Manayunk Bike Race: This Year, An Exercise in Party Control

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 11 | Posted Jun. 1, 2011

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If you live in Manayunk or Roxborough, make sure you park your car by Friday: Once the 27th annual Philadelphia International Cycling Championship sets up shop for the race that kicks off Sunday morning, there is no getting in or out except by foot or train. And increasingly, while people from Center City and the suburbs want in, residents say they want out.

Nationally, the scenic 156-mile classic is revered as the longest running and most important single-day road race in the country, with cyclists competing on an intense course that famously includes what’s known as the Manayunk Wall: a cruel, thigh-shredding half-mile uphill incline that begins with a right turn off Main Street up Levering Street, a right onto Cresson Street and then a left up Lyceum Avenue.

As cyclists pump their legs, the crowds pump kegs, a theme immortalized last year on T-shirts hawked in the street that read: “They Ride, We Drink.”

The divide between the actual bike race and the alcohol-soaked partying that has come to “traditionally” accompany the race is a hot topic in the hood these days. In broad terms, the debate goes something like this: Older residents who are sick of the college-age-ish renters and their friends who flood the neighborhood with their noise, piss and puke versus partygoers who don’t necessarily watch the race but begin drinking at breakfast and get so out-of-control wasted that the party has actually spilled onto the track.

Then there’s the middle ground.

“I live a couple of blocks off [the route],” says Brian Flanagan, 39. “I see both sides of the story. To be honest, you can’t get in and out of Manayunk easily that day. However, it’s like a Manayunk holiday. Everybody that I know looks forward to it and dreads it at the same time.”

“I hate it but I would be disappointed if it stopped happening,” echoes Elizabeth Long, who until recently operated a maternity clothes shop on Main Street. “I grew up in Manayunk so it was a huge part of my childhood and teen years … I hated it as a business owner on Main St. But I think it’s a cool thing the city does and I like that it’s a positive thing. It’s the drunk assholes in Manayunk that make me hate it.”

Kevin Smith, 53, is the president of Manayunk Neighborhood Council, one of a patchwork of civic organizations and residents calling themselves the Bike Race Neighborhood Committee. The group has been working with bike race officials and the city to steer the event back toward its roots.

Smith views the bike race partying as the “public face” of problems residents deal with every weekend when Main Street transforms into a white-washed version of Saturday summer night in Old City with a dash of Jersey Shore, teeming with drunk frat-boys in Ed Hardy shirts and the girls who love them.

“I don’t want to overuse the phrase, but [the bike race used to be] a family event,” says Smith. “People would ... watch the race, sit there with coolers and cokes and sandwiches.”

To anyone who’s been to Manayunk in the last 10 years, Smith’s vision sounds downright Victorian—but it really wasn’t so long ago. (The neighborhood is still touted as “the ultimate urban experience with small town historic charm!” on manayunk.com.)

To wit, an event called the Manayunk Stroll used to take place the evening before the bike race in the 1980s and ’90s. Unthinkably quaint, residents and visitors donned Victorian dress and strolled down a Main Street kitted out with horses, carriages and trolleys.

“It became a big family reunion,” recalls Kay Sykora, project director at Manayunk Development Corporation. “It was very well-attended and well-loved. Then a couple of the bigger more aggressive bars began to promote it into a drinking event.”

Civic groups issued a warning to attendees: either shape up or they’ll end the event, which is what eventually happened around 1997. “It was sad,” says Sykora. “The night ended with a street full of out-of-control people.”

Now, the same fate could befall the race itself.

Since last fall, members of the Bike Race Neighborhood Committee have met with representatives from the city, City Council, the Liquor Control Board and the Police Department seeking better crowd control. So far, a deal has been struck for increased police presence and “bike court,” a penalty box for troublemakers modeled on Eagles Court set up for football games.

“Working with the city, we’ve been able to increase enforcement for the weekend,” says a spokesman for Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. The city also promises more barricades to prevent the drunken masses from wandering onto the course in front of bikers at the top of the Wall.

