Since 1956, the month of May has been designated National Bike Month by the League of American Bicyclists. Having a dedicated month to celebrate the benefits of bicycling gives organizations of all sizes and locations an opportunity to promote bicycling and other forms of active transportation among their employees.
At Kittelson, we began running an annual bike challenge in 2016, and have since expanded the event into a general activity challenge that invites everyone to get outside on two wheels, two feet, or any other mode that gets them moving. If you’re considering hosting a bike or activity challenge for your organization, read on for our top tips and ideas for a fun and meaningful event.
Why Host an Activity Challenge?
There are many reasons to create some fun and friendly competition around biking, or physical activity in general, in the month of May! Here are just a few:
- Physical activity supports many aspects of health and wellness. A short-term challenge gives employees ideas, tools, and support for discovering what wellness looks like for them, and demonstrates employer support for building healthy lifestyles.
- It gives people a reason to try something new. Habits are hard to break, and sometimes people need a catalyst to build a new habit or try a new way of getting around town.
- It builds camaraderie within your organization. At Kittelson, Bike Month highlights the common passion many of us share for sustainable transportation choices. It’s a chance for us to look around and remember we are pursuing these goals together. Plus, it’s just fun!
“Kittelson's bike challenge made me consider if I could go by bike instead of drive."- 2022 Activity Challenge Participant
How We Structure Our Activity Challenge
At Kittelson, our challenge began with a focus on swapping car trips for bike trips, emphasizing how we commute into the office. Participants would receive 10 points for every day they logged a bike trip, and one point for every mile traveled.
In 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no one commuting into Kittelson offices when May came around—so we reimagined the bike challenge into a wellness challenge, with a focus on mental health and simply getting outside and moving. We received feedback that team members enjoyed being able to participate outside of bicycling, since not everyone owns a bike or has a safe and comfortable place to ride.
Now that most of us have returned to commuting at least a few days a week, the latest iteration of our activity challenge is a hybrid between the two: we still provide a bicyclist leaderboard for those who want to compete for most miles logged, but to maintain a spirit of inclusivity, we offer points for 20 minutes of any kind of wellness activity, from jogging to yoga to playing pickleball. Extra points can be collected through completing bonus challenges (more on that below!).
Participants log their activities through a Google form. Using Power BI, we combine that data with a spreadsheet containing our staff roster to populate a real-time leaderboard.
Tips for Setting up a Successful Activity Challenge
If your organization is looking to set up a bike challenge or activity challenge this May, here are a few pointers we can offer from our seven years of running ours.
1. Have a clear goal.
In addition to just being fun, an activity challenge can be structured to incentivize specific behavior. Is your goal to get people on their bikes? Replace car trips? Get people moving by any mode or purpose? Develop a scoring system that encourages participants to work toward that goal, while first and foremost rewarding participation.
2. Offer incentives that people must work together to achieve.
Some people are motivated to rack up the most individual points, but we’ve found that encouraging friendly competition at the office level gets even more people involved. At Kittelson, our 25 offices vary significantly in size, so we’ve set up two firmwide competitions: “small office” (10 team members or less) and “large office” (more than 10 team members). An office wins by having the most points per capita. We’ve found that this style of competition inspires our offices to look for ways to come together, such as organizing their own biking and walking events.
“It's really fun to see everyone participating as one firm, many locations, and all centered around a shared 'project.'"- 2022 Activity Challenge Participant
3. Sprinkle in fun with bonus challenges.
Activity challenges are about more than logging miles—they can also support mental health, strengthen coworker relationships, and get people to try something new. Provide opportunities for participants to collect bonus points that reflect the goals of your activity challenge. Bonus opportunities could be offered weekly or, as we’ve been doing in recent years, in the form of a bingo card that participants fill out throughout the month as they complete various challenges. Examples include:
- Bike further than you did last week
- Photograph and post your favorite bike infrastructure
- Learn something new about bike maintenance
- Bike or walk a route you normally drive
- Tell someone about Bike Month!
We offer five bonus points for each row, column, and diagonal completed, and 25 points for completing the entire bingo card.
4. Keep the energy going through internal communication channels.
We have a Microsoft Teams channel dedicated to our activity challenge, and since posting photos or videos means more bonus points, this channel buzzes with content in the month of May! Along with providing opportunity for friendly banter, swapping photos creates a sense of firmwide camaraderie and keeps energy and motivation high throughout the challenge. Our Teams channel also displays the real-time leaderboard.
5. If you have more than one office/location, identify local champions.
How do you motivate people to participate without pressuring them? For the past few years, champions have volunteered in each office to organize optional events and look for ways to bring their coworkers into the fun. This could mean accompanying a coworker on a first-ever bike commute, organizing a lunchtime walk, or arranging the office’s participation in a local 5K. Our local champions also have a better sense of what their coworkers are comfortable with, so we can remain careful not to pressure anyone who’d rather opt out. Participation in the activity challenge is voluntary, and if team members don’t log entries, they simply don’t show up on the leaderboard.
6. Keep scoring simple.
Extra points for elevation? What about biking through snow or extreme humidity? As tempting as it can be to want to continually optimize the scoring system, when we’ve polled our staff after previous bike challenges, a common theme in responses was that complicated scoring was a barrier to participation. So we’re approaching 2023 with a goal to make the challenge as easy as possible to follow along. For us, that means offering the same number of points for any 20 minutes of physical activity of the participant’s choosing.
7. Look for opportunities to educate on meaningful issues.
Bike Month is an excellent opportunity to build awareness around important issues related to the safety, equity, and future of active transportation. Even if your organization’s mission has nothing to do with transportation, these are issues that are relevant to all of us members of our respective communities. At Kittelson, we added a Ride of Silence into our activity challenge, encouraging each office to organize a group ride to remember and honor the thousands of people who die on US roads every year, and over the years have highlighted organizations that are working to make walking and biking safer for more people. You can also take this opportunity to let team members know how to get their voices heard on local transportation planning projects.
A few additional tips:
- If your challenge is mode-focused, consider conducting an “audit” to identify where your organization might be able to help staff participate. At Kittelson, some offices have a loaner bike or scooter (along with locks and helmets) available to home or visiting staff. This year we are conducting bike audits for each office to make sure that we’ve pumped those tires and oiled those chains prior to the challenge kick-off.
- Collect feedback! Understanding what worked and what didn’t about the challenge for staff helps us make tweaks to reduce barriers to participation and emphasize the aspects that were a big hit. If appropriate, consider sending out the scoring methodology to your organization ahead of time to gauge reactions and adjust as needed.
- Pick your season. In the past, Kittelson has run a challenge in the spring and fall, but weather patterns across the country are not equal, causing too much variation in the ability for staff to participate in the fall. Along with the connection to Bike Month, we chose spring as a temperature “sweet spot” across regions (not too hot and not too cold).
Key Dates of Bike Month 2023
As you start to map out the structure of your bike or activity challenge, here are a few key dates to keep in mind:
- Saturday, May 7: National Ride a Bike Day
- May 15-21: Bike to Work Week
- Friday, May 19: Bike to Work Day
Each of these days provides an opportunity to organize an event, offer a bonus challenge, or distribute a motivating message within your organization to keep momentum going.
There are more resources available on the League of American Bicyclists’ website, and we’d be happy to share additional ideas if you’d like to reach out to either of us directly!