The National Bike Challenge is "a free and friendly competition" open to all ages and abilities who ride bikes for transportation, recreation, better health, cleaner air and regional pride.
Ah, yes, regional pride.
Pittsburgh, the largest city to finish in the Top 40 last year, is squaring off against Cleveland to defend its title as "Rustbelt Champion" by registering more riders and logging more miles than its Ohio competitor between now and Sept. 30.
"Let's face it, Pittsburghers hate to lose to Cleveland at anything," said Scott Bricker, executive director and co-founder of Bike Pittsburgh. "That's why we're strongly encouraging anyone who owns a bike in Pittsburgh to sign up and start logging miles."
Participants can monitor their standings on the local and national levels. Online challenge software enables Pittsburghers to participate as individuals, teams, work places, cities and states.
Bricker said the National Bike Challenge "is an easy addition to personal health plans and workplace wellness programs." A free smartphone app allows users to automatically log trips while they're on the go. Pittsburgh participants are eligible to win prizes on the local and national level.
The Pedal for Pints program, sponsored by the OTB (Over The Bar) Bicycle Cafe on the South Side, gives riders a free drink as they win each of the five challenge medals. Bike Pittsburgh handles the local promotion efforts.
Bricker said Bike Cleveland is working with Rustbelt Welding to fabricate a crown that will reside in the Rustbelt Champion's city.
He said the determined bicycling staff at the Kiku restaurant in Station Square, though small in number, accumulated point totals in last year's challenge "that rivaled the likes of Carnegie Mellon, Highmark, UPMC and Pitt."
"Staff members were riding in from places like Hampton and Castle Shannon," Bricker said. "One of the chefs was clocking nearly 35 miles daily. It was fun for them to be part of something that wasn't directly related to work but that they did together, and that inspired them to be more active."
Welcome, new riders
Mike Carroll, event coordinator for Bike Pittsburgh, welcomes new bicyclists to the city with the following advice:
"Be sure your bike is safe. Remember the ABCs -- air, brakes, chain.
"Obey posted traffic signs; they are the rules of the road."
Always be "present" on your bike. Be alert and be aware, especially at intersections where many accidents occur.
Beware the "door zone." As you scan the road ahead for potholes and debris, look for human hazards such as drivers exiting their vehicles.
Don't be afraid to take a lane if you feel unsafe sharing a lane.
"If you are backing up traffic, move as far to the right as possible," Carroll said. "You can also stop and let traffic pass if necessary."
Heavy duty U-shaped locks "are the best defense against theft," he said.
Larry Walsh writes about recreational bicycling for the Post-Gazette.