It sounds like a good start, but there’s a lot on the line. Smith says if it fails, he is finished negotiating.

“We basically have come to a point where something has to be done to change the nature of the race, or we will try to stop the race from coming through Manayunk,” says Smith. “We drew the line this year to city officials: what are you going to do to turn this race around in Manayunk and if you can’t or won’t do anything, our next step will be to try to stop the race.”

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 11 of 11
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1. Manayunk Resident(Jim) said... on Jun 1, 2011 at 04:26PM

“Elizabeth Long's Maternity store had the worst business model ever, Whirled Peace(Her eagerly welcomed replacement) will probably relish in the bike race potential. Everyone shares Manayunk for the rest of the year, bike riders and drinkers alike. If these cycling elitists would like to ban such "horrid" behavior as drinking alcohol out of red cups and raucously cheering on bikers then their cycles should be banned from the streets during normal business hours. Manayunk is awash with cyclists all year long, not just one day, and while we like to drink and party, we are residents as well, maybe we should institute a Manayunk Party day where bikers are banned from enjoying the challenging routes Manayunk has to offer. Kevin Smith probably wants to take it out of Manayunk because he cant make it up "The Wall" because he sits on his throne of judgment all day long and his leg muscles have atrophied.”

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2. Cecilia said... on Jun 1, 2011 at 04:52PM

“I agree with Jim. There are bikers everywhere at the height of traffic. They never obey and traffic signals and have little to no regard for passing motorists. I would like to pose this question, "If it werent for this infusion of youth into Manayunk, would there even be a bike race still, or would someone who was addicted to crack have stabbed a biker by now?", because thats the true state that Manayunk was in. It seems as if these residents are hard pressed on keeping this tradition while neglecting to acknowledge that not just the bike race but the entire makeup of Manayunk has changed. It just does not seem fair to punish those whose rent checks and bar tabs help keep such "tradition" alive.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Jun 2, 2011 at 09:50AM

“What?! First 2 comments complaining about cyclists already? This is about a neighborhood coalition against the partiers. Besides the fact that the rowdy behavior takes place on the day of the bike race event, this issue has nothing to do with cycling. But I guess some people hate cyclists so much, they don't need a reason to complain about them.”

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4. Ralph said... on Jun 2, 2011 at 12:13PM

“I agree with "Anonymous" which is a beautiful name by the way, what nationality are you? People can't stand the look of these bikers but they never get to know them, they are people too. The first two commentors make valid points, but I don't agree totally with their arguments(especially the off-putting crack comments). I think this coalition is a great idea. We should run these party people out of Manayunk. They don't even act like human beings I despise them all. Even though Manayunk has changed so much since the bike race began we shouldn't have allowed this race to change. I propose citizens arresting any partiers who interfere with my good time. I just want to keep my children sheltered from the real world for a few more years, is that so much to ask???? - Ralphie”

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5. Anonymous said... on Jun 2, 2011 at 06:02PM

“End the party and you end the race. It sounds like this no-fun leader of a "community" (read: special interest) group forgot that the tens of thousands of people who line the Manayunk/Roxborough section of the course by and large LIVE there. Ruin the good times and much of the dollars these groups covet will dry up as the young and young professionals leave for more friendly areas.

Control the problem, which is a very few people who get out of control. Allow the rest of us to have our fun, stroll on home afterwards, and clean our front yards and sidewalks on Monday while we nurse that hangover.

Most of us who enjoy the race as it's been for years LIVE THERE TOO.”

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6. Garrett Elwood said... on Jun 3, 2011 at 11:51AM

“The point is this: The Roxborough/Manayunk communities are the only residential area the race passes through. The homeowners are simply trying to race families and live their lives. For years they have put up with the inconvenience because by and large everyone recognizes that the event itself is a positive one and beneficial to Philadelphia. However, people have their limits. This is nothing new. The behavior during the race day weekend has been getting progressively worse and the tradeoff seems less and less equitable. Residents must endure drunks stumbling around urinating and defecating on their properties, fights breaking out right in front of their homes, wet tee shirt contests fueled by kegs of beer being sold to minors "Girls Gone Wild" style.

