Kansas may conjure images of the yellow-brick road, but if you’re a bicyclist, the Prairie State doesn’t exactly spring to mind as a prime cycling destination.
The top team in the National Bike Challenge for the month of June hails from Topeka, Kansas — and they’re proving they’re no fly-over state when it comes to bicycling.
If you’re wondering about that acronym at the top of the leaderboard: KVBC stands for Kaw Valley Bicycle Club. The club takes its name from the Kansas or “Kaw” River flowing through the state’s capital city and the organization, not only hosts three recreational rides per year, but has made the shift to an advocacy organization (and was instrumental in lobbying for Kansas’ 3-foot passing and dead-red laws).
I checked in with some of the members of the KVBC to find out how the Challenge is improving their riding and elevating the profile of cyclists in their community.
How and why did you decide to form a team in the National Bike Challenge?
Alan: I found out about the Challenge when it first was announced. The board of the KVBC thought it was a great idea and wanted to support it. I started a team and asked board members to join and those who had spouses to maybe have them join. Some of the board suggested other riders. We originally had one team member who was more focused on running than biking, so with mutual agreement we substituted another rider I knew who rode a few miles. So the team is a mixture of board members, spouses, and other area bike riders. Most of us know each other since we’ve all been involved with bicycling in Topeka for a number of years.
How has being a team boosted or made your participation in the Challenge more enjoyable?
Alan: I think when the team first started it was just fun to see how we would do as a team. We then had another local team that started talking a little (fun) trash talk, and it was “Game on.” I think everyone was surprised to find we were in the top ten and that has made team members want to put on a few more miles to keep that standing. Who would think a team from Topeka, KANSAS would be ahead of other states known more for bicycling?
Erin: I don’t always get to ride a lot with other bikers, but I feel connected to the other riders on my team just by checking Endomondo to see how far the others went on a particular day. I really enjoy the encouragement and support I get from the others to ride every day.
Brian: It has provided competition within the team and with other teams which has helped motivate me to ride my bike. My wife added me to the team with some reluctance since I do not always put a lot of miles on the bike and she feared I would hold the team back. I have ridden more so I would not let the team down. Since many of the members of the team are friends, it has provided for some friendly competition. There are members of the team I have tried to beat, but by doing so I improve the team standing.
Suzanne: I’m very competitive and want to drive my numbers up!
How has the Challenge improved or inspired your riding thus far?
Erin: I’m having the best riding year I’ve had for several years now. I began biking to work just to get out every day, and I’m having so much fun! My overall fitness has improved and I know more bikers from Topeka now than I did before. It’s a great combination of physical fitness and social enjoyment in my community and around Kansas.
Brian: Being a part of the Challenge has motivated me to ride my bike every day since May 1st. There are some days that I have only ridden a couple of miles, but most days I have spent at least an hour each day on the bike. After the Cottonwood 200 (our club’s ride), usually I take three or four days off. This year I rode almost 100 miles during those days, despite the fact that my legs were a little tired. I have tried to work in riding into my daily activities by using the bike to take care of errands. Additionally, the challenge has made me think of ways to ride in the most efficient method to get the most miles ridden without having bicycling riding dominate my day.
Bill: More miles in hills and wind makes one a much stronger rider, especially when done daily. I’ve also lost 10 pounds that I hope never find their way back.
Dennis: I cannot believe how driven my teammates are. I‘m actually logging more miles than I was when I joined, just to keep pace.
How has being a (leading!) team increased awareness of biking in your community or social circles?
Erin: I knew our team would put in a lot of miles because we already all bike and love it, but I was excited to see several other teams in the Topeka area rise to the challenge. Our local newspaper published an article on our success, and I hope that this will encourage more people in our area to ride and be aware of the needs of bicyclists. The Challenge helps us show our community leaders just how many people are out there riding each day.
Bill: I serve on the Topeka Bikeways Council, which is in the process of finalizing plans to upgrade Topeka’s bike routes and trails. Rarely a meeting goes by where non-biking members aren’t made aware of Topeka teams’ standings and the community’s placement as compared to other cities.
Dennis: I really did not realize how passionate the cyclists in Topeka are. It actually makes me feel a little more secure when commuting on the city streets, knowing there are others who have my back.
Suzanne: We have been on TV and in the newspaper, which gives the community more thought for us cyclists.
What’s your team goal for the Challenge overall?
Erin: To beat the other teams! Just kidding. I think we want what the other teams want: to keep riding because we love it, share our love of riding with others, and keep everyone as safe as we can out there on the roads and trails. I’ve watched more than a few people transform overnight from beginners with little experience to a full blown obsession with biking. It’s an amazing sight to witness how happy and healthy they become.
Alan: I don’t think the team had a goal at the beginning–just ride and see where we land. But then we started moving up nationally. I would like to see the team keep the #3 standing or better. There is still a long way to go, though, and life can change.
Dennis: The team goal is to kick butt and to let others know, “Hey, get out there on your bikes. Yes, it’s okay to ride to work or just for enjoyment. Do not be intimidated.The road is really pretty friendly in Topeka, Kansas.”
Brian: This started with the goal of being the top team locally and I suppose that is the only team goal, which really matters. Placing high nationally came as a surprise and it would be nice to have the team stay in the top 10 nationally.
Suzanne: To WIN of course!!!
Carolyn SzczepanskiCarolyn joined the League in March 2012, after two years at the Alliance for Biking & Walking. In addition to managing the League's blog, magazine and other communications, Carolyn organized the first National Women's Bicycling Summit and launched the League's newest program: Women Bike. Before she crossed over to advocacy, she was a professional journalist for nearly 10 years.