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...Get set. Go!

This week the initiative “Hjólad í vinnuna” (“Cycle to Work”), organized by the National Olympic and Sports Association of Iceland (ÍSÍ), was kicked off for the seventh year in a row, encouraging people to adopt a healthy lifestyle and reduce pollution while competing with their colleagues in the amount of kilometers they cycle to and from work in 20 days, between May 6 and 26.

People have grown more competitive every year with the number of participants growing from 533 in 2003 to 7,065 last year. In 2008 the “Hjólad í vinnuna” contestants cycled 410,398 kilometers in total—that put this in perspective, that’s 306.5 times around the country and 10.2 times around the globe.

This year, for the first time, people living outside the capital region can participate in the competition and it was formally launched in two places on Wednesday, in Akureyri and Reykjavík.

At the opening ceremony, high-profile figures such as Minister of Health Ögmundur Jónasson, Minister of Education and Sports Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Minister of Transport Kristján Möller, Minister of the Environment Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir (taking a break from their government agenda talks) addressed the convention, along with Mayor of Reykjavík Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir, president of ÍSÍ Ólafur Rafnsson and program manager of “Hjólad í vinnuna” Sigrún Stefánsdóttir.

My workplace is participating for the first time this year. I registered, of course, because I cycle to work every day anyway.

Two of my colleagues were enthusiastic right away as well, both of whom are keen on exercise, and for a while we thought we would only enlist an embarrassing number of three contestants. But then the enthusiasm spread surprisingly far and now our team has more members than we had dared hope for.

An elegant lady, who I wouldn’t have pictured racing on a bicycle in my wildest dreams (and I do have some absurdly wild dreams), brought out the old bike from the garage and cycled to work on Wednesday morning, probably for the first time, and thought it was so much fun that she went for an extra spin during her lunch break.

Another of my colleagues who lives far away in Hafnarfjördur is also participating. He figured out that it was legitimate to bring the bike with him on the bus and get off somewhere in Gardabaer and cycle from there. Even those who don’t own bicycles are included in the competition. They can register the kilometers that they go on foot.

On Wednesday morning when I cycled to work as always I noticed an unusual number of bicycles on the streets. Apparently, competitiveness is the key to motivate people to lead a healthy and eco-friendly life.

It may also have helped that it was a beautiful spring day, comfortably breezy, bright and sunny. Also, with most people living on a tight budget these days, cycling is a very economical mode of transportation.

Still, some people fail to see the “carrot” in this initiative, as one of my coworkers exclaimed out of breath on the first day of the competition.

“Well, how do you feel?” another of my colleagues—who is the team leader and seems to be turning this race into his own personal Tour de France—asked matter-of-factly.

And, after having caught his breath, the biker newbie had to admit that he felt pretty good.

People are also surprised at realizing that distances, which they usually travel by car, are actually quite short and that cycling might even by quicker.

I’ve established this by racing people who drive to the gym. By the time they’ve finally found a parking spot, I’m already working the treadmill.

Isn’t there something ironic about being concerned enough about one’s health to work out at the gym, on a daily basis even, but not bothering to walk or cycle the few minutes that it takes to get there?

Now, let’s just hope that this brilliant “Cycle to Work” initiative will prompt people to cycle to work even when they’re not competing with others, that they will discover the joy of a healthy dose of exercise in the mornings and afternoons, while sparing the environment and saving money.

Go bikers!

Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – [email protected]

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.