps raising the bar. They want to see Milwaukee do even more.”
Dave Schlabowske of the Wisconsin Bike Federation echoes Bennett. When he heard Milwaukee was again awarded the bronze in 2014, “I felt confused and a little annoyed,” he says. “I feel like Milwaukee has made tremendous progress.”
And even with cuts proposed at the state level, Schlabowske insists, “Local communities are where all the possibilities still exist.”
Barrett, who can sometimes be spotted taking a ride to Northpoint Custard along the lakefront, vows, “We’re going to continue to do more.” It’s become a priority because he consistently hears from constituents and business leaders who are clamoring for more biking infrastructure.
“[Major employers] recognize that it adds value to their business site to have good accessibility for bicycles,” he says.
With that in mind, the city is poised to install at least an additional 10 miles of new bike lanes on city streets by the end of the year. That’s on top of 85 miles of bike lanes we currently enjoy.
The county also expects to repave a major portion of the Oak Leaf Trail, stretching from Grant Park to Sheridan Park, this summer. The Menomonee River Parkway is also set to be reconstructed.
It’s all a part of a sea change that has seen cycling move away from the fringe. It’s a process that Melissa Cook of the Department of Natural Resources has been watching as the DNR made the Hank Aaron State Trail a reality.
Whether the city moves up into silver or gold status isn’t really important to Cook. “I think that’s icing on the cake,” she says. “We’re much more concerned with getting it done right.”
Cook’s focus is on the cooperation she’s seen among various public and private interests on the Hank Aaron, a state trail that connects to the county’s Oak Leaf Trail and rambles through the city on its eastern-most points.
“I’ve seen different governmental entities working better together. And I think we are beginning to see the fruits of our labor.”
A Bicycle Built for You
Buying a new bike can leave your head spinning, but it doesn’t have to.
By Howie Magner
They asked the cycling newbie to write this piece, the guy who hadn’t bought a bike since Pete Rose baseball cards accessorized his spokes. Yeah, things have changed a bit, and here’s the deal: You may as well be buying a car, such is the labyrinth of choice awaiting the uninitiated.
Even after settling on a hybrid bike, that ever-more-popular, comfort-centric compromise between mountain and road styles, the work had just begun. I surfed the Internet, scouting scores of manufacturers and models before settling on a handful of targets. Then it was on to a citywide sojourn in search of test rides, because not every store offers every line, just as a Volkswagen dealer won’t sell you a Ford.
So it was off to try Schwinn and Specialized at Allis Bike & Fitness, Electra at Ben’s Cycle, Fuji at Crank Daddy’s, Giant at South Shore Cyclery, Jamis at Cory the Bike Fixer, and Trek at Wheel & Sprocket. All the while, the questions wheel through your mind. Seven speeds, 21 or more? Trigger shifters? Disc brakes or pad? And just how much did my aging body need those shock-absorbing front forks and seats?
Even when you’ve finally settled on the bike (for me, the Trek Verve 3, pictured above), do you buy from the dealer selling it $20 cheaper, or the one with the better service package (and since when did bikes come with service packages beyond airing up the tires?) You mull it over while browsing through a sea of accessories, from bells to horns, bottle holders to GPS ride-tracking systems, to say nothing of helmet styles (and I said no to the mohawk look).
I went with Emery’s Third Coast, which not only hit a sweet spot on price and service, but offered the bonus of having the bike custom-fit for me by owner and Olympic silver medalist Brent Emery. No, we won’t be racing anytime soon. But me racing Mil Mag colleague Tim McCormick? Anytime, anywhere, pal, starting here.
Five Things I’ve Learned as a Third Ward Bike Cop
By Officer Todd Bohlen
as told to Tim McCormick
1. Rain is the absolute worst. I ride year-round and can dress for the weather when it’s cold or snowing, but you can’t stop the rainwater from getting everywhere.
2. It’s not the first snowfall that causes all the accidents. It’s the second. People think they can handle the snow, but inevitably, they don’t.
3. Riding a bike allows me to get access to areas I couldn’t when I was in a squad car. That goes a long way in working with the community.
4. My bike takes a beating. Luckily, the guys at Ben’s Cycle keep us up to date with the latest Specialized fat-tire bikes for the winter.
5. The Friday mac-n-cheese throwdown at Smoke Shack is phenomenal. Hey, I burn a lot of calories on this thing.