Bicycle Edges Car to Win 2014 Commuter Challenge

Thanks to Bike Fed member Sandie Pendleton for this report on this year’s commuter challenge race in the Milwaukee area, organized by the Greater Shorewood Bikers.


Rider Ward Fowler, biking for Team Colectivo Coffee and bike commuters everywhere, beat legendary race car driver David Hobbs today, in The Great Milwaukee 2014 “Rider vs. Driver” Commuter Challenge. Fowler covered the roughly five mile distance from Whitefish Bay to Downtown Milwaukee in a time of 12:25, closely followed by Hobbs, who finished just 10 seconds after Fowler, with a time of 12:35.

Two wheels, two pedals and the big ring are still the fastest way to get to work.

Both participants made a $500 charitable wager that he would cover the course in the fastest time, so technically, the driver lost the wager. (Each time this event has been held in the Milwaukee area, the cyclist has won.)

The Rider vs. Driver Commuter Challenge is organized by Greater Shorewood Bikers and the Wisconsin Bike Fed as part of National Bike to Work Week to make the point that driving a car is not necessarily the fastest, healthiest, and greenest way to get to work.

David Hobbs arrives at the start in a 2014 Honda CR-Z. While it is not a bike, the hybrid gets an impressive 39mpg highway and 36mpg city.

According to Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director of the Wisconsin Bike Fed “We want to thank David Hobbs for being the driver today, and despite being edged out for the win by Ward on his bicycle, thanks to the participants generosity, both charities will benefit, as will those who hear about this event and decide to try biking to work.”

The Honda does look fast, but as we all know, looks can be deceiving when it comes to commuting in an urban area.

Since he lost the wager, Hobbs will be making a $500 donation to his charity of choice, the Sojourner Family Peace Center. Despite Fowler’s having won the bet, after the race, Fowler announced he still intends to make a $500 donation to his designated charity (Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee).

Said Hobbs, post-race: “I have let down race fans everywhere, I know, and they may revoke my car dealership and my membership in the Motorsports Hall of Fame, but my participation has benefitted two excellent charities that do good work in this area, so I’m not terribly let down by the outcome.”

The racers display an interesting choice of footwear at the Le Mans style start line.

“That, and I’m pretty sure the cyclists rigged this whole thing from the outset.”

According to Fowler: “Every prior Milwaukee commuter challenge has been won by the cyclist. My goal was to keep that streak going, and I’m happy and relieved to see we achieved that goal, even if it was almost a tie.”

Ward leaving after the start, and the last chance I had to photograph him until the finish.

Sources on the Oak Leaf Trail report that Fowler, apparently by coincidence, on his way downtown met up with members of the Colectivo Mountain Biking team and other cyclists, and they were last seen making good time down the OLT drafting for each other. “I learned that watching NASCAR,” said Fowler.

“We are going to invite Hobbs back to be the driver next year,” said race organizer Sandie Pendleton, of Greater Shorewood Bikers, “what the Washington Generals are to professional basketball, we hope David Hobbs will become to bike vs. car races.”

The the victor go the spoils.

According to Dave Waters, M.D., Bike Fed Board Member and medical advisor to the event, “we’ve had no reports of performance enhancing drugs used by either participants, so the results are official.”

“Seriously, though, my involvement in this event was primarily to encourage people to consider biking more, as it’s an enjoyable and practical way for kids (and adults) to increase physical activity, which can play an important role in preventing or controlling many types of health problems that beset many Americans, like obesity or diabetes.”

We all know cars are faster than bicycles, but for commutes of 5 miles or less in an urban area where parking is a factor, riding a bike to work is just as quick, practical and convenient as driving.

“Cycling is an affordable and effective tool that our communities can utilize to encourage healthy lifestyles for our residents. As the rate of bike commuting and cycling is growing, we hope every community makes the most of every new development to promote cycling and walking as part of their planning procedure.”

While commuting by bike all the way to work may not in every case be the fastest way to get to work, numerous studies have indicated the benefits of biking to overall-happiness, individual health, the environment, and the Wisconsin economy.

“Increase happiness, lose weight, save money, help the environment, improve your community — there are lots of reasons why cycling is a good choice for getting to work, or for taking short trips that you might otherwise use a car for,” said Pendleton.

As to which is more enjoyable, a recent study of commuters in Montreal indicated that cyclists were far more satisfied with their commute than drivers (or those who took transit), even in winter.

Bike commuting is a great way to lose weight, as it incorporates physical activity into a daily routine; studies too have indicated that over time, people who regularly commute by car tend to gain more weight than those who do not, even if the drivers are physically active at other times.

