Bike to Work Week ramps up with Commuter Challenge

Challenge puts driving mayor against cycling university president in good-natured competition.

Ralph Nilson hopes to teach Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan a lesson when it comes to the benefits of commuting by bicycle instead of a motor vehicle.

To help kick off Bike to Work Week, May 28-June 3, Nilson, Vancouver Island University president, and Ruttan will participate in the annual Commuter Challenge, a good-natured competition between cyclist (Nilson) and driver (Ruttan), staged to demonstrate the comparability of travel times throughout the city.

Both will start at the VIU campus at noon on Tuesday (May 15) and, obeying all traffic laws along the five-kilometre pre-planned route, will end up at Diana Krall Plaza 10 to 15 minutes later.

Ruttan said he is confident his mode of transportation will prevail.

“The rumours of me using a Lamborghini are simply untrue,” quipped Ruttan. “But I do know a guy with a red convertible Ferrari. Maybe I’ll ask if I can use it.”

With a favourable downhill ride, Nilson said he thinks getting exercise and eliminating carbon emissions will result not only in improved health and a cleaner environment, but a winning time as well.

“I doubt John even knows how to drive a Ferrari,” said Nilson. “But for me, we’ve got some very good people at our institution. They’re very strong on sustainability and provide a lot of leadership on our campus, and we’ve got a strong sustainability policy here and when asked, I thought it was important to act in a leadership role and help promote sustainable transportation while having some fun with it.”

Rob Lawrance, environmental planner for the city and Bike to Work Week committee member, said drivers in the challenge often have a pretty good feeling they’re going to win at the start of the challenge.

“Then they realize they have to find parking and make their way to the plaza,” he said.

Doug Routley, Nanaimo-North Cowichan NDP MLA, will also ride his bicycle for the event, taking on Nanaimo Car Share’s Kurt Fischer on another pre-planned route.

The event is designed to create awareness for Bike to Work Week and encourage teams from businesses and organizations to sign up either at Diana Krall Plaza – where sponsors and past teams will be available to answer questions, provide cycling demonstrations and tips, and encourage people to participate – or online at

Ruttan noted the city continues to provide improved and additional cycling infrastructure, pointing out that the city’s first dedicated bike lane on Third Street, designed with input from VIU, will enable students to safely access the university on their bicycles.

“We’re trying to encourage people to get on their bicycles by building trails like the E&N or Parkway trails, and by working with the RDN to have bike carriers on buses,” said Ruttan. “Exercise and wellness are huge factors today. By keeping people healthy and active it cuts down on the costs of medical care in later years and it assists with the environment. Commuting by bicycle and other clean methods of transportation is something we encourage.”

Bike to Work Week, held in cities across the continent, will feature celebration stations along popular cycling routes (check the website for locations) throughout the week for commuters. Those stations will feature prizes, snacks, tune-ups and flat repairs.

At the end of the week, a wrap-up party will take place June 3 from 1-4 p.m. at Maffeo Sutton Park, where there will be a bike polo demonstration, grand prize winners, and information booths and displays.

So far, 15 teams have registered.

“It’s getting bigger every year,” said Lawrance. “The Commuter Challenge is used to remind people that it’s coming and to get their bikes out and ready to go. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

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