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    A Letter to the National Bike Challenge Community

    For the last eight months, we have been hard at work on the new National Bike Challenge that you are using now. As the site itself does not speak to the human side of the project, we're here to talk a bit about this year’s challenge.

    Andy Stone Partner at Emerson Stone

    The National Bike Challenge is now a yearly tradition for tens of thousands of cyclists around the country. It is talked about in major publications, supported by one of the largest bicyclist advocacy groups in the world, and has the backing of Fortune 100 companies. It has also changed substantially in the years since it first launched as a shared Excel spreadsheet among friends at 3M, Kimberly Clark and Wells Fargo. The National Bike Challenge, as it stands in 2017, is an incredibly large application with bicycle-friendly features built directly for the community. 

    In 2016, Emerson Stone was contacted by PeopleforBikes and Kimberly Clark to take over the National Bike Challenge from the previous development team. Emerson Stone has a background in building projects for the outdoor sports market and large-scale application frameworks. The original code handed over was built as a labor of love, but was reaching its limits in scale and was unable to grow with the demands of the application. After the 2016 Challenge, the teams got together and started planning for a new application that would be more affordable to build and a joy for the users.


    Application Design

    With the budgets outlined for the first year of the new application, the decision was made to couple heavily with Strava for user authentication, ride tracking and group management. Strava specifically was chosen because of its robust API and large community support from previous years (over 75% of users who authenticated with the previous application did so with Strava). This allowed the teams to work on a new art direction for the project, along with a scalable foundation that would work as the design framework for years to come. The coupling with Strava also meant that people could authenticate once with the application and check in when convenient rather than having to visit nationalbikechallenge.org every weekday to log new rides. 

    The new site was built as a digital product that is meant to grow and scale with the community. It is not a marketing effort or one-off project, but a maintained and supported application built to make bicycling better for everyone. For riders across the country, the National Bike Challenge is free to use with only minimal advertising for the major sponsors. More than 1,000 design and development hours have already been put into this year’s challenge to make it work for as many people as possible across the United States. It’s been exciting to see the whole project come together, and we’re incredibly proud of the current iteration.

    The application, built from scratch with close Strava integration, creates more than 600,000 different calculations per day, 24 unique jobs to maintain the leaderboards, and decentralized hosting across the country to handle the daily crunch of new rider miles. The calculations and leaderboards around the site are deceptively complex—quickly calculating miles, points and rankings for millions of miles and thousands of people. All of this happens with a small team of 2 designers, 3 developers, 3 support staff and 4 stakeholders from the partner organizations. The teams involved all see the application as more than a marketing effort, and more of a vision for ways to make cycling fun and accessible for everyone across the country. 

    National Bike Challenge Illustration Style

    A unique illustration style that represents all Americans. Created for the application by the team at Emerson Stone.

    The team at Emerson Stone is constantly watching the application, reviewing support requests, and tweaking the host machines to make things work well and scale up in a way that is affordable to maintain for everyone. In early May, the application was registering a thousand new riders every day after a publication talked about the challenge and the system backed up after trying to sync almost a quarter million rides from Strava. These slowdowns aren’t a great user experience for the challenge, but the development team at Emerson Stone and the support team at Alta Planning + Design are always working to fix issues as soon as they present themselves. Digital products are incredibly labor intensive—it’s one of the reasons why startups have such large development teams. It's been incredible to see the National Bike Challenge grow so quickly in 2017.


    600,000 different calculations per day, 24 unique jobs to maintain the leaderboards, and decentralized hosting across the country to handle the daily crunch of new rider miles.

    The National Bike Challenge is a tradition that everyone is proud to have worked on and provide for the community. As a resource to drive more awareness about cycling and to get more people riding bikes, the Challenge has been a successful effort for all of the supporting partners. As this year’s challenge is underway, everyone is working to make it the best, the biggest, and the most successful National Bike Challenge yet. Almost 3,000,000 miles have already been tracked in less than the first month and 23,000 people across the United States have committed to riding their bike this summer. 

    In contrast to last year, the new National Bike Challenge application will also live on during non-challenge months with fun activities and prizes planned all year long. The eventual goal of the project is to make it a sustaining part of the bicycling community across the United States—a place for people, teams, companies and communities to rally and have the best bike riding possible. New features are planned for the future, and everyone involved is watching the comments, Facebook posts, and support requests to see what new things the community would like to see built within the product. The product that launched this May is the starting place for the future of the National Bike Challenge as it will be the foundation for new features for years to come.


    On behalf of the wonderful people at 3M, Kimberly Clark, Wells Fargo, Alta Planning + Design, Thrivent and Emerson Stone, we thank you for your continued support. The National Bike Challenge was created years ago as a fun way for a group of friends to see who could ride the most miles and get each other to ride more often. It has grown into a wonderful application where a nation of friends is trying to do the same thing. 


    Andy Stone Partner at Emerson Stone
    Andy is one of three partners at the design agency Emerson Stone in Boulder, Colorado. Over the last decade, he’s led projects in print and digital design for both startups and national brands, including Adobe, Polaroid and Travel Channel.