Ah Bike to Work Day: A commute of glory for the uninitiated. And months of planning for those of us behind the scenes. Fun fact: I’m a regular bike commuter but I’ve never actually ridden to work on Bike to Work Day—there were always balloon arches to construct, muffins to unbox, or blender bikes to assemble in the hours before dawn.
A bird’s eye view of Bike to Work Day at the Googleplex.
All the planning and day-of blood, sweat, and chain lube to pull off the highest of bike holy days is totally worth it. Especially when I see first-time bike commuters roll confidently up to their workplace just beaming. Sharing the bike love and rewarding newbies is more than enough reason to keep doing what we do.
Bike to Work Day at LinkedIn.
There are other, more practical, reasons to use Bike to Work Day to support and build your bike community. First, research supports that bikers are winning the commute game, by arriving at work faster than their car commuting compatriots and feeling more refreshed.
Then there’s the numbers game: More and more people are choosing pedal power than ever before (check out this map to see numbers for your city). The more people start to bike, the more bike lanes we’ll see around town, and the more bike lanes, the more people will start to bike. It’s a wonderful cycle (pun intended!).
One thing I’ve learned from planning Bike to Work Day for large Bay Area companies over the years is that you don’t need deep pockets to pull off a spectacular celebration. All it takes is time, careful planning, and many enthusiastic volunteers. Speaking of planning …
The Bikes Make Life Better team starts planning for May’s Bike to Work Day as early as January. Begin by jotting down basic ideas and checking out resources offered by your local Bicycle Coalition (like this one, created by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition), city government and other entities. The League of American Bicyclists puts out a comprehensive how to guide with plenty of great ideas you can use for your event.
Once the creative juices are flowing, decide on a framework to keep track of all the BTWD-related odds and ends. Here’s a basic template to help you track activities, associated costs, and the people involved in the effort.
Hand stakeholders and volunteers an oar
I once had a guidance counselor ask me who was rowing my boat. When I looked at her confused, she explained that in order to achieve a goal, sometimes it’s necessary to enlist helpers to steer and power you towards an outcome. Similarly, you’re going to need many skilled and strong oarsmen to row the Bike To Work Day boat.
Start with the decision makers. Who will approve the budget (if applicable)? Who needs to sign off on activities? Make sure these people are informed, supportive, and updated regularly throughout the planning process.
Next, identify all those who can help with the effort. This list includes everyone from the avid cyclist who volunteers to show newbies the way, to the local bakeshop that agrees to donate muffins, to the CFO who rides every day and can use her megaphone to inspire participation.
Talking to people who are willing to row will also help flesh out the entire day, and any group rides, classes or other activities leading up to it. Remember that planning doc? Make sure to record details about volunteers and partnerships, and keep in contact as you continue to nail down logistics. Which brings us to…
Build the Bike to Work Day menu
Actual Bike To Work Day, and days leading up to it, are loaded with bikey happenings and activities. You can tap into existing events in your community or plan your own. Again it doesn’t take a huge budget to pull off organized rides, classes, and other fun bike activities, but it does take volunteers.
For rides and classes—what I refer to as “pre-BTWD events”—the goals are to generate excitement for Bike to Work Day and help wannabe bike commuters or the “interested but concerned” group overcome any biking bugaboos. Here are some basic categories to help engage both groups:
- Bike fixits: Offer a way for commuters to make sure their bikes are in good working order for the big day. These events can take many different forms with varying levels of DIY bike fixing. Some possibilities: host an ABC Quick Check class; ask a local bike shop to come to the site to fix bikes (sometimes shops will do this for free or at a discount); teach or get volunteers to teach hands-on bike maintenance classes, like fix-a-flat.
A mechanic offers employees tune ups at Facebook.
- Commute 101 class & ride: Commuting by bike for the first time can be intimidating and seemingly complicated. Help novice riders get ready to roll by teaching them everything from how to choose a bike and route, to rules of the road, to what to wear. Hint: This class can easily be taught classroom style, but I’ve found it’s more effective to lead a short, safe ride and show them what to do on the road. If the class must be held inside, consider recording the presentation and posting it for those that weren’t able to attend.
Participants on a bike safety ride at LinkedIn.
- Guided practice rides: Ask bike champions in your community to lead No Rider Left Behind rides (here’s an example) in the few weeks leading up to bike to work day. This gives gun-shy riders a chance to familiarize themselves with riding and gain confidence before BTWD.
- Challenges: Competition is a great tool for engaging riders and many companies run challenges—where co-workers or teams compete against one another—with prizes for most miles or days biked. You can use the National Bike Challenge as a platform to keep track of individual riders and reward the winners.
