Norte! Creates Cycling Community in Traverse City

Norte!, a Traverse City nonprofit, is building a bike-friendly community with a focus on young cyclists. The organization continues to grow with awesome programs like Safe Routes to School and Adventurama.


When avid cyclists Ty and Johanna Schmidt relocated in 2006 from Tucson, Arizona, to Traverse City—a return to Johanna’s hometown—the couple couldn’t help noticing a very different bike culture than what they were used to out West. “I wondered, Who is advocating for bikes in Traverse City? Who is cheerleading it? I didn’t see that. I saw a real need,” says Ty.

Particularly troubling to Ty: the lack of kids on two wheels. “I started noticing fewer bikes at school, longer car lines, parents with busy morning schedules … and maybe they wanted their kids to bike to school. I also saw kids not knowing how to signal [turns while riding] and going through four-way stops.”

Ty and Johanna, parents of two school-age boys, Carter and Jameson, decided to see what they could do to help encourage more youth riders, beginning in their downtown neighborhood. “We started inviting families to drop their kids off at our house, and we would bike to school together,” Ty says. More and more kids started showing up.

What followed was the creation of nonprofit Norte! Youth Cycling, a bike-centric, youth-focused advocacy organization. (Norte, Spanish for ‘north,’ was a mashup of the Schmidts’ love of Spanish culture, discovered in Tucson, and Traverse City’s location in northern Michigan.)

Norte

Ty Schmidt and Biz Ruskowski, principal of Eastern Elementary and member of Norte! board of directors.

The couple’s idea clearly had wheels—today 15 adult-led “bike trains” to 10 different schools in the Traverse City area take place on Fridays. Other activities include El Barrio Bike Fix, a neighborhood “learn to wrench program,” Norte! Kids Bike Library, allowing preschool and lower elementary students to borrow bikes for free, an after-school Bike Mas program, and International Winter Bike to School Day (because cycling can—and should—happen year round, after all.)

But Norte!’s most visible contribution to TC’s bike culture is TC Rides, which happened on Wednesdays last summer, attracting 60 to 70 cyclists of all ages for the 5-mile ride that started at F&M Park and ended at Little Fleet. “It was everybody,” Ty says. “Grandmas and Millennials and middle-aged folks without kids showing up. It’s a fun way to connect—we go at a slow chit-chatty pace, no Spandex, we talk and we have fun and wave.”

The organization is looking to raise $1 million for space and its programs. “We have been doing this with our small, little board of directors, and now it’s turning into something more,” he says. “The community wants it. We have had more than 100 people on our Friday bike trains. People are showing up.” A $25,000 Safe Roads to School grant, through the Michigan Department of Transportation and Michigan Fitness, helped efforts during the 2015–16 school year. It also allowed for Ty, a part-time physical therapist, to become Norte!’s first paid staffer.

Traverse City’s bike community is stronger than ever, though Ty acknowledges. “We have a ways to go … what we do only goes so far. That infrastructure piece is important, too.”

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This Bike Town USA article was originally published in the August 2016 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.
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