As to the environmental effects of car commuting, the transportation sector is responsible for 71% of all U.S. petroleum use, and more CO2 is emitted by the United States’ transportation sector than any other nation’s entire economy, except for China’s.

Attorney Alexander “Sandie” Pendelton on his soap box at the start is a great Roll Model for bike commuting.

Cycling benefits the Wisconsin economy, as Wisconsin is the capital of the bicycle industry in the U.S., home to such well-known brands as Trek, Pacific Bicycle, Saris, Huffy and Schwinn. A 2010 study estimated that the economic impact of bicycles in Wisconsin is close to a billion dollars per year

As to the health costs associated with high rates of auto use, at least one study has concluded that if residents of Milwaukee replaced even 20 percent of their short car trips with bicycle rides, the result would be a “substantial reduction” in health problems and the corresponding costs, potentially saving the Milwaukee-area over $200 million in healthcare costs.

Ward’s Team Colectivo henchmen at the finish. The rules required both competitors to follow all rules of the road, but nobody said anything about drafting…

A police officer on a bicycle and one in a squad car kept an eye on both racers.

The rules of the Commuter Challenge event were simple. The rider and the driver met for a cup of coffee at Colectivo Coffee Shorewood. Upon the sounding of the starting horn, each departed, Hobbs in a car, and Fowler on a bike, to see how long it took each to commute from the Whitefish Bay/Shorewood border, to downtown Milwaukee (an approximately 5 mile distance). Fowler chose to make his way downtown following the Eastside Oak Leaf Trail, one of the best and most beautiful urban bike trails in the country. Hobbs chose to make his way downtown on Lake Drive and Lincoln Memorial Drive. Both participants were required to comply with all traffic regulations (and each was followed by a member of the Shorewood P.D. to help ensure that occurred). The finish line was the statue at the Eastern-most end of Wisconsin Avenue (“The Calling” statue, by Mark di Suvero, a/k/a the “Sunburst”).

Maybe next year David Hobbs with bring the GT40 he raced at Le Mans!

Since Fowler won on an open-wheeled vehicle, perhaps Hobbs should bring one of the F5000 cars he raced so successfully.

About David Hobbs: David Hobbs is a legendary race car driver, having raced twenty times in the 24 Hours of Le Mans Race. He also raced at the Indianapolis 500, among many other world-class races. Mr. Hobbs was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2009. In addition, he’s a successful Milwaukee-area businessman, philanthropist, and race commentator for such networks as the Speed Channel, CBS, NBC, and NBC Sports Network. He was the voice of “David Hobbscap” in the 2011 Disney’s Cars 2. His son Greg Hobbs, and his grandson Andrew Hobbs have also raced professionally. David Hobbs Honda is a sponsor of local Olympian, cyclist and American triathlete Gwen Jorgensen.

About Ward Fowler: Ward Fowler is one of the three original founders of Colectivo Coffee. With 15 Milwaukee area locations, Colectivo is known for its award winning coffee and its support of community projects and organizations. Complex City Guide named Colectivo one of the best coffee roasters in the U.S. in 2013. Colectivo has been recognized by the EPA for its extensive efforts in expanding green power awareness. It has been a leader in the Milwaukee area in supporting cycling, and making its business bike friendly. Colectivo sponsors the Colectivo Coffee Been Classic bike race and the Colectivo Mountain Bike Race Team.

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

5 thoughts on “Bicycle Edges Car to Win 2014 Commuter Challenge

  1. You should have made both competitors park their vehicles legally and then get to the finish line by foot. That’s where you really win on a bike – easy (and free) parking!

    • Robbie, David Hobbs parked in a nearby structure and even had to take the stairs up because the elevator was broken. In fact the bikes did not really lock up that I saw. In this case, with this route, the car was honestly just as fast as the bike. I think that is still a victory for advocates of bicycling for transportation. If a bike can compete with a car, why not bike?

  2. Dave — The above is really well put together, your pictures are great, and your “Milwaukee Icons” photo caption sums it all up perfectly: “We all know cars are faster than bicycles, but for commutes of 5 miles or less in an urban area where parking is a factor, riding a bike to work is just as quick, practical and convenient as driving.” Excellently put. Let’s see if we can get Hobbs to race a cycling accountant next year (like maybe Gwen Jorgensen).

  3. As one of the, “henchmen” for Colectivo Coffee, I was glad to participate in this event. I was surprised that we only beat Mr. Hobbs by 10 seconds. Regular fitness and commuter traffic on the OLT kept our speeds to reasonable levels. I look forward to future bike vs. car challenges. Great write-up.

    • Hey Roger,

      Thanks for helping out with the commuter race this year. It was fun, and even if David Hobbs had won by a little bit, I think it still makes the point that bikes are definitely a quick and practical way to get to work.

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