by Lisa Murawski

“I wasn’t motivated to ride my bike until I entered the Team Bike Challenge. Being a member of our Bike Team encouraged me to ride so our team would do well. Along the way, I realized I enjoyed biking around town and have continued to do so even though the month of June has passed.”

If you listen closely during the month of June in Santa Barbara County, you hear upwards of a thousand people talking about “making utilitarian trips by bike.”  Some are avid recreational bikers just trying a bike for transportation for the first time.  Some pull the rusty mountain bike out of the shed and enter the competition just for a hoot, and some are seasoned road warriors, decked out with top-of-the-line commuting bikes and gear. 

One thing brings these people together – competing for prizes by riding in June, and having fun doing it.  The appeal isn’t “green”; it’s not about saving polar bears.  The appeal is fun, and the contest is light-hearted.  Beyond the fun and games, we are convinced that there is serious behavior change happening as a result of participating in the Team Bike Challenge.  The Team Bike Challenge creates motivation by cycling for a team, figuring out that it’s actually a great way to get around, and making it part of a new transportation routine.

The Background

The Team Bike Challenge is a month-long team-based bicycle competition.  Unlike traditional bike competitions, it happens throughout Santa Barbara County for the entire month of June and involves utilitarian bicycle trips instead of competitive cycling.  Individuals track the number of utilitarian bike trips they made (defined as trips for transportation that could have been taken by car), and they earn points for their team based on the number of bike rides logged.  Teams are composed of five individuals (of which two must be infrequent riders), and all teams are in direct competition with one another.  As teams earn points, they become eligible for prizes like gift certificates and movie tickets.  Although the prizes are modest, the competitive aspect and bragging rights seem to provide great incentives to ride. 

The Team Bike Challenge originated in Santa Barbara County and is three years old.  Other organizations are running similar programs now, including the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area 511, Oregon’s Bike Transportation Alliance, and SLO Regional Rideshare.

How Does the Team Bike Challenge Make Use of Social Marketing Tools?

Commitment: By signing up, you are committing to riding at least four times during the month.

Communication: Participants receive weekly flashy HTML emails.  Our message is simple and specific: “Ride your bike for transportation: to work or for trips around town.”  

Prompts: A wonderful part of the competition is that not all prompts come from us!  Many of the prompts to ride come from team members encouraging other members to ride instead of drive.

Norms: One powerful aspect is that the peer pressure of being a team member creates a new social norm, especially in the workplace (e.g., “Why are you NOT cycling to work?”).  Most people hear about the challenge through word-of-mouth, largely from co-workers.

Incentives: Besides the entertainment and fun of participating in a challenging competition, prizes, ranging from $5 to $100, are given out to nearly 800 people in the top 185 teams.

Convenience: The online system makes it easy to log bike trips and participate. People can participate whenever, from wherever, and to the extent they want.

The Team Bike Challenge model has proven successful for promoting biking for transportation, based on a high proportion of comments, anecdotal evidence, and the other results of surveys done of participants after the contest.  There are many reasons it works: it’s a positive activity; it’s something fun to rally around at work; the competitive aspect is a big motivator.  But one important reason the Team Bike Challenge works is that is directly targets behavior.

A Focus on Behavior

It may sound obvious to focus on behavior, but many campaigns marketing pro-social behavior focus on influencing psychological constructs that are important in behavior, not behavior itself; for example, they might provide information, try to change attitudes, or provide free services. Part of the effectiveness of the Team Bike Challenge model is it skips over these other constructs and directly targets behavior. 

But we must keep in mind that behavior doesn’t happen out of thin air. It is mediated by other important constructs. If you are in the business of changing behavior, it’s helpful to know what these are and make sure you address the right ones.  Also, in the case of the Team Bike Challenge, in order to keep on growing the number of participants and be more inclusive, we may need to start addressing the antecedents to behavior as well as behavior itself.

A Little Theory on Behavior

Icek Ajzen, a well-known social psychologist, has proposed the Theory of 
Planned Behavior to explain reasoned behavior— choices that people think about and make in daily life.  This is a stripped-down version, but it seems to be a robust model that explains a lot about behavior while remaining pretty simple. 

What does this diagram mean?  If you’ll bear with a little theory for a moment, you’ll notice that Intention feeds directly into behavior; it’s an “immediate antecedent,” in psycho-speak.  But what creates a strong intention?  According to Ajzen, we are more likely to form a strong intention to carry out a behavior when we feel good about the behavior (Attitude), when we perceive that people around us view the behavior positively (Subjective Norm), and when we feel free to carry out the behavior (Perceived Behavioral Control).  So if we have a strong intention to ride a bike for transportation and we have the freedom to do so, then we are very likely to ride. 

Survey Says…

Ajzen states that the framework can be used to design and evaluate behavioral interventions, so we embedded this framework into our post-Team Bike Challenge survey to see what influenced cycling behavior.  Measuring these perceptions allowed us to craft a little story on why people do or do not cycle.  We found that people generally feel very good about cycling and think it is a socially popular thing to do, but they sometimes feel that they are not free to ride, perhaps because of the pressures of daily life, their geographical setting, or their physical ability.  It’s easy to see how knowing this story line might inform the way we choose to market the experience, or what types of encouragement we offer.

We also asked people about the why they rode.  The most important reason participants give is to help the environment – nearly 85 percent of participants considered this “important” or “very important.”  Personal fitness is a close second.  People also like having fun and improving their mood, saving money, and avoiding foreign oil.  The bottom line is: there is no substitute for knowing what benefits and barriers people perceive, in order to understand what value people see in practicing the behavior.

Theory of Planned Behavior  (Copyright Icek Ajzen 2006)

Finally, in addition to the diagram shown here, there is also the question of feedback between behavior and attitudes. 

Attitudes often influence behavior, but behavior also influences attitudes.  By focusing on cycling, we allow the actual positive experiences associated with riding to feed back and change attitudes.  For example, people reported that riding for the Team Bike Challenge led them to be more environmentally aware, which likely loops back around to encourage more cycling. 

Whether it’s active transportation, energy conservation, or another pro-social behavior, it’s important that we know the benefits people perceive and the barriers they face, and address the important determinants of behavior. If we craft effective behavioral interventions based on research and collective experience, and not just on guesses, we will be responsible architects of a better world. 

Lisa Murawski, Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG), Traffic Solutions; (805) 961-8919
[email protected]