Anyone who thinks the out of control drinking that starts Friday night and continues as Mad River and other bars open at 10am, is ok, has never lived in the community or is a part of the problem.”

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7. Dave said... on Jun 3, 2011 at 12:01PM

“I agree that Kevin Smith and Manayunk Neighborhood Council are judgemental 'special interest' killjoys!
I confess however that I used to be like them.
Yes, I was judgemental when three drunken students at one of the problem houses on our block last January beat the crap out my neighbor, a middle aged father of three. I was judgmental when my car was vandalised and everything from broken beer bottles to a log(!) are left outside my and my neighbors homes. I was judgmental when a young drunk at last year's bike race poked his peter through the chain link fence in front of my family and peed in the street. I was judgmental when I had to stop another young man at last year's race from repeatedly running across my kitchen roof.
But I must thank the folks here for enlightening me.
I am further indebted to the very civilised gentleman from a nearby university who, in response to community complaints about some students' behavior, patiently explained to myself and the other community narrow minded folks that the issue of college students' rights is a very complex intellectual problem. I kept that in mind when a young drunken white man late one night several months ago shouted at a black police officer, "Without that badge you ain't nothing but a n-----r!" Yeah, now I understand that screaming vile racist crap in our neighborhood is a college student's right.
I like the bike race and I party with my twenty and thirty something neighbors.
But there are definitely some serious issues with the race and in the community.
If you actually want to contribute something positive to Manayunk come to the next Manayunk Neighborhood Council(MNC) meeeting when we resume in the fall. There's lots of problems in Manayunk. Among them are the dramatic increase in need at the neighborhood food banks and utility assistance. Smith and MNC have accomplished some really good stuff and plan to do more.
Look, if all you want to do is be a wanker on the web, fine.
Just stay out of the way because the adults have work to do.”

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8. Kim Wolf said... on Jun 3, 2011 at 12:02PM

“I lived in Manayunk/Roxborough for several years and saw plenty of "older people" partaking in race-day festivities. It's not just the young people, although I guess it's easier to make this a generational thing?”

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9. Lance said... on Jun 3, 2011 at 12:58PM

“Listen, this is supposed to be an event for the cyclists. I don't understand why people think it's fun to stand on a street corner watching us with mysterious liquids in their red cups. I love cycling and hate everything else.”

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10. Martin said... on Jun 3, 2011 at 01:56PM

“Dave your first and last thoughts are very contradicting. You seem just to be an angry person who is stuck in their ways. You just let bad things happen to you and the only action you seem to have taken is voice a confusing opinion which doesn't really help solve anything. If were you I would take the proactive approach and sell my residence for 1000 times the price your blue collar father purchased it for. You can thank the renters for that property value boost. Instead of crying and doing nothing when witnessing blatant racism, you should set the standard for your crabby neighbors and move out of town if you're being subjected to this terrible treatment. Maybe you should invest in a port-a-John and save yourself some worry or hassle. Maybe you should approach your neighbors during the day time and let them know you want to ensure that everyone has a good time. Maybe you should become an alcohol advisor and help some of these troubled kids.”

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11. Garrett Elwood said... on Jun 4, 2011 at 01:16PM

“Martin,

I know Dave and he does a lot more than post on here, as do I. He only recently moved to the area so your comment about increased home value is irreverent. Also, renters do not increase the value of homes in the area, they decrease is significantly. I'm in Real Estate development and you don't know what you are talking about. Dave is just about the nicest person I've ever met. I on the other hand, I am an angry person.

Dave and others like him have genuine concerns based on real life experiences. I share the concerns of the homeowners and responsible neighbors that the irresponsible people (regardless of age) need to have respect for the residential neighborhood this event invades.

As Mayor Nutter put it, "Have fun, but don't be an idiot"”

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