Sarah Bronstein caught the biking bug, as she likes to call it, in 2005 when gas prices were skyrocketing and driving a car to and from grad school seemed like a needless expense.
“I quickly figured out that it was cheaper to use my bike to get around,” she said, describing herself as a mostly “transportation cyclist.”
She later moved to Seattle and began working part-time for a bicycle advocacy group called Cascade Bicycle Club, spreading the word about the benefits of biking.
Now, she’s hoping Juneau will catch the bug.
She and three other biking aficionados are challenging Juneau residents to bike to work this month — National Bike Month — as part as the capital city’s first Bicycle Commute Challenge.
“It’s the first time that an organization has done a city-wide commute challenge for the whole month of May,” Bronstein, a 31-year-old city planner for the City and Borough of Juneau, said. “In the past, people did Bike Day activities, but doing a monthlong activity is a new thing for Juneau.”
The idea is simple and fosters some friendly competition: form a team among coworkers, rack up miles to and from work, then compete against other teams to see who made the most trips by the month’s end. Solo riders can participate, too.
The winning team gets bragging rights and free bike tune-ups at Cycle Alaska. Every participant who rides at least five days and logs their trips online gets a free water bottle.
The commute challenge has already garnered interest locally; 33 people were registered by Wednesday afternoon.
“I normally ride my bike to work year-round, but it was actually my wife who told me that her company was putting a challenge team together, so I decided I better do the same,” said Tom Waldo, a staff attorney at Earthjustice who is serving as his team’s captain.
Likewise, Tristan Knutson-Lombardo said he usually bikes the three miles to work and back.
“It’s pretty short, and it’s just one less trip you have to take with the car,” he said.
He created a team with for his office members at SAIL, Southeast Alaska Independent Living, to promote wellness among the staff, he said.
“Plus, it’s a team-building exercise if we’re all in it together,” he said.
The commute challenge is hosted by a new group called Juneau Rides, which grew out of the local Freewheelers Bike Club. It’s just one of the initiatives Juneau Rides is working on, said one of the group’s leaders, Cycle Alaska co-owner John McConnochie. Other projects include creating a bike map of Juneau and creating a one-stop website that lists all local bike events.
McConnochie has won numerous competitive road races in Juneau, Whitehorse and Anchorage, but the beauty of the commute challenge, he said, is that it’s not just for competitive bicyclists. In fact, it’s aimed at people who wouldn’t normally ride a bike.
“It’s for people that might be sitting on the fence, saying ‘Oh, should I commute or not?’” he said. “I think once people do it and find out how much they enjoy it and the benefits from it, they might do it more often.”
“We just want to get more people on bikes and share the joys of cycling,” he added.
Juneau Rides formed in November from an ad-hoc group of local cyclists who wanted to promote cycling events and coordinate advocacy initiatives. It’s run by an informal committee of four: Bronstein; McConnochie (also president of the Freewheelers Bike Club); Jack Kreinheder, president of Trail Mix Inc., a nonprofit that works to expand and maintain Juneau’s trail system; and Corey McKrill, a Web developer born and raised in Juneau who created the Juneau Rides website.
Juneau Rides is hoping that even if people don’t participate in the monthlong event, they will still participate on “Bike to Work Day,” May 16. For those that do, there will be some sweet (and savory) incentives. The group is piggy-backing off an Anchorage phenomenon and setting up a Bacon Station to pass out hot bacon strips to bike commuters who pass by the Cycle Alaska parking lot.
“I’ve been told that it’s foolproof,” Bronstein laughed.
On Bike to Work Day, they will operate commuter bike stations so bikers can get a Cycle Alaska mechanic to inspect their bike for minor repairs while they enjoy a hot cup of joe. If promises of bacon and coffee aren’t enough, the Alaska Brewing Company is sweetening the deal by hosting a happy hour from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. that evening.
Other businesses (including Nugget Alaska Outfitters and Cycle Alaska) are also offering promotions for the event. Details are available on juneaurides.org.
Biker commute challenges are held all across the country. Bronstein noted that the monthlong challenge in the Seattle area nets around 10,000 registered riders. She’s hoping Juneau will at least see 50 for its first run.
“Our conservative goal is 50,” she said. “Anything more than that I think we would just be overjoyed.”
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For everything you need to know about the Biker Commute Challenge — including how and where to register, team requirements and prizes — please visit juneaurides.org. You can also find information about the May 16 Bike to Work Day on the same website.