By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Feb 20, 2024 at 8:01 AM

For 15 years, the annual Bike Bazaar has been a gathering place for bike enthusiasts from both near and far. The event returns Saturday, March 16, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Founded by the Wisconsin Bike Federation as a fundraising event, the Bike Bazaar is now organized by Milwaukee Recreation as a means for supporting its Mountain Bike Team program.

The event, which is held annually in the Riverside University High School Community Center, 1615 E. Locust St., features a slate of vendors offering a wide variety of items, from new and used bikes to helmets, clothing, parts, accessories and more.


This year, arts and crafts vendors will also participate.

A popular feature of the event is the bike corral where Bike Bazaar attendees can bring used bikes to sell for a small fee.

Tickets are $5 and $3 for youth. Kids under 12 are admitted free.

Last year, vendors included, among others, businesses and organizations like Dream Bikes, Wisconsin Bike Federation, American Automobile Association and the Milwaukee Recreation MTB, as well as private sellers.

One of the latter was Lauren Brandt, who drove up from central Missouri to set out a table topped with a range of biking jerseys and other clothing for sale.

She says that she collects these items all year long and then visits shows like this to sell them.

“We’re just average Joes,” she says, “but we have a couple companies that come to us twice a year to unload their older stuff, too.

“This is our second or third year here.”

Brandt says it’s worth the trip, for a couple reasons. First off, she does pretty good business.

“I'd say so,” she confirms. “It's decent for the size that it is. It's (a) small (event).”

But there’s another attraction, too.

“We have family here as well, so we come up to see family and then we come here and see what's going on,” says Brandt, who says that in addition to being a vendor, she’s also a customer. “Like Dream Bikes, we see them all over the place, so we usually like to see what they've got here.”

Brandt is not the only one to make the trek to the show.


“It always surprises me how far people travel to come to this event as a customer or as a vendor,” says Milwaukee Recreation’s Andrew Rossa, who organizes the event each year. “I've met some paying customers over the years that travel to bike shops throughout the Midwest.

“They just decided, you know, ‘hey, there's one in Chicago, hey, there's one in Milwaukee.’ I believe there's some people from St. Louis and Indiana just as paying customers, not vendors, this year. It's kind of an interesting dynamic.”

Brad Wagner is from Madison and has been attending the Bike Bazaar for a few years now, including it in a sort of tour of such events he visits annually.

“There's really three shows like this in the Midwest,’ Wagner says. “There's the Madison show, which is the biggest of the three. There's one in St. Charles, Illinois, and then this one. So I try to make the rounds and I get to all three if I can.

“I've been traveling, so I missed the one in St. Charles, but I just got back yesterday, which was just in time for this one.”
Wagner collects vintage bikes and parts so that he can restore them.

“This is probably my fourth time here,” he says. “I'm a collector of classic bikes from the ‘80s, so I'm usually on the lookout for classic bikes.

“I bought a bike I think two years ago here. It was a great deal, actually. Needs a little work, but that's what I do.”

This year, Wagner hadn’t yet found a classic bike, but he was far from disappointed.

“My backpack’s full,” he said, lifting the flap to reveal his finds. “I’ve got some vintage tools and some handlebars, too.”

Taking a minute from his work organizing volunteers, Rossa recounts the history of the Bike Bazaar.

“This event was started by the Bike Federation of Wisconsin as a fundraising event for their organization,” he begins. “The first year it was held at UW-Milwaukee and then over time the Bike Federation and Milwaukee Recreation joined forces.”


Milwaukee Recreation was able to provide the Riverside gym as a space for the event, which helped – along with some other resources – to reduce costs.

Milwaukee Recreation arrived about six or seven years into the Bike Bazaar.

“We got involved at the same time we started our NICA – the National Interscholastic Cycling Association – High School Mountain Bike program,” Rossa recalls. “So then it became our fundraiser for that program.

“The Bicycle Federation came under new management, a new executive director, about five years ago, and at that time the decision was made that Milwaukee Recreation then would take sole ownership of this event.”

Despite ceding the event, the Bike Fed remains involved and in 2023 had one of the largest vendor areas of the show, offering bikes, clothing, accessories and even free yard signs.

“For the past few years Milwaukee Recreation has been running this event as the sole fundraiser for the mountain bike program,” says Rossa, “so that the kids in the program don't have to pay all of the fees associated with an entire season.

“We can buy supplies, clothing, bikes, all those type of things, and help subsidize as much as possible.”

Rossa says the program – which aims to engage young people in mountain biking – currently has 25 participants, 24 of which attend Milwaukee Public Schools.

The kids practice at MacDowell Montessori School at the Juneau Campus and at Riverside University High School.

They learn to ride bikes through the woods and, “enjoy the excitement of racing and spend time with fun people.”
In addition to practices and races, the MTB kids take overnight biking trips.

The funds raised at the Bike Bazaar mostly come from the price of admission but also renting the tables to vendors.

“The vendors themselves sell their own product,” says Rossa. “They take their own money. We don't take any of that.”

Debuting this year was the MTB’s own large booth, with bikes and much more.

“All this product that we have here has been donated to the program,” says Rossa. “This is a new venture for us because we've collected so many things over the years.

“We've typically not sold anything (at the Bike Bazaar), and now cause we've acquired so many things, we've made the decision to sell them so that the older products can be used. We can sell those and buy new stuff.”

The Bike Bazaar had a lower than usual number of vendors in 2023, Rossa says, but he’s not worried.

“It comes and goes with the trends of the biking industry,” he says. “It truly does ebb and flow. There will be years where there will be 60 vendors here.

“COVID was a huge high for the biking industry, so there was a big boom there. But the biking industry is trending down, so now we have 31 paid vendors here. So it's a different dynamic.”

(NOTE: This article was written for Milwaukee Recreation's institutional history project. While the topic was provided by Milwaukee Recreation, the content was not.)

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.