Sunday, October 27, 2013

Come Together

Phil Liggitt addressing the crowd at the 2013 Wisconsin Bike Summit

Each year Wisconsin comes together to celebrate the joy two wheels brings to us all.  People drive or bike in from all corners of the state for a reunion of sorts--I personally like to call it an early Thanksgiving without all the family drama.  The event I am speaking of is the Saris Gala, the largest fundraiser for the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation and the best damn bike party in the country.

Pre-summit/gala gathering at the Rigby

Ben Sollee and Jordan Ellis on their Ditch the Van tour
This year, those of us who came in early or live nearby, got two full days of celebrating instead of one. We kicked Thursday evening off with a meet and greet at the Rigby for bike fed staff, board members, political leaders and members.  A lucky few even got to pedal their way around downtown on the Capitol Pedaler with Phill Liggitt and our new ED,  Dave Cieslewicz.  The evening was capped off by one of the best concerts I've been to in years, put on by Ben Sollee, who ended his bike/music tour here in Madison and donated money from each ticket to the bike fed.

Friday morning came all too soon.  A cold start to the day meant a frigid ride downtown to the Inn on the Park for the Wisconsin Bike Summit.  Although I was still clearing the sleep from my eyes and hoping the coffee would start doing it's job, I felt lucky to be a part of an amazing group of presenters talking on a topic none of us can get enough of--cycling.  As I pulled onto the capitol square, I passed several cyclists I know from Madison.  Each one in a different riding circle, each one adding to the strength of the cycling community.  It was the perfect way to recharge and balance my mind prior to my panel presentation.

Jillian Imilkowski talking about the Bella Donnas
The entire day was packed full with presentations ranging from bike tourism to the environmental impacts cyclists make, to the fine work the bike fed is doing to make riding safer for us all.  I got to put together a panel of five women to speak on the topic of women in cycling today.  One by one they took the floor and I felt immediately full of warmth and love knowing I was a part of this group.  They each spoke on ways to make women feel more comfortable while cycling--mentally and physically, but more importantly, they spoke about having fun.  As I opened the discussion, I mentioned how difficult it was for me, not to find five dynamic speakers, but to narrow it down to six (including myself--but chuck the word "dynamic" for me).  I could have easily put twenty women up on the panel if we had four hours to present.  I must, however, take a moment and apologize to my wonderful panel for being such a poor moderator.  It was my first time in this role, and like everything, it takes practice.  I can only promise I'll do better next time!

As we gathered for lunch, Phill Liggitt spoke about his experiences with cycling and the importance of organizations like the bike fed.  It's quite exhilarating seeing 250 people packed into a room with one purpose--to improve our state for riding.  Each table had a mix of politicians, state and national transportation employees, cycling advocates and those from bicycle manufacturing companies.  I can honestly say it was the largest bike "think tank" I've ever been a part of.

Bike parking at the Saris Gala
As the summit came to a close, people shifted gears and made their way--many by bike despite the 20mph winds and temps in the 40's--to Saris about 7 miles from the capitol.  As I stated earlier, the Saris Gala is the largest fundraiser for the bike fed.  Half of the funds stay here, in Dane County, the other half making it's way around the state--something critical for Wisconsin since we have lost most of our state funding.  The event began as a tiny affair many years ago and is now busting at it's seams.  Tickets were sold out a couple days prior to the event--a first--and 750 people packed the Saris warehouse to bid on silent/live auction items, catch up with friends, network as well as eat and drink.

The crowd for the live auction
In a matter of three hours, $92,000 was raised.  There aren't many non-profits who can make that statement.  Since I'm a board member, I feel I'm allowed to brag just a bit.  First, I have to thank everyone involved in putting this two day party on. The bike fed staff shined like I've never seen them, Saris was unbelievably generous once again, each segment was held together by the strength of all the volunteers and presenters and each attendee made it possible to improve Wisconsin as a great cycling destination as well as a home.  I feel confident that next year will be even better and the positive movement will only continue.

Here's where I need to ask a favor from you.  Just like food pantries, when around the holidays they are overloaded with food and volunteers and yet are begging throughout the rest of the year, the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation needs your support year round.  To keep this forward momentum, the bike fed needs you to become an active member and volunteer for other events.  Your time, enthusiasm, insight and yes, money, go a long way no matter how much or how little.  As a board member, I look forward to seeing you throughout the entire year.  Ride on!

Tom Klein, Dane Co. Director and Dave Cieslewicz, Executive Director

I had to get my picture taken with "the voice" I've known all my life

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