In 2007, Leonard Wright weighed more than 250 pounds and could barely bicycle a quarter-mile before lying in the grass, gasping for air. Now, the 66-year-old Florida resident is slim, fit and every morning he gets up and rides more miles than his age. What’s Wright’s motivation? The Get Up Ride National Bike Challenge.

The National Bike Challenge is a new, nationwide initiative to inspire and empower millions of Americans to ride their bikes for transportation, recreation and better health. The friendly, online competition — sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists, Bikes Belong, Endomondo and the Kimberly-Clark Corporation — kicks off today, May 1, and runs until August 31, 2012.

The goal: Unite 50,000 bicyclists to ride 10 million miles in communities across America.

The Challenge is simple, free and open to everyone. Sign up as an individual or as a team, log your miles, share your stories and encourage others to join you. Bicyclists with smartphones can download the free, GPS-enabled Endomondo mobile app to record travel distance and automatically upload their miles. Riders will compete for prizes and awards on the local and national level, including a Grand Prize trip through California wine country from Trek Travel.

Even before the official start, the Challenge has engaged thousands of participants. During the warm-up period from February to April, more than 12,000 residents from more than 500 cities nationwide registered. Collectively, they logged more than 1 million miles and burned nearly 30 million calories. By encouraging healthy living and active transportation, the Challenge provides an innovative tool to address the nation’s obesity epidemic and save American families money as gas prices skyrocket this summer.

Leonard Wright is certainly leading the way — the retired General Motors worker won the warm-up period with the most miles logged. “I’ve been riding for years, and I was looking for something to get me motivated,” he says. “When I saw the National Bike Challenge, I thought, ‘This is something I can do.’ And anyone can do it. I’m involved with a number of other senior physical fitness groups and I always encourage people to try biking because it’s so easy.”

In addition to encouraging individual riders, the Challenge provides a free and engaging wellness tool for businesses. It’s already proven successful: During the pilot run last year, employees from the Kimberly-Clark Corporation embraced the Challenge and logged more than 182,000 miles. Recognizing the tremendous resource to boost employee health, more than 3,000 companies have already signed up for the 2012 Challenge, including Facebook, Verizon, Mars, Harley Davidson, IBM, and Texas Instruments.