You might think that it would be hard to sustain the world-famous Alameda bike bus during rainy and cold Portland winters. In reality, the children who participate in the weekly group ride to Alameda Elementary School look at the weather and shrug. It seems like nothing could deter them from getting outside on Wednesday mornings and to ride to school with their friends.
The bike bus was started by Alameda Elementary Physical Education teacher Sam Balto (better known to the community as ‘Coach Balto’) and in the past few months, it has become a true international sensation. Balto’s TikTok videos showing kids riding to school often net millions of views and receive nearly unilateral support in the comments. The bike bus has been featured on NBC Nightly News, the Kelly Clarkson Show and more. Anytime Balto can, he uses his platform to get the word out about active transportation at schools and why it’s important.
BikePortland last checked out the bike bus on a warm morning in September, and I wanted to know how the kids are faring now that it’s colder outside. What I found? The energy and enthusiasm — from kids and parents alike — hasn’t diminished one bit.
It wasn’t raining this morning, but it was cold. Still, about 50 kids who showed up for the bus, accompanied by a solid group of parents and volunteers.
Balto said some people have questioned if the bike bus could still be successful during the rainy season. But to the kids, it’s a non-issue.
“Children do not care about the weather,” Balto told me. “It’s adults who freak out about it and put up all these excuses about why kids can’t ride in the winter.”
I checked in with some of the kids about how they’re feeling about biking in the winter and the bike bus in general.
“I mostly like it with gloves, but not without gloves,” said a boy named Bowden. (He’s right, keeping your hands warm is crucial!)
I asked a student named Eleanor what she would say if someone told her it was too cold to bike during the winter.
“That’s your choice, but that’s not mine!” Eleanor said.
All the kids say they love the bike bus because they get to hang out with their friends.
“I mean, yeah, it’s really fun,” an Alameda student named Griffith said. “I’d do it every day if I could.”
“It’s fun to see your friends before school and hang out with them while doing activities,” a student named Noah said. “It gives me more energy and makes me happy.”
The kids who participate in the bike bus range in ages, from fifth graders to little siblings who aren’t old enough to be in school yet but still want to ride. Paul Buchanan, a bike bus volunteer who corks traffic for the kids, said he’s seen all of them become more comfortable on the road throughout the last few months.
“There’s a small child who used to be afraid to ride the last six blocks of the ride,” Buchanan said. “Now he’s riding all alone far from his parents. It’s amazing to see how the kids have grown.”
We’d be remiss not to mention the bright yellow ‘Bike Bus’- branded ponchos volunteers and some students wear during the ride. Cleverhood took notice of Balto’s bus and wanted to give people the chance to rep it in their bike wear. You can email the company to get a discount code for one of the capes.
But regardless of what winter stylings you sport, there’s a spot for you at the bike bus.
“I like that everybody bikes through the community, and it’s for all ages,” said Alameda student Elliot as he posed to show off his winter jacket. “But you have to stay warm while you’re biking. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long ride.”
We are working on a video of the wonderful kids we interviewed for this story. Stay tuned!
Update, 12/8: Here’s the video!
The bike bus seems sweet but Is Coach Balto still saying tents blocking sidewalks are just fine? Kids in my poorer neighborhood have to deal with sidewalks being blocked, not so much in wealthy Alameda where he is.
Where did he say that? Just curious.
And you are 100% correct. It is a non-issue on these routes, whereas it absolutely presents a barrier for those of us that live in the poorer parts of town.
Where did I say that? Please post or retract your comment.
What an absolute delight. I’m stoked these kids are discovering the joys of cold weather riding.