John Bennett is executive director of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign.
In 1991 I briefly had a job selling ads in the Atlanta City Directory door-to-door. Despite the fact that I was the least successful employee in the history of R.L. Polk & Co., which was founded in 1870, I did learn a thing or two from a grizzled old Polk veteran, who tried valiantly to make a salesman out of me.
The first thing he told me was to ditch the massive briefcase that contained my forms and a sample copy of the directory. "Makes you look like a salesman," he grumbled.
The second was to craft a pitch that framed our product as the ideal solution to meet the customer's needs, no matter what those needs were. That was the hard part.
Talking with people about the benefits of bicycling, is much easier than trying to convince people to take out ads in the city directory. That's because bicycling practically sells itself. It naturally speaks to many different needs and provides solutions to a host of problems.
Want to get more exercise but don't have time for the gym? Take a trip you'd normally make in a car — popping in to the grocery store for a few items or meeting friends for dinner, for example — and go by bike.
Need to save money? The same trip will reduce spending on gasoline and other costs related to automobile operation.
Worried about climate change? Again, that same trip made by bike instead of by car reduces emissions.
Going by bike also speaks to a need that many folks may not realize they have until they start enjoying the satisfaction of getting things done under their own power, on their own two wheels. And finally, bicycling satisfies our need for fun.
How much difference do these trips make individually and in aggregate? How many calories do I burn when I ride my bike to the grocery store? How much money am I actually saving? How many pounds of CO2 am I keeping out of the atmosphere? How much fun am I having? Well, at least I know the last answer. But the others? I wasn't really sure. Until now.
Thanks to the National Bike Challenge, I am tracking how much money and CO2 I save and how man calories I burn. The Challenge is a free online program, with a companion smartphone application, designed to encourage biking for transportation, fitness and recreation. The program allows participants to form or join teams with friends, family members or coworkers. The Challenge hasn't even officially started yet (It launches May 1 and runs through Sept. 30) yet the local cyclists who started the warm up earlier this month have as a group ridden 937 miles, burned 32,564 calories, saved $299 and prevented 598 pounds of CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere. You should join them.
Visit nationalbikechallenge.org to register and sign up for a team or form your own. This is where the fun part comes in. There's nothing like a little healthy competition between individuals and groups to encourage participation. People associated with the Telfair Museums, the Savannah Triathlon Team, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Savannah Bar Association have already organized teams. Not only can Challenge riders earn glory for their organizations, they can also win prizes.
Last year more than 30,000 people from all 50 states participated, representing more than 9,000 employers. Burlington Vt. was the winning community in 2012. The University of Wisconsin-Madison, Drexel University, Lawrence University and Eastern Mennonite University (Go Royals!) were tops in the university category. It would be great to see Tigers, Pirates and Bees on the higher education leaderboard this year.
It's no accident that the National Bike Challenge begins on May 1, as May is National Bike Month. Local Bike Month events will provide plenty of destinations for Challenge participants and nonparticipants alike: National Bike to School Day on May 8, Cyclofemme Savannah on May 12, a glimpse into the world of adventure cycling on May 16, National Bike to Work Day on May 17, The Play Streets Savannah Bicycle Block Party on May 19, and the monthly Bike Social on May 21 and Desoto Row Gallery's Spoked! Bicycle art exhibition from May 20-26. Details on all these events are available on the Savannah Bicycle Campaign website.
Take the challenge, Savannah! Let's show Burlington how it's done.