By Dedra Cordle
An international event that was designed to promote community, exploration, and alternative modes of transportation to school has made its way to the city of Grove City.
This month, local organizers brought a “Bike Bus” to town that featured hundreds of South-Western City School students ditching the traditional ride on the big yellow bus and hitting the pavement with their bicycles, tricycles, scooters, and mobility devices in order to reach their destination.
Among the local students who participated in the Bike Bus event was Amaya Hicks-Rich, a fifth grader at Hayes Intermediate School.
Amaya has a love-hate relationship with using the bike as a means to travel. She said on one hand she loves to ride because it is “fun” and it allows her to get outside with her family and friends, but on the other hand she hates to ride because she has yet to find a bike that does not cause discomfort in her body.
Amaya was born with cerebral palsy and has difficulties with balance and grip, two things that are needed to safely operate a bicycle. The 10-year-old said she was almost ready to give up the bike experience completely when inflexible handles caused her wrists to cramp for hours.
Her mother, Jenny Hicks, said her daughter continues to try to find the right machine for her, but she knows that Amaya would rather use any other method to get around the neighborhood.
With that in mind, she said that is why it was so surprising when Amaya came home recently and told her family that she wanted them to participate in a ride to school event called Bike Bus that was taking place on May 9.
“I was a bit confused because I don’t think I had ever heard of a Bike Bus before but it had her excited and so we were excited to do it with her,” she said.
The Bike Bus, which is an international movement that promotes social interaction, physical activity, mental wellness, and community through public engagements such as group bike rides, has been around for decades but has experienced a huge spike in popularity in the United States over the last few years. Local cycling enthusiast Tiffany Kirkbride, a marketing associate with Visit Grove City, a team member at Heritage Cycles, and head coach for the area’s mountain bike team, has always had her eye on the movement and had dreams of bringing its mission here to Grove City.
“Doing a group bike ride to school or work has always been at the back of my mind,” she said. “The team at Heritage Cycles (her husband, Thomas, co-owns the bike shop with Josh Stamper) has always talked about doing this to help people figure out how to get to work/school safely and efficiently.”
She said she felt a Bike Bus would be a perfect opportunity to introduce children and adults to the possibilities of school or work travel via bike but was a bit daunted by the population of the local school district and how big its boundaries were.
“That has always been a little intimidating to me,” said Kirkbride.
She said her mindset started to change when she shared a post on social media last year about a Bike Bus day that took place at Worthington Hills Elementary School.
One of the individuals who saw that shared social media post was Mark Sigrist, a city council member and fellow cycling enthusiast. He said he was drawn to the mission of the Bike Bus and believed it could play a role in encouraging local children to become more active, promoting awareness of the benefits of outdoor exploration, re-connecting families through shared events, and generally building a stronger community.
He immediately reached out to Kirkbride to brainstorm ways to bring the Bike Bus to Grove City.
With the assistance of the Heritage Cycles team, Kirkbride and Sigrist started to map out detailed routes to school for the three who showed interest in participating in the Bike Bus event this year: JC Sommer, Hayes Intermediate, and Jackson Middle. They then coordinated with district social worker Jesse Schroder to communicate to the students and parents about the event and teamed up with the local police and fire departments to provide an extra set of eyes and hands for those who wished to participate.
In February, they began spreading the word about the Bike Bus events that were planned for May and crossed their fingers that there would be interest from the children and their families.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” said Kirkbride. “I just hoped that kids would sign up and families would be supportive in the activity.”
The Bike Bus organizers said they were “blown away” by the response – especially from the students and parents at JC Sommer Elementary who signed up by the hundreds.
“We had 233 participants, 120 family adults and 30 or so community adult volunteers (participate in Bike Bus day at JC Sommer),” said Sigrist.
He said watching all of these young students participate in this event – some of which traveled down Columbus Street with their training wheels on – filled him with so much joy and hope for the future explorers of the city.
“Certainly it was inspiring, and the students showed so much determination and aspiration,” he said.
For the three Bike Bus days that were held in May, around 300 students participated in the event with hundreds more parents, teachers, and cycling enthusiasts taking part.
Among those who rode in several events was Jesse Schroeder, a social worker at JC Sommer who served as a “Bike Bus” driver/supervisor.
He said what he loved about the experience is that it provided an opportunity for students, families, teachers and community members to connect and celebrate the schools in the district.
“Something as simple as walking or riding your bike or scooter through your neighborhood with your classmates is a way to build more connections with the broader school community,” he said. And it’s just a lot of fun! The more we can build connections with each other, the stronger we are as a school and as a city.”
The atmosphere at the events was infectious, said organizers, and even Amaya Hicks-Rich could not help but get caught up in the excitement.
Although certain parts of her body were “a little numb” from riding the tandem bike with her mother, she said she did intend to sign up should the Bike Bus come back next year.
Kirkbride and Sigrist said that is the intention.
“I hope that this grows to be a thing that students and families look forward to each year,” said Kirkbride. “I would love to see the whole school district participate but I do know that many schools/communities lack safe bicycle infrastructure. I hope that these events help push our communities, not just inside Grove City, closer to becoming more bicycle friendly all around.”