Bike Commuters: Get Data, Get Busy!

When the Prius hit the road, it changed how people drove. It turns out that seeing our energy consumption in real-time actually motivates us to drive better. Gauges in cars, heart rate monitors and power meters on athletes – they all do the same thing – they get us tuned into and excited about our performance.

Two SF bike commuters head for home

Two SF bike commuters head for home

Put meaningful, real-time data in front of people and they respond. It’s a lot like playing video games where points motivate our actions and reward our improvements. It’s an addicting sort of thing the mind does when measurement’s involved. (This kind of Gamification is a big buzz in the tech and business world right now, and for good reason.)

As a bicycle consultant who works with companies to remove barriers to bike use, I’m always thinking about what motivates behavioral change. It’s just not enough to want to be more environmentally responsible or physically fit. That’s only enough to motivate a minority of people to ride more.

But these ideals are more likely to become real deals when we break them down into useful and easily accessible data points.

Enter: Endomondo

Endomondo (loose translation from the Danish: “a lot of endorphins”) is a smartphone app that uses real-time GPS tracking of most any physical activity, including cycling. The company is filled with people who do fun things and have built a tool to track them.

It’s different from its nearest competitors in that it does a brilliant job of tracking meaningful stats for bicycle transportation, like carbon emissions saved and calories burned, as well as number of trips, miles, duration and speed. (Like lots of other successful apps, there isn’t a single killer function here, just a lot of good design, well-packaged. It’s the sort of thing you get with years of development and 7 million users worldwide.)

Endomondo will tell you how many trips around the world and to the moon you’ve made. Not to mention how many burgers you’ve burned. (I wonder if their algorithm could tell us how many burgers are needed to pedal to the moon.)

Since Endomondo is such a strong platform, the League of American Bicyclists, Bikes Belong and sponsor Kimberly-Clark have chosen it to power the National Bike Challenge, that kicked off May 1st in honor of Bike-to-Work Month nationwide.

Bike-to-Work Day (May 10th in the San Francisco Bay Area) is a time when thousands of wannabe bike commuters get the support they need to give bike commuting a try. Of course, Bike-to-Work Day is a success when it actually converts people into bike commuters, not for a single day, but for any kind of regular or ongoing habit.

To help carry the momentum beyond the month of May, the National Bike Challenge will help support bike commuters through August with real-time stats and prizes. Anyone can sign up, as an individual commuter, part of a 10-rider team, or part of a workplace.

For employers, it’s a fantastic way to motivate, track and reward employees who choose to bike commute. In real-time, an administrator can see all the important metrics. Imagine being able to easily report the number of bike commuters in your company, the number of miles ridden, calories burned, carbon emissions offset and dollars saved.

For employees, it’s a hassle-free way to ride, track, and report your progress. You don’t need to remember to log your miles after the fact or upload data from a device. Just hit the app’s start button before your ride and the stop button sometime after your ride (it recognizes when you pause or stop and accounts for it so you don’t have to). Your ride data is instantly sent to the Endomondo servers. No more honor system; just immediate and useful stats that you can access on your phone or computer. Endomondo will happily keep a diary of where you go, your average speed, and how long you were doing it.

Better than that, the nerding out can really kick in once you get home. There are options to share routes and view routes posted by the community. And beyond the big state and national challenges, there are plenty of others that will help you get out on the road with the motivation to see your results up on a big scoreboard. And yes, you get the graphs and charts that you can analyse till the cows come home – speed and feet of climbing and distance travelled, etc.

But Endomondo does something more. You can use it to hook up with friends to network your fitness into a solid support group. It’s easy to fool ourselves, but when the data’s out there, it’s out there. Maybe best of all, there’s a feature to let people send live encouragement. This is the kind of thing that helps people lock into personal lifestyle changes. Like riding bikes instead of driving.

I’ve been using Endomondo for my own rides and it’s made a huge difference. I get feedback. I’m not on autopilot any more. Like the Prius driver, now I get all of the data on my ride, in real time, and immediately after.

Next up: we look at the rapid growth of Company Bike Fleets at Apple, Facebook and other innovative companies!

Bikes Make Life Better

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