BIKE TRAIN…. What is it and what is it good for???

A few months ago I was reading an issue of  Bicycle Paper, a Pacific NW regional cycling publication covering all aspects of cycling in Washington & Oregon. I found an article about a gentleman by the name of Kiel Johnson. Kiel is a local advocate of cycling. When I say advocate, I MEAN ADVOCATE! He is involved!

This particular article was centered around a movement aimed at our cycling future. KIDS! (and their supportive parents)

Imagine… instead of big, yellow, diesel smoke spewing school buses there were ‘trains’ of bicycle riders following a set route to school. Picking up riders along the way, growing in numbers along the way to school! This is what Kiel has started here in Portland.

I conducted an ’email interview’ with Kiel, shown below:

BC: Kiel, tell our readers about Bike Trains, What are they and what is this about?

KJ: Bike trains are about creating communities of people who bike to school. They are a group of parents and students that bike together to school on a prearranged route. The bike trains in Portland run one morning every week.

There are lots of other positive things that have resulted from helping organize this community. The streets around schools are safer for all users. There is a study that found that 20% of all morning commute traffic comes from parents driving to drop their kid off at school. We should be doing things around schools that make them safe places to be. Kids are our most valuable investment and when we design a school so that everyone uses a car you are creating a dangerous situation. Last year two students in Portland were sadly struck in a hit and run crash while crossing the street to their school. (

We need to understand these tragedies and make sure that we are contributing to a system that prevents them from happening to anyone else. Bike trains are part of finding a solution to this problem. They create a visible, fun, and comfortable alternative. They also draw in a lot of people who are more cautious about biking to school and wouldn’t do it on their own. It is about making biking to school an event, something that people can talk about and feel a part of.

BC:  How many trains exist in Portland today?

KJ: There are seven schools in Portland that have a bike train. A few of them have stopped running during the winter but there is still a lot of participation. I had one parent tell me that last year, before there was a bike train, she would be the only one locking up in the winter. Now there are about ten bikes parked everyday in all weather conditions.

Many schools have several trains that come in from different directions. For instance Beach, which started last year now has four routes.

There is also a bike train that started in Vermont.

BC: How many kids are participating?

KJ: So far there have been 1184 student and parent riders on a bike train this year. That is just counting the official bike train day at each school.

BC: How many adult volunteers does it take to make a successful Bike Train?

KJ: All it takes is one very enthusiastic parent willing to go for it.

BC: How is this type of program funded?

KJ: We just got a $5,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation. The goal with the grant is to disperse it to the different schools. Let each bike train leader spend it in ways that will improve their school.

BC: How would others go about securing funding for a Bike Train in their communities?

KJ: I wouldn’t worry about funding. I’d just go out and start it.

BC: Do you think business sponsorship might work for a program like this?

KJ: There is a lot of potential for local businesses to sponsor a bike train. There was a bike train in Portland a couple years ago that was sponsored by REI. On a couple occasions the bike train stopped by the REI and staff handed out energy bars and let the riders climb on the climbing rock. REI wins because they look like they are participating in the community and are helping establish future customers. The bike train wins because it makes the riders feel like they are a part of something.

BC: What are your expectations for 2011, in regards to the Bike Train program here in Portland?

KJ: I think April is going to see an explosion of families biking together to school. Everyone feels like we are at a tipping point. Biking to school is becoming “the thing to do”. It is exciting to be a part of this movement.

Kiel has put in tons of work to make biking to school a viable form of transportation for many kids here in Portland. I have done it for my own kids since moving here, now it’s time to move onto a much bigger stage. I have been talking with the PTA president at my kids’ school and Kiel. We are planning on starting our own Bike Train here in NE Portland. I will keep you posted!

If any reader(s) would like to contact Kiel to pursue a Bike Train in their area, the best ways to contact him are shown below:


Check out the progress of the Portland area bike trains at


  1. Ghost Rider

    This is awesome — fantastic interview questions, too!

    I may just try to set up one of these once I relocate — it makes me sad to see empty bike racks at schools when I KNOW that many of the students live within easy bike/walk range of their schools.

