Cambridge Cycle Challenge

This article was published in 2010, in Newsletter 92.

2010 has seen work-based challenges rolled out across 13 English cities by CTC and Get More People Cycling. The core idea was to get businesses and organisations to see who can get the most staff cycling for at least ten minutes during the Challenge period. Companies compete against similar-sized organisations in six categories.

The Cambridge Cycle Challenge, funded by Cycle Cambridge, ran for three weeks in June. As co-ordinator, I sent out dozens of emails in April and May stressing the benefits for companies of signing up for the Challenge (improved health and motivation, reduced congestion and emissions). I handed out flyers at cyclist hot spots and knocked on doors of businesses all round the city. Cycle Cambridge helped me with press coverage and promotion (being interviewed by Star Radio’s Ginger Travel Ninja was memorable!).

Friendly competition turned out to be the key motivator for participants. And ‘gentle social pressure on those who don’t cycle’ as Richard Topliss at Cambridge Mechatronics nicely put it. A user-friendly, dummy-proof website,, where you quickly log rides and check results, also played a large part in the success of the event. Part-time cyclists soon became full-time.

‘There are many more people cycling at Babraham now … I think it works well because it takes an activity that is largely individual and turns into a “team” event’

Cambridge competed against Oxford, whose own Challenge ran at the same time, to see which city could recruit the largest number of new cyclists. This added incentive really inspired participants to get bike-shy colleagues cycling, as did a series of Dr Bike and cycle training sessions run by Outspoken.

As the weeks went by, it became apparent that a competition-within-a-competition was happening – between academic/research organisations on one side and IT/high-tech companies on the other. For some, it was the first time every member of staff was involved in a common goal (a non-work-related one, at least). And some of the most enthusiastic participants worked for companies located in not very cycle-friendly places, such as the Wellcome Trust out at Hinxton and the Babraham Institute, both a long way south of Cambridge. Michael Coleman commented ‘There are many more people cycling at Babraham now … I think it works well because it takes an activity that is largely individual and turns into a “team” event’.

Other events were organised by businesses to coincide with the Challenge and Bike Week: Bicycle User Group breakfasts, after-work rides to the pub, etc. Amit Nair of Oakland turned up at a Travel Plan Plus event to do his ten Challenge minutes on a tandem, two recumbents and an electric bike. When he got home, he fixed the puncture on his languishing bike and cycled the 22 miles to work and back the very next day. Most of his journey was ‘along dedicated cycle paths, a third through meadows, no cars, no traffic lights and no jams. Really enjoyed the ride and it took me just 10 minutes longer than it would have by car! Saved petrol, money and got my heart rate high!!’

By the end of the Challenge, 99 organisations had taken part, 2,422 people had each logged a trip, 131 of whom hadn’t been on a bike in the last year. 163,834 miles were cycled (the equivalent of cycling round the world over 6 times) and 38,357 kilograms of CO2 were saved (by trips for transport rather than purely leisure purposes). Individual and Top Three team prizes were handed out to winners by local councillors Ian Nimmo-Smith and Nichola Harrison at a ceremony at the County Council on 8 July.

First place winners:

  • 500+ staff: MRC Cambridge Centre and Laboratory of Molecular Biology, 19.8% of staff cycled
  • 200-499 staff: British Antarctic Survey, 39.3% of staff cycled
  • 50-199 staff: UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, 77.38% of staff cycled
  • 20-49 staff: IUCN, 95% of staff cycled
  • 7-19 staff: Cambridge Mechatronics, 100% of staff cycled
  • 3-6 staff: Hinxton Hall Finance – The Wellcome Trust, 100% of staff cycled.

Vanessa Kelly