All aboard! Get on your local bike train
The entire month of May is Walk + Bike Month, all throughout Oregon. So far, the official website shows tons of schools signed up to participate. It's not too late; you can register here: http://www.walknbike.org/event/1009/register
While participation can range from the "Stop & Walk" (parking more than 4 blocks away from school & walking the rest of the way) or taking transit, we have always been fond of the bike trains. Our earliest bike trains, though, were very loose: pick a time and location, meet, ride into school together. Recently, Kiel Johnson has elevated the profile of bike trains, starting the website biketrainpdx.org where parents, students and teachers can find resources on how to safely gather and ride to school. Beach School, in particular, has done an amazing job recruiting children and families to regularly get on the bike train to school.
Gleaning from experience and the website, we've cobbled together some tips for your Bike Train to School:
Pick a time and allow for plenty of time to move at a slow pace. It should be slow and comfortable for the kid trying it for the first time.
Ride slow, at the pace of the slowest rider. This allows the group to stay together.
Starting off: stay together. When setting out, wait for large gaps in the traffic so the group can stay together. The leader needs to anticipate the time it will take for the entire train to get through an intersection and wait for an appropriate gap. This is very different than riding alone. Sometimes, this might mean that you will have two groups led by two different leaders to merge into traffic.
Riding along: stay together where practical. If we're riding at the proper pace, there shouldn't be gaps in the group thus minimizing the likelihood that we will split. If a light turns yellow, those who should stop need to make that decision and indicate it clearly and loudly to the children that the group that isn't making the light is stopping. The second group has now become an independent group and a parent will need to take the role as leader immediately. Another will need to assume the role of follower. This should be a somewhat rare event if we're riding slowly in a nice group.
Follow the rules of the road. Not only does this make the day safe, we're teaching our kids how to navigate in traffic when they get older. Everyone has different commuting approaches but when on this ride, we're setting an example. Use hand signals and loud verbal cues.
Leader. Sets the pace and navigates the route. This should be at a kid's pace. The leader should make clear and loud vocalizations of what is happening. If a light turns yellow or we're coming to an intersection, call out, "Stopping" for all to hear. Also, directional hand signals should be used. The leader has a stressful job. They must simultaneously be looking ahead to react to surroundings, communicate those decisions and look back to see the state of the group behind. A mirror is extremely helpful for this purpose.
Follower. There's always an adult following behind the whole group. Every parent needs to know how the ride is unfolding so if there's a group split we never have a child as the last rider.
Every Parent. All of us should be looking forward and back to see how the kids are doing. We are riding to the speed of the slowest rider. This will feel frustratingly slow to some but recall that this is to teach confidence to all the kids on the train.
Have you taken a bike train, group ride to school? How has it gone for you? Will you do it again? We hope so!