  2. 2whls3spds

    To me the shame is we have to resort to things like this… when only a generation and a half ago, students rode to school in droves. I know when I was still in high school we had quite a few bikes locked up at our racks, and even more when I was in junior high (do we still have those?) Unfortunately infrastructure hasn’t kept up. Along with a whole other set of issues.


  3. Raiyn

    I remember BEGGING to ride my bike to school, how times change.

  4. Graham

    As a teacher (married to a vice principal) I’m forced to wonder about the liability in the event – God Forbid – that someone got hurt.

    I suppose that one could state that they are transporting themselves to work and the school isn’t liable until they reach campus, but ours is an amazingly ligitious society and clarity might be a good idea on this issue.

    Specifically, since I bike to work nearly every day, I wonder if I started a bike train if it could be construed as “school transportation” and the same liability applies as if someone got hurt on the bus?

  5. Graham

    Ugh, “litigious society”…

    Where’s my EDIT button?! 🙂

  6. Iron_Man

    Sounds great in principle, but dang if I haven’t got enough on my hands just getting my own two sons ready for school and daycare and out the door. Our little three party train (me pedaling, them in the trailer) has trouble remaining on schedule as it is, I can’t imagine making extra stops in the ‘hood is going to help us any. Not to mention, on a similar tack as Graham, what about liability? I’m not talking about the school, I’m wondering about me. I’m not entirely desirous of exposing my family to the possible financial ruin that could befall us if one of the kids we pick up gets hurt and I’m found liable since I’m the adult with experience that instigated the concept of the group. A condition of this train would have me demanding that every parent of every child be present on the ride as well. Otherwise your kid is on his/her own. Of course if that had any chance of working they’d be riding together now, as our kid’s school is located in our quiet neighborhood. So, sorry to rain on the parade, but I give this a chance of zero where I live. Maybe in other parts of the world the judicial system has got the backs of the well-intentioned, but not here.

  7. Robert Guico

    I think if you can get parents to sign a waiver that’s been run past a lawyer, you’ll be fine. I went to a (public) middle school that took us to Six Flags: Great America and to a camp in the middle of nowhere that had horseback riding as an optional activity. Bicycling doesn’t fall anywhere near the risk of either of those activities. (I’m 29 now, for reference.)

    As for the timing issue… kids that take the bus already have to be at a certain place at a certain time. We’d just be asking kids that want to ride as part of a group to follow the same guidelines. I’m not seeing a huge issue there.

  8. harry krishna

    i am encouraged by this news. a few years ago, my local board of education applied for and received a grant from “safe routes to school” ( for the elementary school nearest me. bicycles weren’t considered. a couple years later, this school becomes a magnet school and virtually all students arrive by automobile. i still shake my head when i ride by and view the backup on fronting and backing streets.

  9. 2whls3spds

    What do you have if you have 25 lawyers up to their necks in concrete?…Not enough concrete. Litigious society my Aunt Fanny, That is something that needs to be done away with ASAP. Then let the rest of us get on with our lives. Sad part is my job requires me to contemplate that aspect of it too. 🙁


  10. kiel Johnson

    Iron Man, many of the schools have made bike trains a PTA event and the leaders are made members of the PTA. This way the bike trains are covered as part of the PTA event insurance. This is the simplest solution we have come up with. I’d say 95% of all bike train riders come with their parents. For the parents it is a social event and they enjoy meeting other parents.

    Overcoming the “too much on our hands” is the most difficult part for sure. The end goal of bike train is for there not to be any more bike trains. That biking becomes such a normal part and option for people that they don’t need bike trains to encourage people to bike to school but until that happens we have found bike trains to be a pretty useful tool in getting more people interested in biking to school.

  11. Iron_Man

    PTA isn’t a bad solution. Now I’m just left with my grumpy non-team player persona. 🙂

  12. Safe Routes Tampa

    @ Ghost Rider…We are currently setting up bike trains at a few Hillsborough County Schools. Visit our website if you need help setting a bike train up at your child’s school.

    @ Iron Man…visit the NPLAN website. There’s a pdf on liability. I had the opportunity to sit through a presentation for liability and walking and biking to school.

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