Santa Cruz County bounces back, and then some, for Bike Month 2021

It all started…

…with the first Bike to Work Day in Santa Cruz in 1987, to demonstrate the power of the bicycle and how it can be used as a tool for everyday transportation. This small neighborhood affair gained steam, and in the early 2000s Santa Cruz County Bike Week was added to facilitate more demonstrations, activity, and celebration around the bike. Not until 2019 did we evolve Bike Week into a full-fledged Bike Month, following in the long tradition of organizers across the U.S., to elevate the bike and bring the community together to recognize the bike’s many benefits.

We anchored this expanded whole-month structure with a month-long Bike Challenge hosted on the online platform Love to Ride, complete with prizes, goal setting, leaderboards, and workplace profiles for local employers. With a new structure, a new challenge, new community ambassadors, and a whole lot of promotional energy, we saw a historic turnout that exceeded our expectations. We added the Bike Challenge along with community favorites like Bike Night at the MAH, Bike to Work, Bike and Walk to School Day, movie nights, bike rides, and more.

We saw 86 organizations take part, and 1060 community members log rides, clocking close to 10,000 transportation trips over the course of the month. We collectively prevented over 30,000lbs of CO2 from being emitted; almost certainly more, since some folks did not tag their rides for transportation. We estimate that these numbers reflect a strong but incomplete picture of biking across Santa Cruz County. Invariably, there are many who do not bother to use apps or websites to track their rides, and are motivated by the intrinsic and social benefits of the bike more than prizes, goal setting, and social media.

Then 2020 hit…

…and we were suddenly scattered to work remotely and hide from the novel COVID-19 virus. With all in-person events cancelled indefinitely, we were forced to organize a virtual program in which individuals, families, and COVID pods could participate. With the backdrop of COVID, it felt challenging to put energy into a positive and encouraging Bike Month, but that was around the time when we noticed a big shift happening: a bike boom was building. 

Seeing an upward trend

By most measures, the bike boom is still booming, well into 2021. Brittany Cavaletto, co-owner of Scotts Valley Cycle Sport and Family Cycling says, “Even with other activities opening back up, customers could wait a couple of months for certain products with continued factory and shipping delays, ports being backed up, not enough truck drivers, etc.” SVCS and Family Cycling do have a healthy inventory as of June 2021.

As vaccinations rolled out, cases dropped, and hope returned, we came back with a mix of virtual events and small-scale in-person events for Bike Month 2021.

The Bike Challenge, now in its third year, saw its biggest turnout yet. We had 1120 individuals log rides (+5% from our 2019 high), 98 local employers who joined (+14% from our 2019 high), and more than 150,000 miles collectively ridden (about six times around Planet Earth). One notable shift this year is that we saw a 28% increase in overall miles covered from 2019, but a 22% decrease in the number of miles for transportation. We assume this is mostly due to a sizable portion of the county’s workforce working at least partially remotely, as commutes to and from work are still down from pre-COVID levels.

In fact, looking at the Google COVID-19 Community Mobility Report for Santa Cruz County from May 2020 to June 2021, travel to transit stations is down 59% compared to the pre-COVID baseline and travel to workplaces is down 40%; but, unsurprisingly, travel to parks is up 46% compared to baseline.

So, when we look at our data from Bike Month, with 40% of miles for transportation in 2019 and 18% of miles for transportation in 2021, it is consistent with broader transportation trends in the county.

Aside from high ridership and increased employer turnout, our other area of growth and innovation this year was our Safe Route Group Rides. My colleague, Tawn Kennedy, wrote a great piece this month on how those came to be and what our experience was – check it out here.  

The community showed up

Not only did we host some great rides and workshops alongside the Challenge, but we had a whole host of partners around the county who helped make Bike Month happen this year. We had 16 events over the course of the month, including a Women/Trans/Femme Ride with The Bike Church, a Mother’s Day Bike and Bird with the Bird School Project, a Mayor’s Ride and Bike Party put on by Bike Santa Cruz County, and the annual Ride of Silence put on by local bike advocate Greg Braithwaite. We also had some DIY bike-ride guides put out by our friends at the SC Museum of Natural History, SC Museum of Art and History, and the Coastal Watershed Council.

No Bike Month reportage would be complete without hearing from some of our community members. It is always good to hear from folks about what their experiences and motivations were. I caught up with some of our Bike Month champions: the folks who signed up their workplaces for the Bike Month Challenge.

For Nate Smith of Ibis Cycles, it’s about community. As Nate told me, “I took part in Bike Month to be part of the whole cycling community, and to give a bit of data to show how many people are riding their bikes, and how much we need better bike paths and safe biking roads in our county. My favorite part of Bike Month is getting the people that shrug off things like this to sign up and get excited! The highlight for our workplace during Bike Month was getting into the competition side of logging our miles, and winning our category, as well as $2000!”

For Elisabeth Morris of Herbst Produkt, this was her first Bike Month. “I joined Bike Month because of an article in the Santa Cruz Lookout news. My favorite part was learning how many riders are out and about in Santa Cruz with me, based on the stats I saw on the website.” Her workplace [a small design firm based in the Old Sash Mill], is grateful for all the bike paths and lanes around Santa Cruz, especially the routes running directly along the San Lorenzo.

For Shauna Soldate with the County of Santa Cruz, Bike Month means fun. “Bicycling is one of my favorite modes of transportation – it’s fun, freeing, and practical for most local errands. My favorite part of Bike Month is connecting with my coworkers and feeling like a team during the competition! It’s really great to see all the enthusiasm [from coworkers].”

Claire Gallogly, Transportation Planner for the City of Santa Cruz, says “I love Bike Month because you get to see so many happy faces out enjoying our great bike facilities.”

So, thank you, everyone, for a bike-tastic month

A massive thank you to the 1000-plus community members who joined us, the 98 participating workplaces, our partners who put on events and activities, and to all our sponsors who make this all possible with financial support.

As we head into summer, our team will be busy working on more bike workshops and the Portola Dr. Pop Up Infrastructure, and getting ready for our long-awaited return to Bike to Work Day and Bike and Walk to School Day in October.

Want to join another bike challenge? Get ready for Biketober 2021, which will kick off on October 1st and run for the whole month. As a reminder, all Santa Cruz County employers can access Love to Ride year round to see their dashboard and track the collective impact of staff riding to and from work and for transportation.