“Bike buses” — adult-led group bike rides to school — are taking over neighborhoods.
Many families are ditching cars for a sweatier morning ride with friends, biking miles in organized clusters led by grown-up volunteers. The effort is a call to combat climate change, encourage exercise and reduce school drop-off traffic.
And, parents and kids both say, it just makes the children happier.
Minneapolis dad Devin Olson organized a bike bus for his local school zone. The co-founder of Minneapolis Bike Parks, a grassroots organization that makes parks more bike-friendly, Olson says cycling "creates connectivity between all walks of life."
Six years ago, Olson partnered with Minneapolis Public Schools to helm a 2-mile bike bus that dropped off students at two elementary schools.
So far, Olson has led 11 semi-annual bike buses that have grown from about 60 participants to nearly 150.
"We meet at 8 a.m. to play soccer and football and eat donuts," Olson told TODAY Parents. "Then we review safety measures and start our ride. It's nothing but laughing, yelling and pure joy."
The group makes about eight stops along the way to pick up children, many of whom are accompanied by parents or older siblings. Olson said one family who lives across the street from school bikes two miles — in the opposite direction — just so they can join the morning ride.
"We want kids to celebrate going to school," explained Olson, adding that the kids who participate enjoy opportunities to mingle with peers in different grades.
In San Francisco, Luke Bornheimer has co-run SF Bike Bus, which organizes city-wide school routes (with the goal of inspiring people around the country to start bike buses), since December 2021.
"Our first 3-mile ride included more than 100 kids, families and adults in one trip to school," Bornheimer told TODAY Parents.
According to Bornheimer, a successful bike bus takes place on a "slow street" (a shared road for bicyclists and motorists), which his group is fortunate to be able to use in addition to a promenade in Golden Gate Park.
The bike bus experience has reassured parents who were otherwise nervous about their children biking around traffic. "Our hope is to create a bike bus for every school in San Francisco," he said.
Bike buses are also popular in other countries, like Spain and Canada.
Tom Barnes and Rebecca Mudge, educators in Canada, joined a bike bus to transport their daughters Clara, 6, and Lily, 4, to school in London, Ontario.
"Clara and Rebecca have their bikes and Lily rides on my bike in a bicycle seat," Barnes told TODAY.
Their children are enthusiastic about their bike bus experience. Clara said, "I like that I get to ride with friends from school and that everyone is welcome. We have people who ride scooters too."
Lily offered this insight: "I like that I get to see all the kids from school and that I don’t have to pedal. My dad does it all for us."
Melody Viczko, an associate professor at Western University, helped organize the Ontario ride.
Viczko and her children live a 15-minute walk from school; when her son was in kindergarten, she biked him to school in a chariot trailer before continuing to her office.
"It was a dream," Viczko told TODAY Parents. After hearing about bike buses on Twitter, she and a colleague told their neighbors.
Now, a bike bus with about a dozen kids, some of whom ride scooters, has departed for school 10 times so far, sandwiched by adults who lead and bring up the rear.
"As a researcher of education policy, getting kids active and making school accessible is important," said Viczko, who purchased a 10-pack of winter gloves to distribute to young riders.
"The kids aren't rushed out the door anymore and they're happy when they arrive at school," she noted. "It's a movement."
Viczko’s kids love their morning commute.
"I like leading the group, especially when we go down the hill," Viczko's 9-year-old son, Sam Karabulut, told TODAY Parents. "It keeps us healthy. Don’t forget to wear gloves when it’s cold."
Viczko’s 6-year-old daughter, Tessa Karabulut, added, “I like the bike bus 'cause I get to ride with my friends."
In Portland, Oregon, Sam Balto, a physical education coach at Alameda Elementary School, says bike buses "unlocked something I wasn't prepared for."
In April 2022, Balto launched a weekly bike bus for his school community, attracting 75 riders. This year, those rides have continued with anywhere from 150 to 190 people.
"Parents love seeing their kids connect and it's become a social hour for parents who linger and talk after the ride," Balto told TODAY Parents.
He added, "I think we underestimate how much kids enjoy socializing and the freedom and independence that bikes provide."