As school programs come to a rolling stop and summer programs pick up speed, an air of excitement surrounds Norte! Youth Cycling – Traverse City’s bike-centric, nonprofit advocacy organization.
Ty Schmidt and his wife Johanna founded El Grupo Norte! in the fall of 2013 to promote a more bike-friendly Traverse City and to encourage youth to become active, healthy cyclists-for-life. Now, Schmidt reflects on a successful school year, looks forward to a summer of cycling and sets goals for the year to come.
“What I really want is to encourage a lot of kids to bike to school, and I think our bike train network has really helped to make that happen,” Schmidt says. “Sometimes parents don’t have time to pedal to school with their kids, and our bike trains provide a fun and safe way to get to school because they’re all adult-led. You don’t need a mom and dad for every kid, so we have a one to five ratio – every adult can bike five kids to school.”
During the school year, Norte! boasts five regular bike trains and weekly “Bike to School Fridays” that are designed to transport kids to school in a safe and sustainable manner. In addition, the group also provides after-school bike repair and maintenance classes, safety education, a commuting library or “book bike” and more.
Norte’s efforts were proven a success when 421 riders from 19 schools participated in Traverse City Bikes to School Day on May 6th. An unofficial count revealed that there were 635 bikes at Traverse City schools – and these bikes were pedaled a whopping 403 miles on just this single day.
This Summer: Biking Bonanza
TC Rides builds awareness for the growing presence of people on bikes in Traverse City with the philosophy that “people on bikes create more people on bikes.” Every Wednesday evening throughout the summer, Norte! hosts a community slow ride. Participants meet at F&M Park at 5:45, begin biking the 8 km route at 6 p.m. and finish at the Little Fleet for food truck eats and beverages. Norte! rides the same urban loop each week, so anyone is welcome to hop in wherever they like.
“The highlight of the summer has been our TC Rides – our weekly social, community ride. It’s an all ages, all abilities, all bikes, five-mile cruise through neighborhoods and then on the TART trail,” Schmidt notes. “Last Wednesday we had 190-ish people…we have grandmas, we have millennials, we have everyone in between.”
VASA Domingos is a family-friendly, weekly mountain bike ride on the VASA trails through the summer and fall. The program connects kids to our Michigan forests, promotes trail stewardship and helps grow strong, fit and fast mountain bikers. No matter skill level or experience, all are welcome to meet Sundays at 11:45 at the single track parking lot off of Supply Road. The group will begin rolling at noon to get fit and explore the woods.
TC Bike Library
The TC Bike Library allows residents, students and visitors to check out a bike – for free! Available bikes are checked out on a first-come, first-serve basis and are leased for up to three days.
TC Bike Valet
Don’t stress about where to park your car during Traverse City’s busy events! Instead, take advantage of Norte’s Bike Valet, which works just like a coat check or car valet. Norte! provides professional bike parking services at the Sara Hardy Farmers Market and other community events. They use their own portable racks and guard them to keep bikers’ belongings secure – and the service is free!
Next year: Geared-up Goals
Schmidt says he is most excited about Norte’s bike train experiment, which will connect more neighborhoods to more neighborhood schools.
“We’re filling this network of bike trains that run like buses: they have a station, they have a departure time, they have an arrival time,” he says. “They’re dependable – parents can count on them to get their kids to school on time.”
Trains can be as small as three kids to as big as 11 kids, Schmidt says, and when they count the numbers of bikes at school racks on Bike-To-School Fridays they typically find 11 to 30-some bikes.
“We have a lot of goals,” Schmidt says. “To increase the number of bike trains to fifteen, to increase the numbers of neighborhoods served – right now we’re in six neighborhoods, but I’d really like to get into 10 neighborhoods – and to increase ridership on the trains…we’re trying to be more than just kids on bikes, that’s the biggest thing.”