CycleHack: Designing a global movement for 25 cities

What stops you from cycling in your city? We’re asking people around the world just that!

CycleHack is a simple idea: bring people together to overcome barriers to cycling in their city.

The global agency came to us with a big idea – could we design a scalable model for cities around the globe?

Since then it’s reached more than 50 cities around the world, from Bergen to Vancouver, and has produced innovations that have made it to the top levels of government and featured in global press. We even won a Core 77 award for Social Impact (which is big!)

CycleHack was born in Glasgow as an idea to get people pro-actively designing their own ways out of cycle problems in the city.

So often, people can feel disempowered to make change happen and rely on Government to make all the movement forward.In reverse, authorities can often lack the depth of insight about how citizens, pedestrians, cyclists and drivers need a city to work for them.

We met CycleHack right at the start of if’s life. As an idea on a post-it. That was it. But they needed help. Help to develop a creative way to bring people to the table to pro-actively solve cycle barriers, getting more people on two wheels and making it safer for all involved.

We started by asking – why don’t more people cycle in cities?

Is it all about hard infrastructure, and the slow process of winning the hearts of town planners across the country? Or are there other barriers that we can overcome in the short term, to get more people out on bikes enjoying all the benefits of active travel?

We’d seen the success of ‘hacks’ in the tech world, where a group of computer programmers and software developers come together to work intensely on a single project. So we had a question: would it be possible to create a hack environment to develop new ways to get more people to cycle? We thought it could. We moved swiftly, going for a minimum viable approach. We developed a basic brand and Kickstarter campaign and launched the first event – a whole weekend for people to prototype their solutions.

Discover the barriers to cycling

We wanted the project to be as inclusive as possible, so we brought stakeholders from across Glasgow together. We put a strategy in place to engage multiple audiences and attract a variety of people.

Then came the research. We spoke to everybody who used the city – not just cyclists. Our aim? To gather as many barriers to cycling. So we ran an online campaign asking people what they thought, and we filmed interviews with bus drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and local cycle hubs.

We turned all this research into assets to include in the official hack pack that people could use at events around the world. Our hack pack design is easy to use guide that makes it easy for anyone around the world to run an event but keep continuity globally.

Define the hack model to fit any city

We had to design a hack model that would work for multiple stakeholders and audiences – from councils to cycling communities. It had to work in Glasgow, but it would also need to be a scalable network that could be adopted by cities around the globe.

How did we make sure it was a scalable, valuable model – and not just a one-time success? We spent time defining the values, business model and approach, using these to create a solid platform to build the brand on.

Develop, iterate, improve

We created two main assets to help people run their own CycleHack: a hack pack full of research materials, agendas, guidance and ideas, and an online catalogue of hacks.

We also refreshed the brand for year two, producing a logo mark that’s been interpreted around the globe, appearing in over 40 countries.

Global success

Put a penny in your pants

The surprise viral hit of 2014 was the Penny in Yo’ Pants hack, which makes it much easier to cycle in a skirt. Our research had highlighted a major barrier in the perception that you have to wear cycle-friendly clothing to cycle. By developing a new way to adapt a skirt or dress to be cycle-friendly, the team had identified a simple idea that could make cycling a whole lot easier.

It was popular too. The video got over 3.5 million hits, coverage in national and international media from the BBC and the Huffington Post to Road CC, and sparked a spin-out kick-starter campaign and product development.

From grassroots to government

In a single weekend in 2015, over 600 people around the world got involved in Cyclehack. They generated over 100 hacks, each one uploaded to our online catalogue. Roughly nine out of ten people learned a new skill at the event – and more than two-thirds planned to take their idea further.

#CycleHack reached 1.6 million people over the 2015 and 2.4 million over 2016 weekends

It’s got a bit social reach. As each year builds on the last – all run by volunteers and coordinated by the Cyclehack HQ – the event continues to reach bigger audiences and get more people out on their bikes.

The event reaches beyond the intensity of a weekend too. CycleHack Manchester has partnered with UK cycling charity Sustrans to run events year-round, and work with local networks across the city.

Some Cyclehacks have reached government level. CycleHack Brussels met the Belgian Minister for Transport to share their hacks and implement new ideas in the city – taking innovation to the highest levels, which is exactly what CycleHack is about.

Social Impact – Giving us the world’s first bicycle mayor

In 2016, Amsterdam appointed the world’s first bicycle mayor, an idea developed during 2015’s CycleHack.

To be achieving this kind of impact at scale is phenomenal. We’ve focused on designing a model that is open for innovation to take place and scale.

“Making a real difference”

CycleHack has reached cities around the world, and it’s won a prestigious award for its impact. A leading panel of design experts chose Cyclehack for the Core 77 Design for Social Impact award in 2015. It recognises projects specifically designed to benefit social, humanitarian, community or environmental causes. It’s a prestigious award in its own right – and unusual for it to go to a network, rather than to a product, service or campaign design.

It doesn’t stop there

We still support CycleHack, helping to develop the brand and product. Right now we’re busy working with the online community – consolidating the knowledge and ideas to get even better next year.

  • Cyclehack is an exciting, innovative movement, bringing the principles of design thinking and rapid prototyping to the world of cycling. Sustrans Scotland recognise the benefits Cyclehack brings, in addressing barriers, stimulating innovation, and building support for cycling initiatives.
    – Matt MacDonald, Senior Business Development Officer, Sustrans Scotland
  • The platform enables a grassroots approach to innovation. It taps into a huge reservoir of latent social energy. Bottom line, we can see it making a real difference where a real difference needs to be made.
    – Core77 Design Awards Jury Commentary
  • The design process that shaped the whole project created an environment that removed barriers, that gave a platform for people to talk openly about what challenges they face, and to recognise the importance of creativity in reshaping the city. Over the weekend it felt like I was witnessing a new form of activism, one that is not merely confrontational and critical, but at its heart collaborative and inclusive.
    – Mark Irwin, Active Travel Project Lead at Glasgow Future Cities; CycleHack 2014 Sponsor
  • It was a very good experience and also a personal learning journey. The way CycleHack provided support (e.g. the HackPack and online forum) was very helpful and created a great sense of togetherness across the participating cities.
    - CycleHack Manchester Organiser

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