After taking over a small, near-east-side bike co-op in 2001, Revolution Cycles' Jeff Fitzgerald has boosted the city's alternative biking subculture - think less spandex-clad ass, more Critical Mass - and with more than just bicycle parts and accessories. He's been doing it with music.
Fitzgerald and his crew help people tune up their lifestyles as well as their bikes, reducing the community's carbon footprint and increasing its commitment to sustainability. While this effort involves fixing squeaky brakes and misaligned gears, it's also about encouraging people to live on the edge of certain cultural norms, like consumerism and driving from place to place.
"I've been riding bikes for at least 30 years now, and it's really become my life," Fitzgerald says. He also loves helping other people adopt the cycling lifestyle, and "combining it with something else I love - music - is sort of the next logical step."
Since the shop moved to its current location at 2330 Atwood Ave. four years ago, he's been hosting parties that feature live bands and even bike-based dance troupes like the Sprockettes, an all-female group from Portland, Ore., that performs routines with mini-bikes.
This year the number of parties has jumped from a handful to 16 - and it's only August. Fitzgerald's careful to note that the shop's not a venue in the official sense and that the performances that happen there are gatherings of friends and neighbors - neighbors he's partnered with to keep noise levels manageable.
If you're a patron of Café Zoma or the Ohio Tavern, however, it's hard not to slip through Revolution's back door to find out what's stirring, whether it's local entertainment like Zebras' juggernaut of guitar and Moog and the crazy antics of the No And Maybe Game, or the adrenaline-fueled acts of such out-of-towners as Birthday Suits, Worrier, Heart-Shaped Hate and Koo Koo Kangaroo.
Zebras frontman Vincent Presley says playing a set at Revolution isn't really like playing a show at all.
"It's more like a cool little party," he says. "There's none of the business baloney."
"Bands have a lot of say in how they want the show to be there, plus the Revolution crew is really into the bands they host - not always the case at a 'normal' venue," says fellow Zebras member Lacey Smith. "And there are always people there I've never seen before at other shows we've played."
And people always seem to be having a good time, even if the sound system's freaking out or it's 20 below outside. That's just the first step of the conversion process. Also helping make the case for bikes are the brightly colored walls, which are emblazoned with a mural of hand-drawn sprockets and are reminiscent of both a Zapatista rally and a crust-punk hangout. This vibe won't make every music lover sell the car and bike to work, but it could prompt dabblers to learn more - where to get a decent-yet-inexpensive bike, say, or how to cycle through a hailstorm.
Perhaps the best role models are members of bike-friendly bands. A number of Madison musicians - from Crane Your Swan Neck's Randall Luecke to Cynthia Burnson of Screamin' Cyn Cyn & the Pons - can be found biking to and from shows, and the Pistols at Dawn have even been known to tow gear behind a bicycle.
Others, such as Danny Vacation, bassist for the No And Maybe Game (the local dance-punk band formerly known as Shanghai Party Boss), aren't afraid to admit that they have a day job - and that they bike to it each day.
Music parties at Revolution don't tend to draw posses of superbikers, Fitzgerald points out, but they may be some fans' first bike-to-the-show experiences.
"I think people are more likely to bike there because it's a bike shop," says Vacation. "It'd be like wearing your Mustard Plug T-shirt to a Hootie & the Blowfish show if you drove: You'd look like total hack."