The NBC Peacock
The bike industry created the National Bike Challenge in 2012. It’s the gamification of cycling: you log your miles and get points (20 points per day and 1 point per mile) ranking you among other riders, plus a tiny chance at winning token prizes, including—I shit you not—a year’s supply of toilet paper. Meanwhile, the bike industry gets free marketing and all your data.
I never felt any desire to participate, since the challenge offers riders absolutely nothing of value. However, they finally realized they’d get much more participation if they made data entry effortless: by simply requiring access to your Strava logs.
So this year I signed up, just to see what it was all about. The challenge formally runs for five months from May through September. In that time I rode 79 out of 153 days, or 52 percent of the days.
I was primarily interested in how I stacked up against other riders in Pittsburgh. I started out strong and consistent, but ended feebly. In May I had the 14th highest score in Pittsburgh; in June slipped to 17th; July 18th; August 19th; and then fell all the way to 41st for the month of September, when I had two bad colds, a week off the bike while traveling, no century rides, and the transition to shorter hill climbs in preparation for the Dirty Dozen.
In terms of miles, those months went: 567, 564, 567, 503, and 220, for a total of 2,421 miles. Out of 162 registered riders in Pittsburgh I ranked 18th, which made me 89th percentile.
Across the entire commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I ranked 121st out of 854 riders, or 86th percentile.
And nationally 31,543 riders registered, and my 3,305th ranking put me again at 89th percentile nationally.
Those are respectable numbers, but could have been better had I been able to ride more than 220 miles in September. Or if the century I did on October 1 had been scheduled just one day earlier!
While the challenge didn’t get me out and riding any more than usual, it did produce one consistent behavioral change: at the end of every ride, I took an extra loop up and down my street to be sure that I finished on an even number of miles. E.g. if I got home with 15.7 miles, I’d ride another third of a mile so that the odometer would just tick over 16, because the challenge doesn’t award points for fractional miles. But now that the challenge is over, I can forget doing that.
If you’re someone whose behavior can be manipulated by gamification, and don’t mind giving your personal data away for free, maybe the National Bike Challenge would be of interest to you.
For me, it was worth trying once, if only to see how I measured up against the other local participants. But going forward, it would be just one more unnecessary thing demanding my attention, while giving the bike industry unsupervised access to my personal data.