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free2cycle: Swapping a sedentary lifestyle and commute for an active one

In a time when more jobs are sedentary than ever before, Eric Craig, CEO of free2cycle, is harnessing the daily commute to get workers active – by giving them bikes that they pay for via miles pedalled

Published in Sports Management 2018 issue 3
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Eric Craig, CEO of free2cycle
Eric Craig, CEO of free2cycle

When Eric Craig founded free2cycle in 2017 he had one objective in mind; to make the UK healthy again. The endless news stories about rising obesity rates (the UK is now the sixth most overweight country in the world), poor employee wellbeing and the poor state of the environment made for grim reading and he wanted to change this decline.

Craig set up free2cycle, a new social enterprise committed to transforming wellbeing through cycling, which works in partnership with organisations to improve engagement, health, wellbeing and the environment.

Sports Management caught up with Eric to discuss what needs to change, and how organisations can better motivate people to swap a sedentary lifestyle and commute for an active one.

What is free2cycle?
In today’s ‘always on’ society, people just don’t have the time to fit everything they want into their home life and careers. So, they make sacrifices – such as eating healthily or making time for exercise. Organisations can help change this attitude with the old carrot and stick approach.

We know cycle-to-work schemes have had some success and are particularly attractive to higher earners, and we are supportive of any initiatives that get people active. We do need to face facts, however. After being around since the 90s, only around four per cent of people use their cycle-to-work scheme bike on a regular basis, and that’s simply not good enough! It may just be sitting in a garage somewhere, gathering dust. That’s why free2cycle is different, it rewards people for using their bike and exercising.

We work with organisations to provide their team with bikes, which individuals earn by riding them rather than paying for them. The individual pledges and commits to cycling at least 20 miles per week. If they achieve most of their pledge, they should never have to pay a penny for their bike and will be offered a new one every four years.

In order to make a step change, you need to make this a win-win for all and that’s exactly what free2cycle is focused on doing. Organisations only fund positive behaviour with measurable results, so they never waste a penny, and with our approach, they earn substantial, direct benefits.

What are you aiming to achieve?
Every day we hear horror stories about the state of the UK workforce. It’s unfit, unproductive and unwell. During 2016 to 2017, 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. Meanwhile, it’s been estimated that the NHS could save £11 billion by integrating physical and mental health care. Add to the mix the issues of growing financial pressures, especially on Generation X and Millennials, and the toxic effects of pollution, which now account for 40,000 deaths per year, and you start to build a picture of the dangers individuals face on a daily basis. Something needs to give.

So, together with a great team, I set up free2cycle to drive a step-change in wellbeing, notably focusing on behaviour change around exercise. Cycling is a passion of mine but it’s also been proven in countless studies that regular cycling substantially lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and premature death. I want others to feel the benefits I do.

How can an active commute benefit organisations?
Getting active will solve a lot of the UK’s problems, both for individuals and organisations. First off, we’re more productive when we’re fitter. We’re also more well in ourselves; which in turn reduces the likelihood of sick days.

A regular exercise routine can also make us happier, smarter and more energetic, whilst also being good for mental health. Aerobic exercises, such as jogging, cycling and dancing have been proven to reduce anxiety and depression, as they cause an increase in blood to the brain and influence the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which in turn triggers a natural physiological reaction to stress.

The issue for most is fitting exercise into their hectic daily schedules. The obvious, no-brainer solution is to work that activity into a daily routine or the journey to work. We’re looking to encourage people to give up the bus or the car and cycle to work instead. The average UK commute is 29 minutes, but many could easily swap gridlocked traffic jams for an active commute, if only they gave it a chance. It would do wonders for their health, and would benefit the environment too.

Our app allows users to log how far they’ve cycled, either to work or for leisure. This enables them to track the positive impact on the environment, with the app calculating how much carbon has been offset against each mile pedalled, via reduced car and public transport journeys. For organisations, this comprehensive reporting provides measurable results towards Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) pledges, along with the associated benefits to local air quality.

How can organisations encourage a healthy lifestyle?
Encouraging individuals to get healthier doesn’t necessarily need to centre on the commute – it just so happens it kills two birds with one stone. What organisations need to do is encourage behaviour change around exercise, whether by encouraging a 15 minute lunchtime walk, or implementing workplace exercise leagues. It’s about giving individuals the time and opportunity to get fit, as that is how we’ll reverse our productivity and wellness malaise. I know the benefits I feel from regular exercise, so if it could help a fraction of people who don’t currently exercise but are able to, then that’s a start.

Case study: YellowDog

YellowDog CEO Gareth Williams offers free2cycle to employees
YellowDog CEO Gareth Williams offers free2cycle to employees

YellowDog is an award-winning scaleup based in Bristol. As a fast growing tech company, its founder and CEO, Gareth Williams, wanted to use employee benefits to recruit, engage and retain his amazing workforce.

The innovative business already offers a range of attractive benefits, including an extra day of holiday for employees on their birthday, fruit in the office, beers on a Friday afternoon, access to SETsquared (the global number one university-backed incubator), training workshops and facilities, and a generous pension. However, there were no benefits that helped those employees who wanted to be active.

When he heard about free2cycle’s proposition, he thought it was “magic”, as swapping miles pedalled for a new bike was a great way to engage new people with cycling.

The take-up in his business has beaten expectations. Despite it being introduced in the middle of winter (December 2017), 20 per cent of the workforce has already signed up, with the business now using it as a recruitment differentiator.

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