The Rapidian

Tenth annual Tour de Westside to benefit Steepletown Neighborhood Services

Beers, bikes and Westside bars: bicycle pub crawl to take place on April 28th, 2012.
Underwriting support from:

Nothing says spring like cold beers and a relaxing bicycle ride through the city. Put the two together and you’ve got the Tour de Westside.

This year marks the 10th anniversary (and 11th occasion) of the Tour, which is set to take place on April 28th. Started in 2003 by Mike Milanowski and a group of friends, the inaugural group of 24 people toured 14 of Grand Rapids’ Westside bars by bike.

A little less strenuous than their Tour de France namesake, at a 3.6 mile round trip the Tour de Westside appeals to those of us who are not so athletic. Arrival times are suggested for each bar but bikers are encouraged to go at their own pace. This may be one reason the Tour has gained in popularity.

“In the matter of a decade, we went from 20 to 400 people,” said Milanowski, a Westside native. “It got bigger just by word of mouth.”

As the number of participants increased, so did attention from local businesses and organizations. Sponsors were added, like Kent Beverage, ensuring drink specials and giveaways for participants. Additionally, non-profits were selected to benefit from the funds raised.

“We wanted to benefit local neighborhood businesses and charities,” said Milanowski. “It’s not a lot of money, but smaller organizations appreciate it.”

For the second year in a row, profit from the event will benefit Westside organization Steepletown Neighborhood Services, a faith-based organization, whose mission is to “promote neighbor helping neighbor live with dignity and hope.”

To Development Manager Eddie Sypniewski, the collaboration just made sense. “The event takes place right in the heart of our neighborhood,” said Sypniewski.

The donation gives Steepletown some flex money to enhance their programs. It also gives the organization exposure. “It keeps the money here and introduces people to the Westside, as well as to Steepletown,” said Sypniewski.

Bars on the Westside tend to be quite small, but some, like starting/ending point Putt Putt's, erect tents to accommodate bikers. Other stops along the way, such as Polish Falcons and 5th Street Hall, already have the space.

Patience is key, warned Milanowski’s wife, Debbie, who helps him plan and organize the event. “Bars are packed.”

Besides scores of people, bikes and beer, participants can expect food, raffles and entertainment. The theme for this year’s Tour is 80’s metal/hair bands and, while everyone who pre-registers gets a t-shirt, all are encouraged to dress up.

For first-timers, Milanowski offered a piece of advice, “If you want to keep your bike, bring a lock.” At the end of the day, bicycles left are donated to neighborhood kids.

Milanowski compared the Tour to a Pulaski Days that takes place in the springtime. “Everyone’s welcoming, everybody gets along,” said Milanowski. “All ages are present. It’s a lot of fun.”

If you know the Westside, that's a great reason to participate in this event. If you don’t, that’s an even better reason-- the Tour is a unique way to get to know part of Grand Rapids and have fun and a few beers-- for charity.

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