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Published: 18th AUGUST 2023

We want to cycle to school safely so our Bike Bus is a protest: Katherine's story

Starting with just five families, the Shawlands Bike Bus in Glasgow has grown into a vibrant social movement. In this blog, we ask one of the co-founders, Katherine Cory, about what it’s like to run a bike bus and the difference it has made to young peoples' lives.

Pupils and parents in the Shawlands Bike Bus, Glasgow, travelling to school together

Pupils and parents in the Shawlands Bike Bus, Glasgow, travel to school together every Friday. Credit: Katherine Cory

How did you set up the Bike Bus and how has it evolved since then?

My daughter had started primary one in October of 2021 and a lot of her friends in the neighbourhood had as well.

We were just coming out of Covid [lockdown] and the kids had learnt how to pedal.

We were keen to take their bikes to school, however, it soon became clear that it wasn’t safe to pedal with us on the roads as it was so busy.

There was a sense of frustration because the kids had so much freedom during the summer and they weren’t feeling that at all in the new chapter of their lives.

My neighbour, Gareth, who is one of the other co-founders of the bike bus, saw a tweet about a bike bus in Barcelona that had not long started.

We read that they started with five families and Gareth and I knew five families who would maybe want to do something similar, so we rallied them together.

We started the next Friday on Halloween and it was pouring with rain but we planned a route and set off nonetheless.

There was so much joy and emotion on that first one, and us adults were looking at each other and tearing up.

It felt really special and the kids were just loving it.

We haven’t missed a Friday in two years, apart from when there’s been weather warnings a couple of times.

We now average 60 or 70 participants every Friday but we have been up to 90.

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There was so much joy and emotion on that first one, and us adults were looking at each other and tearing up. It felt really special and the kids were just loving it. Blockquote quotation marks
Bicycle with handmade sign that reads 'Caution bike bus'.

The schoolchildren have made new friends and learnt valuable skills thanks to the bike bus. Credit: Katherine Cory

What’s the reaction been like from the kids and parents?

It’s a community that we’ve built and it’s part of our weekly lives.

The kids have made friends and they feel like they’re part of something important.

We’ve got some kids who have been doing it for years and they’re now at the age where they start walking to school with their pals.

So, we got the older kids to start taking on some of the adult roles.

They can co-lead the rides, brief everyone at the beginning, act as the ‘sweeper’ at the back or choose the song for the playlist.

We want them to own it because it’s their thing, and we would like them to carry on cycling into high school.

What’s the relationship with the school been like?

The relationship with the school has been fantastic.

The head teacher has been really supportive, and the deputy head joined the bike bus on the last day of term in June.

Anecdotally, we know from the teachers that children from the bike bus turn up happy, full of energy and ready for school.

Also, the council has given us money for a new bike shed because we outgrew the other one.

A group of children and adults on bikes stopped at a crossing whilst on their bike bus to school.

Community collaboration has been key to the success of the bike bus. Credit: Katherine Cory

Have you faced any challenges with it becoming bigger over time and how have you overcome those?

We’ve had lots of challenges.

We have to navigate a busy junction in Shawlands with four roads that go through it so, as you can imagine, it’s really busy.

The green lights sequence is quite short and, as we grew, we couldn’t get everyone through in time.

There’s this unwritten rule that if you’re travelling in a big group of bikes, you act as a bus so if the lights change you go together and keep going.

That can feel quite scary as your natural reaction would be to stop at the red light - but then you get split up.

The local councillors put us in touch with Glasgow City Council and we now have this smart button that we can control the traffic lights with.

Not every council will have the means to do this, but I think it shows that connecting with your local councillors and voicing the things you need help with can work.

Shawlands Primary is a big, diverse school so not all the kids have bikes or can pedal, that’s been another challenge.

There should be no barriers for kids to cycle to school.

We’ve been working with a charity called Women on Wheels to provide confidence building and learn to ride courses.

Children and adults chatting and smiling before they set off cycling to school on the bike bus

The organisers continue to talk to parents and children to find out what the barriers are and address them. Credit: Katherine Cory

How does the word about the Bike Bus get out?

A few of the bike bus parents wear high vis vests with ‘welcome team’ written on the back so parents can chat to them in the playground.

We also put posters up near the gates and encourage the school to include it in their newsletters and things like that.

There are kids at the school who probably would love to come on the bike bus but maybe don’t feel like it’s for them, but we want to make everyone feel like they can join.

That’s why it’s really important that we focus on speaking with families, learning from them about what would encourage them to join and then finding the means or funds to do this, like with the cycling course at Women on Wheels.

What advice would you give to people who are thinking of starting a bike bus?

It’s possible to start with just five families, like us, so talk to your neighbours and friends on the way back from school or in the playground and see if anyone would be up for trying it.

The global bike bus community is very friendly, encouraging and helpful – so I’d recommend getting in touch with others for advice.

Also, reach out to your local community police and tell them what you’re doing.

They’re very supportive of us and have come along with us a couple of times on their bikes.

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There should be no barriers for kids to cycle to school. Blockquote quotation marks

What are your goals and aspirations for the future of the bike bus?

We’ve connected now with the Barcelona ‘bicibús’, as it’s called in Catalan, and we went out there in March with some of the kids.

We helped to organise the first bike bus summit with delegates from Portland, Cardiff, Worcester and Cologne.

Barcelona has a very different way of doing things as they are required to register as a protest every Friday.

We shared insights from our collaboration with the council and the ‘magic do-da button’, but they have seen no changes like this.

Ideally, the end goal is to have no bike buses and instead have safe cycle lanes for children and parents to use.

Our bike bus is a protest and we’re going to keep doing this until things change.

We love our bike bus and we love doing it but we shouldn’t need to have to do it.

Interested in setting up your own bike bus? Check out our FRideDays toolkit for all the tips and guidance you need.

Want to know more about bike busses and the positive benefits they have? Read our blog that explains what a bike bus is.

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