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Bike challenge spurs healthy, healthful competition
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John Bennett is executive director of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign.

Ask people who ride bicycles in Savannah about the challenges they face and you are likely to hear tales of aggressive and inattentive drivers or calls for more bicycle lanes and trails. Some challenges, however, are not barriers to bike riding. They are motivators.

That’s the case with the National Bike Challenge, which began on May 1 and continues through Sept. 30. Organized by the League of American Bicyclists, the event is a nationwide event uniting thousands of current bicyclists — and encouraging countless new riders. In its simplest form it is a logging center for users to record miles ridden and be part of the national community of bicyclists.

Participants can log their miles manually on the National Bike Challenge website or sync their mileage automatically with smart phone applications.

The structure of the challenge also encourages individual participation according to Margie Robichaux of the Coastal Bicycle Touring Club.

“People love to be recognized and see their achievements and progress. The NBC gives you virtual rewards that are based on a point system,” she said. “Every day you ride you get 20 points just for riding plus one point for each mile ridden. So even if you are a casual rider, you will rapidly see yourself earning more rewards and ribbons by riding every day regardless of how strong a rider you may be,” she said.

This levels the playing field and prevents elite riders from dominating the competition. Robichaux has seen how this works within the CBTC team.

“Our faster and long distance riders who normally ride one or two days a week are finding they have to work harder to keep up with are casual riders who ride every single day,” Robichaux said. “It’s all in fun and we are all getting healthier and more fit in the process.”

The health impact is particularly important to Robichaux, who was featured on the League of American Bicyclists website for her success in using bicycling as part of her weight loss plan.

“This challenge is for everyone,” she explained. “You may not be into all the competitiveness but don’t we all want or need to strive for optimal health? Exercise is key and the NBC is structured in a way that gives you a great way to track your progress while establishing good healthy lifestyle changes.”

Paula Kreissler, director of healthy living and community development for Healthy Savannah, confirmed the benefits of participating in the National Bike Challenge and similar programs.

“Active transportation is at the forefront of our social movement toward a healthier Savannah for all citizens,” she said. “An extra 15 minutes of activity every day adds three years to your life. The challenge provides a helpful reminder to make exercise part of your daily routine.”

Although the challenge is already in its second month, there is still plenty of time to join in on the fun. Points and mileage are aggregated for the entire challenge period, but the leaderboard resets every month, allowing new riders to jump into the action and appear at the top of the leaderboard if they ride frequently.

Participants may join an existing team or start their own. They can also affiliate with schools or universities and workplaces. The City of Savannah, Memorial Health University Medical Center and ThincSavannah are among the workplaces represented.

The Savannah Area Challenge has become the scene of spirited, but cordial, competition between local bicycling organizations, whose members check the leaderboard regularly to see how they stack up against other groups in our area and across the state. The Coastal Bicycle Touring Club has developed a friendly rivalry with Albany’s Pecan City Pedalers and the Bicycling Club of Milledgeville.

“Doesn’t everyone like to win in sports? Being the chairperson and cheerleader for our club’s NBC team I am constantly encouraging everyone to ride every day and log and sync their miles,” Robichaux said. “We are working very hard to move up the ranks this year. When it’s all over we all have won because we are putting out our best efforts while having fun competition with our fellow clubs.”

Kreissler hopes challenge participants will continue riding, logging miles and staying connected with others after the competition and recognition of the challenge are over.

“Logging my miles provides accountability to myself and my friends and it encourages me to be consistent,” she said. “I feel accomplished when I do and guilty when I don’t.”