With gas prices on the rise and new policies and ideas on the table, it's time to look at how we get around. We all need to get someplace and we use many different modes of transportation to do so. As we kick off 2011 at OnMilwaukee.com, we're taking an in-depth look at how we get around with a special "Transportation Week," featuring all kinds of stories about how Milwaukee gets where it's going. So, buckle up, hop on and all aboard.
Bicyclists in Wisconsin have it pretty good. The League of American Bicyclists ranked the state second in the country for bicycle friendliness in 2009, and if the number of trails and cycling organizations Milwaukee has to offer is any indication, our city is doing an excellent job of representing that statistic.
Getting around by bike in Milwaukee is a pretty efficient means of transportation, but those who live on the other side of town or don't own a bicycle don't often get the opportunity to take advantage of the city's cycle-friendly amenities. Luckily for them, a number of local bike shops offer affordable rental options for people looking to get some fresh air and take advantage of a sightseeing trip by bike.
While wheeling around in winter is not everyone's sport of choice, there are a couple shops that provide year-round bike rentals. Ben's Cycle, 1018 W. Lincoln Ave., and Rainbow Jersey Bicycles, 4600 N. Wilson Dr. in Shorewood, have bikes available during winter months, but the service isn't used much due to the generally unfavorable riding conditions.
"It's Milwaukee. We just don't rent bikes in the winter," said Jerry Pearce, owner of Rainbow Jersey Bicycles. "If somebody came in, we could do it, but people don't do it."
Once the warmer weather rolls around though, business picks up quickly with locals and city visitors alike looking to explore the downtown area.
"Usually they're either in town as a tourist and just want something they can cruise around on and see the city, or they're more of a serious rider and they want something so they can go riding with their friends," said Anton Sieger, who works for Ben's Cycle. "We usually rent a lot of bikes out, especially during the Miller Lite Ride for the Arts."
Sightseeing and racing have been the main reasons people rent bicycles around the city for as long as Ben's Cycle as had them available. These needs also apply on the northern end of the city at Rainbow Jersey Bicycles, and at Cory The Bike Fixer, 2410 N. Murray Ave. on the East Side, who just started seasonal rentals this past summer.
"A lot of people wanted road bikes to do triathlons and mini-triathlons and sport rides," said Cory Gassmann, owner of Cory The Bike Fixer. "We did get a good amount of people just coming into town for a business trip or something who wanted to get out and exercise rather than sit in the hotel room."
In addition to their regular road bike and tandem rentals, Cory The Bike Fixer has also rents out their exclusive Whirlwind cycle, a lightweight, thin-tire cruiser. While these provide a more economical bike rental, the road and tandem bicycles became a fast favorite this past season.
"The most amazing thing was how many road bikes I was renting. We're definitely going to have more road bikes to rent next year, because we'll be sold out if we just stay with the current amount that we have," explained Gassmann. "A lot of people also asked specifically for tandems to just ride around the lakefront and be leisurely and make an afternoon of it."
In some cases, bike rental can also take some of the hassle out of festival commuting, giving visitors staying in the area an alternative way to avoid traffic and parking issues.
"Customers really enjoyed getting to bum around town, like from some of the downtown hotels to Summerfest," said Gassmann. "When people come into town to visit a friend that is a bicyclist, a customer of mine can bring them in to get a bike so they can ride together."
With a variety of bicycle styles and price ranges, renting a bike can prove to be a much more affordable option for casual riders. And even though warm weather is still a little way off, prospective cycle renters can still look forward to a fun and unique view of the city sights.
Contrary to her natural state of being, Renee Lorenz is a total optimist when it comes to Milwaukee. Since beginning her career with OnMilwaukee.com, her occasional forays into the awesomeness that is the Brew City have turned into an overwhelming desire to discover anything and everything that's new, fun or just ... "different."
Expect her random musings to cover both the new and "new-to-her" aspects of Miltown goings-on, in addition to periodically straying completely off-topic, which usually manifests itself in the form of an obscure movie reference.