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Learning in Motion: Bike to School Day Showcases Local Efforts to Get Youth Rolling

For nearly 70 years, National Bike Month has been a gateway for countless Americans to hop on a bike for the first time or to pedal someplace new. But it’s not just adults who are celebrating this May. On Wednesday, community members of all ages will participate in Bike to School Day, as part of a growing movement to get young folks rolling, as well. 

On May 8, more than 160 schools across Minnesota will host group rides, bike trains, and other creative activities to inspire students to bike to school and instill lifelong habits that support physical activity, public health, and safe behavior on our streets and sidewalks. In recent months, we’ve had the privilege of working with Great River School in Saint Paul to teach young people about public transit— and we were delighted to learn about their efforts to encourage bicycling, too!

Since the school’s inception 20 years ago, students in the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades have participated in the Great River Annual Bike Trip. What started with 30 youth has grown to more than 120 kids and school staff bicycling 100 miles in four days. According to Nick Beerman (pictured below), the school’s Adolescent Program Director, the “key experience” as GRS calls it, is about building community with peers and adults, fostering independence, and offering a unique shared history for students. 

“Early adolescence is a time of immense change for students,” Beerman said. “Their bodies are changing and they need a lot of large motor skills as they grow. The ride is a way for them to learn how their bodies can do amazing things, like a 100-mile bike trip!”

Of course, not all students have the skills or stamina for an epic bike trip on the first day of school. Some don’t know how to ride at all. Some need more time on their bikes to feel confident. Over the course of April and May, staff leaders, like Beerman, take students on progressively longer rides during the school day, tapping into the great network of trails across Saint Paul, from the loop around Lake Como to the Wheelock Bikeway connecting to the Gateway State Trail. 

The big trip happens on the Elroy-Sparta Trail in Wisconsin. Riding 25 miles each day, the kids carry small packs for essentials and vehicles follow the group to transport water, food, camping gear, and spare bikes. Even after months of practice, students are challenged by long hours in the saddle, being disconnected from their phones, and away from their families. But the energy is overwhelmingly upbeat. 

A group of students bicycling on a dirt path through a lush green meadow
Food set out on a picnic table in front of a line of bicycles and a handful of tents

“Most of the students are jazzed about it,” Beerman said. “They enjoy being out of the school building, in nature, being with their friends. It’s pretty amazing to see them on the last day. You would think that they would be super tired and that the last day would be the hardest, but many of them emerge super excited and have a sense of purpose to complete the ride.” 

And the experience isn’t just fun for the students. “In my job, I’m often pulled from task to task, and spend much of my day interacting with adults,” he added. “Being with students on these rides allows me to get back to the most important people in the building: our students.” 

Of course, encouraging kids to bike doesn’t require a multi-day trip. In classrooms across the state, young Minnesotans are engaging with the Walk! Bike! Fun! Pedestrian & Bicycle Safety Curriculum and a variety of Safe Routes to School programs. From individual caregivers bicycling with students to bike buses caravanning groups of kids through the neighborhood, Bike to School Day will feature the many ways advocates and community members are helping to make active transportation a daily activity for the next generation.

Find an event near you – or sign up for one of our fun Bike Month group rides!