It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a bike caravan! Large groups of cyclists have been assembling all over the country for their morning commutes to work and school. These “bike buses” have emerged as a way for sustainably-minded people and their children to get around with an added safety benefit not always available to lone bikers on American streets.
The trend includes adult-led elementary school commutes in Minneapolis and San Francisco to leisure groups for eco-minded grown-ups in Chicago. The bike bus is starting to look like the hottest way to move from A to B and have loads of community-oriented fun doing it.
A Minneapolis community of parents has been well ahead of the bike bus trend as a way for their children to get to school. Devin Olson says that the city has been going on six years of working with Minneapolis Bike Parks, an organization he co-founded out of a desire to encourage the community to do their part in reducing emissions.
The trips were also great exercise opportunities for parents and especially children, who need the ever-important 60 minutes of physical activity each day per federal health guidelines.
“We meet at 8 a.m. to play soccer and football and eat donuts,” said Olson of the daily morning startup. “Then we review safety measures and start our ride. It’s nothing but laughing, yelling, and pure joy.”
Though not perfectly bus-shaped, Olson’s community rides function like a standard bus route. Once the main group is off and pedaling, they make eight stops around the general area. Olson says many children are accompanied by older siblings and sometimes a concerned or health-oriented parent. However, adults lead the group to ensure maximum safety for all.
A somewhat unexpected perk Olson found was that it allowed kids of different grades to interact more often than inside the school walls.
This engagement led to a more understanding and tight-knit nucleus that could help children develop a positive attitude toward education. “We want kids to celebrate going to school,” Olson said.
A similar group has started up in Portland, OR. Sam Balto, a physical education (PE) teacher at Alameda Elementary School, says that he became inspired out of an interest in improving community bonds while also wanting to incentivize his students toward regular physical activity.
As the school’s resident PE expert, Balto was well aware that Alameda’s requirement of one 45-minute gym class per week simply would not replace daily exercise. So, he started up his bike bus for the Wednesday morning commute.
It kicked off relatively successfully with about 70 attendees before ballooning to nearly 200 students every week. As the pack leader, Balto presides over it all, even playing songs from his students’ favorite artists on a speaker attached to his backpack.
“I never got into this to be an environmentalist. I was just trying to get them more physical activity,” he says. Things have progressed into a force for environmental good after videos of the commute began to blow up on TikTok. “But it touches on all of those things.”
Chicago’s adult-based Bike Jam employed this concept this past summer. Organized by Chicago Bike Grid Now, a community group aimed at pressuring city officials to place a greater emphasis on bike accessibility and safety on roads, these weekly events had been a welcome surprise for commuters and jealous onlookers alike.
“It was an absolute joy to be able to share the love of bike-commuting with my neighbors and build community in the process,” said Sammy Schneider, a Bike Bus co-organizer. “People were so excited to do it again and were inquiring about some other routes we could do.”