Cleveland and Pittsburgh Go Head-to-Head in National Bike Challenge

By Mary Lauran Hall on May 02, 2013

Pittsburgh and Cleveland are no stranger to competition: the two cities regularly clash on the football field when the Steelers play the Browns. But starting this month, the two Rust Belt cities are competing on new turf: miles traveled by bicycle.

May 1 marked the start of National Bike Month and the National Bike Challenge — an initiative organized by the League of American Bicyclists and the Kimberly-Clark Corporation that encourages people to bike for transportation and recreation.

During the challenge, which runs through September 30, individuals can track their miles ridden by bike and rack up points on behalf of local teams, offices, or communities. The teams with participants who hop on the saddle most often and for the longest distances accumulate the most points.

Last year, Pittsburgh won the title of Rust Belt Champion when participants with Pittsburgh zip codes logged miles at a higher rate than Cleveland cyclists.

This year, Bike Cleveland — the Ohio city’s local biking and walking advocacy group — hopes to steal the title from Bike Pittsburgh — its organizational neighbor to the east.

Cleveland and Pittsburgh are going head-to-head to see who takes home the Rust Belt Crown. Images: Bike Cleveland & Bike Pittsburgh

“It’s an age-old rivalry, and this year Cleveland decided to officially challenge Pittsburgh,” explained Dan Yablonsky, SCA Fellow at Bike Pittsburgh. “They’re picking this fight.”

Jacob VanSickle, Executive Director of Bike Cleveland, said it was a member’s idea to start the Rustbelt Rivalry.

“Usually Pittsburgh is better than Cleveland in the football realm,” Jacob said. “Finally, we’ve found something we’re really good at where we can beat Pittsburgh — riding our bikes.”

As of this writing, Pittsburgh is ahead with 654 registered riders and 5,092 logged miles. Cleveland clocks in at 559 registered riders and 3,782 miles logged.

Representatives from Bike Pittsburgh had plenty of smack talk for their rival city.

“After the initial Rust Belt Rivalry excitement wears off, Cleveland’s numbers are going to fall flat,” Dan said in an email, “and there’s no patch kit that can save them. Pittsburgh is in this for the long haul.”

“Let’s face it — Pittsburghers hate to lose to Cleveland at anything,” Scott Bricker, Executive Director of Bike Pittsburgh, said in a statement. “That’s why we’re strongly encouraging anyone who owns a bike in Pittsburgh to sign up and start logging miles.”

Jacob from Bike Cleveland was equally competitive, and hopes to rely on the city’s rambunctious and growing cycling community to best Pittsburgh in the challenge.

“Beating Pittsburgh is in our DNA as Clevelanders,” said Jacob. “Just over the past year, the cycling community in Cleveland has grown. Everybody’s coming together around the idea of finally beating Pittsburgh at something.”

“It’s a David and Goliath story,” he continued. “Bike Pittsburgh has been around for a while, while Bike Cleveland is a new organization. They have a much larger reach in terms of their contacts.”

Bike Cleveland has even contracted with Rustbelt Welding to fabricate an actual Rust Belt Crown for the winning organization. Jacob also noted that the Executive Director from the losing organization may be required to sing the opposing city’s praises at a public location in their home city.

Competition aside, Bike Cleveland and Bike Pittsburgh are excited for the opportunity to collaborate.

“We’re pumped to be working with Cleveland to get positive energy around this,” Dan said. “We both understand that this is an opportunity to promote biking and promote safe streets.”

“It’s a joint collaboration,” Jacob said.

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