Bike to Work Day “appetizers” are great for building interest, but everyone is most excited for the main course. So be sure to put time into planning the big day. At the very least, sign up to host an “energizer station” managed by the bike coalition. This is a table and sometimes a tent set up along the route staffed by volunteers that cheer on cyclists as they pass and offer coffee and other baked goodies.
Employees arriving at Facebook HQ on Bike to Work Day.
If you have the chutzpah (and a little budget) to add to your station, it’s worth it. Creating a party atmosphere really helps drive (er…ride?) home that biking is indeed energizing and a lot of fun. Here are some ideas:
- A big finish: Make an actual finish line for riders to cross with volunteers to help cheer. Ask riders where they biked from and keep a running tally on a whiteboard or map.
Make riders feel accomplished as they roll across the finish line by recording where they started.
- Food and coffee: Snacks and caffeine are always appreciated, especially after longer rides.
- Swag: Have a token to give out to bikers. This can be simple and fairly low cost, like an “I biked” sticker. Bike lights and water bottles also make great swag. Some companies even do custom-branded T-shirts to commemorate Bike to Work Day.
- Bike repair: Ask a local bike shop or mobile repair service to set up a work stand for basic bike fixes.
A mobile bike repair station at Facebook.
If you’re able to go the extra mile, here are some more involved ideas:
- Bike decoration: Provide a station with art supplies, judge bikes and award prizes
- Bike art installation: Budget permitting, enlist a local artist to bring (or custom create) a bike sculpture for your event. Wouldn’t it be cool to replace that balloon arch with this?
- Pedal-powered fun: Rock-the-Bike, an Oakland-based company has a menagerie of fun bike-powered machines that you can rent. Everything from bike blenders to bike powered sound systems to power-meter games.
A LinkedIn bike commuter goes just a little further for breakfast.
- Funky bikes: Find folks with weird-looking bikes and ask them to attend BTWD. This makes for great photo ops!
- Massage: This is pricey, but if you’re able, hire massage therapists to offer 10-15 minute chair massages.
LinkedIn employees were treated to 10 minute massages on Bike to Work Day.
- Photo booth: Designate an area with a decent background. Lay out “I biked!” signs and have people pose for photos. Post the album online after the event or send photos to participants.
Microsoft bike commuters show their enthusiasm on Bike to Work Day.
Still need ideas?
- Every June, Shift2Bikes collects events for Portland Oregon’s Pedalpalooza, a bike lovers dream. I think I actually cried when I first learned of its existence and saw how many bike-related events were crammed into a month—sometimes nearly 20 a day! There is definitely stuff to recreate from Pedalpaloozas of yore.
- The League of American bicyclists publishes event ideas in its BTWD guide as well as a master list of BTWD events happening around the nation.
- Google’s TDM Program Manager, Lucy Tice recently presented on how she used commute platform Ride Amigos to boost BTWD participation. In addition to gaining insight into her process, she tells us the kinds of things she does to promote biking leading up to BTWD.
Spread the word!
For most U.S. locations, May is National Bike Month. That means you have a perfect backdrop for all your Bike to Work Day and general bike marketing. Use all the marketing channels that are available to you, including internal communications platforms, email, signs in community spaces throughout your office building(s), tabling events outside high traffic areas, a website, social media…the list goes on.
Also ask your volunteers and bike champions to plug Bike to Work Day through their channels and to their specific communities.
A note on tracking
Usually the bike coalition will ask you to manually count cyclists who visit or pass by an energizer station. If you’re not hosting a station, we still recommend you count bikers so you can measure participation year over year. For events in a corporate setting, you can usually ask employees to swipe their badge over a reader and record basic information that may help you in future marketing.
Keep the momentum going year round
“Bike to Work” doesn’t have to just be one day a year. Encourage participants to keep riding by engaging them in the months that follow. For example, Bikes Make Life Better organized “Monthly Bike to Work Days” at Facebook and LinkedIn. We also offer year round maintenance and commuting classes, so anyone who is new to biking can build up their skill set and hopefully continue to ride.
A hands-on class at Facebook’s campus bike shop.
Bike to Work Day is often the gateway into bike commuting, and even more serious cycling. It was for me six years ago. And now, well, bikes are basically my life. 🙂
Thinking of starting or improving your company’s bike program? Bikes Make Life Better is dedicated to helping large organizations use bikes for healthy sustainable transportation. They’ve helped design bike parking and facilities for Facebook, Salesforce, Airbnb, Stripe, Pembroke Real Estate, LinkedIn and many others.