Despite Mark’s and my lack of success finding bicycle-commute friendly employment in Fort Collins, the kids are riding their bikes more than ever. This is in part due to a “bikepool” or bicycle train that evolved in our neighborhood. What is a bike train? As defined by Safe Routes to School, it’s a variation on the walking school bus where a group of children and adult leaders ride together to school. Here is a great writeup by SRTS offering some general guidelines. We are by no means this official. Essentially, we parents take turns riding all the kids to and from school.
Our train currently consists of two or three families, with a total of up to 7 children (including younger siblings that are sometimes along for the ride). The children either ride their own bikes, or with Mom/Dad on cargo bikes, tandems and/or trailers. The oldest children in our bike train are in the 3rd grade, our youngest is Clara, a kindergartener. All kids seem to understand and adhere to safe cycling practices (many years of parental nagging). Our older kids take turns leading the group, and the parent sweeps (a caboose, in SRTS speak). Our group is still relatively small, so one adult in the rear of the train seems sufficient–as long as you can trust your child leader to set a decent pace. In my limited experience, 3rd grade boys tend to like to speed ahead. Be prepared to shout instructions, it’s often necessary.
The benefits of a bikepool are innumerable, and include:
- companionship and community of riding with friends
- daily exercise
- better night sleep
- consistent practice of safe cycling methods
- way better than driving in traffic (the worst of which is in the school parking lot)
- easier than carpooling, no carseats, trying to figure if there are enough seats, etc.
- sense of independence and self-reliance
- creates pint-sized bike advocates (Clara now insists we should sell our car and bike everywhere)
Biking and friendship
Before the bikepool, I was riding the same stretch of road up to six times a day (morning drop off, kinder pickup, elementary pickup). When we lived with my parents, at 8 miles one way, that was 48 miles per day! Ok, I only did that once. But now that we live closer to the school, my life is easy! On mornings when it is the other mom’s turn to ride all the kids in, I get to enjoy a HOT cup of coffee!
I realize we’re very fortunate, but there were a few choices we made to stack the deck in our favor. They are:
Location, location, location. Our girls attend a charter school, so we could live anywhere within the district. So when choosing where to live, we deliberately moved to a neighborhood that was within reasonable biking distance and had a safe, facilitated route to the school. Our school is near a separated multi-use trail, so we chose a neighborhood also along the trail. Our typical route is a mix of residential streets and bike path, all the way to the school. A few neighborhoods were closer, but the route to school required crossing of a major arterial roadway.
A car free family at our school we are trying to convince to move to our neighborhood
Finding like-minded parents. The school our kids attend is progressive and we live in a Platinum bicycling community, so you’d think it be easy to find other bicycling parents. This is true, but there are still a number of factors that make this harder than you’d think. Distance. Time. Siblings going to different schools. Work schedules. After school activities. Fear. There is a lot stacked against this idea. In our case, there was one family in particular who we knew were really committed to riding–so in stalker-like fashion, we found out where they lived. Mom’s official title is Bike Ambassador and she’s heavily involved with SRTS, is an LCI, etc. Now they are our backdoor neighbors. We got lucky, but they chose this neighborhood for some of the same reasons we did. Once we moved to the hood, a bikepool evolved within a week. Come to find out, another family that we’d see riding from time to time also lived nearby. When Dad saw the train, he joined as well. Now our bikepool consists of three families. Not bad for winter commuting! Once the weather warms up, maybe a few more kids will join the ranks and we can turn the bikepool into an actual train.
Hard core biking mama Bevin
Self-organize. A few well-intentioned moms in our school tried to organize carpooling on behalf of parents, and it was a flop. Eventually, the group just provided all parents with a directory so they could organize on their own–which worked much better. We are currently the only bikepool, but multiple carpools were created as a result of the directory. This type of thing requires a lot of trust, something that many parents don’t have the stomach for. Maybe in idyllic Portland, or but not many other places in the real world. [Note: After I posted, Velo Mom pointed out this great example of a successful (and huge) bike train in Temecula, CA. What an inspiration!]
That’s all I can think of tonight. Please comment if you have questions… Find some buddies, and ride to school together. It’s a lot of fun.