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Bike commuter challenge: 4000 riders and going strong

Updated: May 24

Each June, the Active Transportation Alliance in Chicago hosts the Bike Commuter Challenge. It is a week-long series of events designed to engage and support bike commuting in Chicago, This year's edition attracted more than 4000 participants who tracked their bike commuting each day for a week, Overall, 84,062 miles were logged with one commuter riding an astounding 399 miles in his weekly commute!

I recently met with Sean Blay, Events Manager at the Active Transportation Alliance (ATA) to understand more about this event and the impact to bike commuting in Chicago.

Tell us about the Bike Commuter Challenge?

There are thousands and thousands of bike commuters in Chicago. Individuals participate as members of a team and log the miles they commute by bike. This year we had 380 teams representing for-profit companies, not-for-profit organizations, educational institutions, and public agencies. We had some new milestones this year with first-time riders representing 37% of all riders and 1510 women participating, which was our largest number ever.

Next year will be our 25th year of holding the bike commuter challenge. This event is one of the oldest in the nation with Seattle, Portland and New York also hosting long-standing bike commuter challenges.

How did you get involved in the bike commuter challenge?

I used to work for an organization that sponsored the Ride for AIDS Chicago which is a 2-day, 200 mile event. I had a lot of experience planning long distance rides, working pit-stops and securing sponsors. A couple of my friends at the ATA thought I would be a good fit for the Bike Commuter Challenge. I came into the role excited about the opportunity, but didn't realize just how big this event actually is with the thousands of people participating.

What bike commuting services does ATA offer?

We have staff that provides Lunch and Learn seminars on-site at company locations. Since the experience level of riders in the Bike Commuter Challenge ranges from first-timers to year-ride riders, it's a good way for team leaders to support their groups. We come in with a bike and helmet and teach people the basics of the bike, how to ride in the bike lane, and properly fit a helmet among other things. We provide all of the tools that someone needs to commute by bike.

We also offer Traffic Skills 101 which a program that connects a rider with a professional. You ride through downtown and learn how to get around buses, use hand-signals and things like who has the right-of-way. It’s currently $15 although we are in the process of getting it underwritten and hope to offer it free.

Lastly, we have resources on the website that includes all sorts of biking commuting information like what to wear, how to lock up your bike, what to do if you company doesn’t have shower resources, etc.

Bike Commuter Challenge awards ceremony honored the winning teams in 29 categories.
The event was hosted on the rooftop deck of the Chicago-based bike component company SRAM.

What’s next?

We are holding a winter version of the bike commuter challenge called Roll the Cold which runs from January 18th- 22nd. We will have a kick-off rally on Jan. 15th. The ATA website will soon be available with links for registering.

What changes have you seen in bike commuting within Chicago?

More and more people are starting to feel comfortable riding their bikes to work, now that we have completed 100 miles of bike lanes in Chicago, including curbed bike lanes and protected bike lanes. In 2016, we will start on the next 100 miles of bike lanes.

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