Meet our groups: The Bicycle Bus
How The Bicycle Bus got started
I founded The Bicycle Bus during lock down in 2020 after attending a webinar co-hosted by Adam Tranter, now the West Midlands commissioner for walking and cycling, about how to start a bicycle bus. This coincided with our daily exercise – it seems crazy now to think we were only allowed out for one hour to do exercise!
I took my youngest daughter Elise out for a ride during this daily exercise and she asked why we didn’t ride to school two miles away. I couldn’t really give her a reasonable answer: I’ve got work, the roads aren’t safe, the weather … all sound quite lame now, although some are valid.
So I decided to set up The Bicycle Bus. Initially, I contacted two schools, which are on the same site, and had their support. I also contacted local councillors, including the then council leader, and had their support.
The ride now officially starts at Heathcote Park in Warwick. It runs through three estates and takes in four schools: Briar Hill Infant School, St Margaret’s C of E Junior School, St Joseph’s Catholic primary school and Little Willows pre-school.
Last year, we set up a new route that goes to the same schools but from the other direction. Starting in Royal Leamington Spa it runs through the small town of Whitnash where the schools are. We regularly have 10 to 15 riders, and the highest number of riders we have had to date is 28.
Apart from the guarantee that it will change their lives, we have pin badges and key rings to give to new riders, which have become sought after in the playground, so I hear.
Breaking the habit
I contacted local families through the schools to explain what I wanted to do. When I asked other families on our estate why they didn’t ride to school, safety was one of the main reasons. I thought if I could make it safe, more families would choose to ride than drive.
I also think many families are just in the habit of driving, they just needed to break the habit. With the average school run just 1.6 miles, it’s mad to see so many parents drive. I’m providing a platform that enables and encourages families to break that habit.
We started in October 2020 during a storm and had 12 people ‘on the bus’. Fast forward three years and we now serve four schools, had our biggest contingent of 28 and have been joined by local councillors, the police, campaign groups, the local MP and the BBC.
We have been nominated for several awards and are thrilled to have won the BBC News Coventry and Warwickshire Make A Difference Award in the Green category.
What is a bicycle bus?
A bicycle bus is when a lead cyclist picks up children and parents along a planned route at predetermined points and the group cycles to school together; currently, just 3% of children cycle to school.
The Bicycle Bus provides a platform for families to cycle to school in in Warwick in a safe, controlled and fun environment, giving the added benefits of better physical and mental health and a boost to children’s confidence and social skills. It also helps to reduce congestion and dangerous and inconsiderately parked cars, improving air quality around schools.
More importantly we have music, we have bubbles, and we have lots of fun!
I feel proud to be making a difference in the community
Simon Storey, founder of the Bicycle Bus in Warwick
I’ve had people say things like:
- “I’ve bonded more with my son since joining The Bicycle Bus”
- “I would never have considered cycling to school, but Simon has made us feel so safe and welcome”
- “It”s the highlight of the week for my daughter”
When I hear comments like that, I feel proud to be making a difference in the community.
I have also organised social activities; for example, last year we went as a group to watch some of the Commonwealth Games held in Birmingham, which is nearby. On World Book Day, the usual school uniforms were swapped for book characters – seeing Supertato, Matilda and Mr Tickle riding down the road must have been a sight!
I’d like to do more like social rides such as picnics and so on - the families that join us are all awesome at getting involved.
The movement is growing
The bike bus movement is growing, with some featuring in campaigns by Active Travel England and on BBC world service programmes, where they state the start of the movement was in 2021, which makes me feel proud to be at the crest of the wave.
I’ve made contact with people who founded their own bike buses all over the world, from Scotland to America and from Spain to Canada. We are trying to hook up to form a kind of informal association where we can learn from each other.
The main issue is the weather – on a cold or wet morning in January, it can be challenging to get on a bike, even for me! Unfortunately I can’t do anything about the weather, but just by providing the platform, I’m proving there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad choice of clothing.
As mentioned before, it’s also a challenge trying to get families to break the habit of driving. If only they did they would see the benefits for themselves, as many families who have joined us have said. But I am persistent – I’m a bit like a dog with a bone.
I make the ride as safe as I can, but I campaign and lobby for better cycling infrastructure, especially around schools. With the average school run being just 1.6 miles, I think every school should have safe cycling infrastructure in at least two directions for at least one mile. That way, infrastructure will start to join up and you get a network that everyone can use.
I am also a qualified coach so help with techniques and skill level of parents, as well as children. We wear hi-vis vests and I know it can be a controversial subject but I do want people on the ride to wear helmets.
We are very lucky that we have a volunteer, Dawn. She‘s amazing. She’s helped out since we started but what makes her outstanding is her child doesn’t even go to any of the schools we go to, she has no vested interest other than helping families take an active travel option to school.
I also arranged Warwickshire’s first Kidical Mass ride. We’ve done three now, being joined by approximately 250 riders of all ages and abilities, joining a global community of more than 150,000 riders all calling for ‘child- and bicycle-friendly places, and safe routes to school’.