Yay Bikes! Columbus, Ohio's Bike to Work Challenge

Event Date:

Columbus' Bike to Work Challenge has historically been a two-week event scheduled to conclude on the League of American Bicyclists' National Bike to Work Day. In 2011, however, organizers are planning to run the Challenge for the entirety of May.

Event Location:

The Bike to Work Challenge is a city-wide event that draws participants from numerous organizations over a large geographic area. Although the Challenge is administered using an online tool, it typically launches with a kick-off event and concludes with an awards ceremony in downtown Columbus (e.g., in 2010 Yay Bikes! (http://yaybikes.com/) held a pancake breakfast at North Bank Park and happy hour at O'Shaughnessy's Public House). Other Bike Month events are organized by various groups and held at locations throughout Central Ohio.

Sponsor:

A number of companies sponsor the Bike to Work Challenge, for which they are acknowledged on the program Web site by funding level. The top sponsor in 2010 was Fulcrum Creatives, a design firm that provided in-kind photography, video, print and Web design, while the Columbus Recreation & Parks Department, bike stores and other retailers, restaurants, media companies, and bicycle accessory manufacturers constituted the remaining sponsors. Some of these sponsors provide cash donations, but for the most part they contribute in-kind space, advertising, food, or awards for Challenge winners.

Event Summary:

The Bike to Work Challenge is a friendly competition between employers in the Columbus, Ohio area. To win, teams within local organizations must achieve the highest bicycle mode share within their brackets over the entire Challenge period. Mode share is defined as the percentage of total trips made by a particular mode of transportation, though for the Challenge even multi-modal trips that include bicycling count towards bicycle mode share. For example, if a participant were to drive to a path and ride the rest of the way into work each day, they would achieve a bicycle mode share of 100%.

Brackets for the competition are based on organization's number of employees: Flyweight (1–19 employees), Bantamweight (20–99 employees), Featherweight (100–499 employees), Lightweight (500–999 employees), Cruiserweight (1,000–4,999 employees), and Heavyweight (5000+ employees). Prizes are awarded to members of winning teams in each bracket at the Challenge Award Ceremony.

The Yay Bikes! Bike to Work Challenge Website lists all participating cyclists and organizations, provides resources for succeeding in the Challenge, facilitates trip logging and team communications, and reveals up-to-the-minute standings for each bracket. Yay Bikes! also manages a community calendar of bike-themed events during May called BikeMonthEvents.com, through which event organizers can promote their "Bike Blessings", community rides, cycling education courses, pedestrian and bicycle counts, etc.

Background:

Columbus' Bike to Work Challenge was first organized in 2008. Initially, team leaders used basic spreadsheets to track bicycle trips within their own organizations, while Yay Bikes! coordinated a handful of education, outreach and celebration efforts. Over time, because the Challenge is organized exclusively by volunteers, Yay Bikes! has focused more narrowly on developing its online tools. The Yay Bikes! board has discussed changing course altogether and making the Challenge a personal one instead of team-based, with more qualitative data collected, though 2011's Challenge will remain as it has been.

Partners:

The Bike to Work Challenge has numerous sponsors and supporters, but no formal partnerships.

Columbus is home to another bicycle advocacy organization, Consider Biking (http://www.considerbiking.org/), which launched a "2 by 2012" corporate challenge in 2010 that encourages all Central Ohioans to commute by bike twice a month. Because this program also targets corporate audiences and is monitored through a team-based tracking website, Bike to Work Challenge organizers could see diminished participation in 2011's Challenge.

Turnout:

Since 2008, when 393 individual cyclists from 29 teams rode more than 10,000 miles on 1,738 trips, Columbus' Bike to Work Challenge has grown substantially—in large part because the switch to a Web-based tracking and sign-up system facilitated an easier process for both organizers and participants. In 2009, 734 cyclists on 110 teams rode more than 34,000 miles on 5,817 trips; in 2010, 634 cyclists on 114 teams rode more than 30,000 miles on 5,209 trips (1,129 cyclists signed up in 2010, but almost half did not enter data during the Challenge; they may not have ridden, or they may simply have neglected to record their rides).

Lessons Learned:

Evidenced by the increase in cyclists from 2008 to 2010, it is clear that a simple and effective Web tool can be very helpful in facilitating a Bike to Work Challenge. Also, having charismatic champions on Challenge teams is a key factor in getting their colleagues involved and using the Challenge as a springboard to lasting change within their organizations; these leaders should be cultivated. Finally, organizing "bike buddies" through the Website and offering simple lunch 'n learns or bicycle education courses can garner participation and help even novice cyclists gain the confidence to bike to work.