By Yasmeen Schuller, Photo by John Castro
Tomorrow (Friday, June 16), Active Transportation Alliance kicks off Chicago Bike Week and the Bike Commuter Challenge both presented by Freeman Kevenides Law Firm with a rally in Daley Plaza from 7:00-9:00am including tents with information and activities, entertainment, and giveaways. This year’s Chicago Bike Week and Commuter Challenge come with a full calendar of activities including pit stops, happy hours, contests, and lots of opportunities to win prizes. You can find a calendar of events here on The Chainlink starting with tonight’s workshop at Tailwind Cycles on basic bike maintenance.
New for 2017
What’s new this year for the Bike Commuter Challenge? Active Trans has extended the challenge to two full weeks, from June 16-30. They’ve also brought back the team leader “swag bags.” Seasoned Bike Commuter Challenge rider and Studio Gang team leader John Castro is excited about this year’s extended dates. “I think it’s a great idea,” he said. ”We’ve been trying to get people to participate more than just once or to do more mileage, and the point system really encourages that, so thanks to Active Transportation Alliance for spreading the fun over two weeks!”
All-season bike commuter and Slalom Consulting team leader Anna Affias wishes the Bike Commuter Challenge could be year-round. She said, “The more time on the bike the better!” Anna’s favorite aspect of the challenge is “seeing all of the new faces on the bike paths and roads.”
Photo by The Field Museum
Advice For New Bike Commuters
Most Bike Commuter Challenge team leaders are longtime commuters who encourage their coworkers to join them in commuting by bike to work. Team leaders have lots of great advice for people just starting out.
Ryan Stahlman, team leader for Perkins Eastman, said, “Take it slow and give it a try, maybe one day a week. Spring or fall is a good time to start when the weather is slightly cooler. Focus on finding a low-stress route, and go slow.”
Anna Affias advised, “Go at your own pace. At the end of the day, bike commuting is, and always should be, adding joy and relaxation to your life. Don't compare yourself to anyone else. Ask questions, go with your gut, and have fun!”
Carter O’Brien, team leader for The Field Museum added, “You'll love how you feel in the morning after riding a bike to work (*being able to shower at your workplace helps!).”
John Castro advised riders to “check out the low-stress routes The Chainlink and Streetsblog Chicago just published. Finding an easy and safe bike route to work is really important. Good bike lights for the front and rear (for both nighttime and daytime use) and a well-fitting bike helmet help increase your visibility at all times and keep you protected. Oh, and a bell too! This helps to keep pedestrians or other cyclists aware that you are approaching in a non-offensive manner. And one more thing: Take a look at the bike maps and guides on ChicagoCompleteStreets.org for riding etiquette and sharing the road.”
Photo by Anna Affias
What Makes The Bike Commuter Challenge So Fun?
The Bike Commuter Challenge a great experience, partly because it brings seasoned commuters and first-time commuters together. Coworkers encourage one another, and the Challenge can turn newbies into regular bike commuters. One of John’s favorite memories involves “riding to work with a coworker who was bike commuting to the office for the first time. Since then, they have bike commuted multiple times a year outside of the Challenge.”
Carter told us how the Bike Commuter Challenge has given him a chance to get to know people at work. He said, “It's always a great opportunity for us at the Field Museum to break down some silos, as we have a few group bike rides during the week and you get to meet people you don't directly work with (or work with often).”
Like many team leaders, Ryan took his role to the next level by creating events at work to help others get ready to commute. “A month ago, I hosted a spring bike tune-up session in the office,” he said. “I hauled in my bike tools and offered to check up my coworkers’ bikes. Following that, I have had two sessions, one on bike locking techniques and one for changing flat tires that I hope will allay common fears.”
Photo by Anna Affias
Advice For Future Team Leaders
If you are thinking about starting a team at your workplace, do it! Sign up at http://bikecommuterchallenge.org/ The extended two-week challenge will help you build momentum with a new group. After the challenge is over, plan ahead for next year so you can continue to grow. Each of the team leaders I spoke with mentioned that they have learned the importance of preparing the team a few weeks in advance, and having help. Carter said, “The Field Museum is lucky to have so many staff who are former bike shop mechanics and/or who are extremely dedicated bike riders.” And don’t give up this year, but next year give yourself a longer lead time. “It takes a bit of time and effort to get a team together and inspired,” he said.
Friendly reminders can go a long way, according to Ryan. He noted, “For those who want to start their own team, I would recommend persistence. We get so much email over the course of a day that it can be difficult to get people to sign up for the challenge. I don’t want to bug my coworkers, but consistent reminders are necessary and appreciated.”
And don’t worry, if one year isn’t as successful as you’d hoped, keep at it. Anna recently changed companies and is building a new Bike Commuter Challenge team. “In the past, I've worked at much smaller companies and have been able to personally ask and encourage each employee to join the challenge,” she said. “ This year, I'm at a new, much larger company, so it's been a bit of a challenge spreading the word and getting people excited. That said, we're a very active bunch, and I'm hopeful we'll be able to get a handful of people on board this year. It might take a couple of years to fully spread the word, but I'm going to keep trying! Advice for others starting a team would be: just do it! There's no harm in starting a team! You can't really fail at this challenge and you never know who you're going to meet or who you're going to inspire!”
Photo by Anna Affias
Hopes for Chicago’s Bike Infrastructure
I also asked these seasoned bike commuters about what they hope to see in improvements that would help all bike commuters in the city. They mentioned:
They also expressed gratitude for what Active Transportation Alliance continues to do for biking in Chicago. John said, “I just wanted to give a shout out to the Active Transportation Alliance, The Chainlink, and the entire Chicago cycling community for making Chicago a pretty awesome place to ride bikes!”
Photo by John Castro