There’s some friendly competition going on as individuals, families, businesses, governments and nonprofits in the Tahoe Basin see who can rack up the most trips and miles on their bikes and the fewest in their cars.
The ninth-annual Tahoe Bike Challenge started on Saturday with a South Shore bike path cleanup that collected 145 pounds of litter. The challenge runs through June 20. Bike trips and miles are tallied on a website with participants trying to reduce automobile use and tailpipe emissions, two top environmental goals for the Tahoe Basin.
“It’s just for bragging rights and some fun, and to set the stage for what hopefully will be a long summer of people getting around on bicycles,” said Karen Houser, a board member of the Lake Tahoe Bicycle Coalition that spearheads the event.
Teams and individuals can sign up to compete any time between now and the challenge’s end. They’re encouraged to ride bikes to work, school, the beach — anywhere they can.
Angela Moniot, a marketing specialist at Barton Memorial Hospital and its team captain for the challenge, is one of 23 hospital employees participating. “It’s something we encourage all of our employees to participate in just from a wellness perspective,” she said about the health benefits of hopping on a bike instead of into a car.
Moniot’s bike commute keeps her out of traffic and road construction and pedaling through Tahoe’s forests instead. She takes a series of trails — Tahoe Rim Trail, Pony Express and Powerlines — to get down into the basin and to work each morning.
“For me it’s a sanity thing of enjoying the peacefulness in the woods. I don’t know if there are too many people who get to have that kind of commute,” Moniot said.
Another benefit of the challenge: “It shows you how much you save on gas money. It’s amazing to see how much you save by riding your bike and how much that helps the air we’re breathing.”
In last year’s Tahoe Bike Challenge, 353 people made 4,520 trips and rode 18,862 miles. In the first few days of this year’s challenge, 145 people have made 514 trips and rode 1,915 miles. Many participants ride instead of drive throughout the spring, summer and fall, if not year-round.
Sierra Nevada Alliance won last year’s challenge for most bike trips per employee, the top category. “For four years we’ve won number of trips per employee,” senior program associate Gavin Feiger said. “It’s a great community event to get people out on bikes. It’s fun to do the challenge, but it’s more fun just to get out and enjoy this weather. What a way to start and finish your work day.”
Employees at Tahoe Mountain Sports in Kings Beach were leading the trips per employee category Tuesday and in the top five for total miles — a tally boosted in part by the owners’ roughly 12-mile ride to the store from Truckee, sales manager Meaghen Rafferty said.
On the South Shore, Sports LTD and Heavenly Mountain Resort are fielding Tahoe Bike Challenge teams. Heavenly was second in total miles Tuesday. After finishing third last year, resort employees want to take first, spokeswoman Sally Gunter said.
“It’s a great initiative and brings awareness to how much difference you can make even with small daily tasks like riding to the grocery store instead of driving. It adds up,” she said.
If there’s one team to beat in total miles it’s the 60 participating employees at Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, spokesman Jeff Cowen said. TRPA created the bike challenge as an internal event and then started taking on other groups in the community. The agency always wins in most miles, “period,” Cowen said. But the TRPA was in fourth place Tuesday, trailing Lake Tahoe Community College, Heavenly and the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association and only three miles ahead of the California Tahoe Conservancy in fifth place.
“We’re sort of a controversial agency in the basin, so it’s fun to put ourselves out there and say, ‘Hey, we put our environmental chips where our mouths are and we want to see people try to take us,’” said Cowen, who rides his bike 3.7 miles to work year-round.
Beyond the competition, the challenge also shows agencies spending money to improve Lake Tahoe’s bicycle facilities that they should keep that work up. “If we show that a number of people are already getting out with the few bike facilities we have, that will help bolster everyone’s commitment to increasing them,” Cowen said.
“And it gets people out of cars, enjoying beautiful spring weather. My feeling is it changes your perspective every day. You’re out, you’re in the atmosphere with the smells and sounds and all things you can’t get in a car, and doing something good for yourself, adding days or months onto your life. Just being sedentary is not good for any of us.”