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Local agency pulls out the stops for Commuter Challenge

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Upshot, a Chicago-based marketing agency, comes out on top for being one of the most enthusiastic teams within the Bike Commuter Challenge. 

The staff’s passion for the challenge has only gotten stronger over the past 6 years of their participation. The River North agency has about 170 staff people. 

Upshot staff say the advantages to biking to work are many: not only is it an economically smart and healthy way to get to work, but it allows people to discover new parts of Chicago and what it has to offer.

We caught up with Fran Dvorak, human resources director at Upshot, for a rundown of how they got so involved with the Bike Commuter Challenge (BCC) and how they prep their fellow staffers for a strong showing in the competition.


Active Trans: What drew you into this competition?

Dvorak: It was a natural for us. We already had a lot of bikers riding to work and they always parked their bikes in the office, so it just seemed like a way to have fun with a friendly competition where we could bring some creativity to it and connect people. Upshot has always had a lot of friendships across the agency, so we came up with the group “Bike Friends” and made it open to all. 

Active Trans: Why do your employees enjoy BCC? 

Dvorak: Because we get it out there in a fun way and have a sense of humor about it. And we’re tapping into something a lot of people do on their own anyway. We’ve also had group rides, either after work, or on a Saturday—one year it was the Lakefront Trail, another year to Garfield Park Conservatory, another time a brewery. 

Active Trans: What perks do you provide your employees who sign up for the ride?

Dvorak: We change it up a bit every year so it stays fresh. We usually do a T shirt design contest where anyone can submit a design [see photo]. The designs are voted on across the agency, and the winning one is produced. Everyone who rides gets one, so it’s an incentive and a perk. 

We have a kick-off breakfast for all riders on the first day and raffle prizes either during the week or at the end of the event. Then we create personalized plaques for each rider, and track who rides each day. 

The first day you ride, a few Bike Friends stop by your desk, on a bike and ringing a bell, and give you your plaque, a ride sticker for the day, plus your shirt, all wrapped in a nice ribbon—so you get a little love and appreciation. 

In past years we’ve given customized water bottles, socks and backpacks. Last year we had a special celebration lunch for our team win and gave out some fun bike-themed gifts. Our top mileage riders got certificates and were featured on our web site.  

Active Trans: How do you get your staff excited for the challenge?

Dvorak: We plan ahead—the T shirts have to be ordered by the last week of May—so we start getting the word out early and trying to anticipate what people might need—a safety seminar, or one year we had bike techs stop by and offer tune ups. The other thing that I think has worked well is that no one person is in charge of this; it’s a different mix of people and ideas every year.  

Active Trans: What extra features do you have in your office that support bike commuting? 

Dvorak: Our building offers a bike room with showers. During bike to work week we’ve added some helpful items in the restrooms—hair dryers, baby wipes. But our biggest support is being able to keep your bike at your work space and having the repair station. 

Active Trans: What inspired putting a bike shop in the office? 

Dvorak: We asked people what would make it easier for them to ride and a lot of them said having a place where they could do basic maintenance/fixes as needed would help a lot. We figured creating the space would make it easy for people to ride throughout the year. We also put out maps, and people donated tools they had at home, and one of our art directors made a cool sign. 

Active Trans: What benefits do you see from bike commuting?

Dvorak: The biggest benefit we see is the camaraderie, since it creates something that people who might not have other things in common can do and talk about. We don’t force anything; we just do things to keep it front of mind all week and provide a fun framework for people to participate. We’re a naturally social and collaborative place, and the Bike Commuter Challenge taps into that. 


The 2017 Bike Commuter Challenge has started, but it's not too late to get your workplace involved. 

Photo courtesy of Upshot.