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Bike Bus: The community cycle rides making journeys to school more fun and active

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Bike Buses are fast becoming the norm for many schools across Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan. Not only are they fun, free and help reduce traffic on our roads, they’re also a great way for pupils, parents and teachers to get some much-needed exercise as part of their daily routine.

What’s more, these rides are designed to be as safe as possible, with a designated “driver” at the very front guiding participants along the route. By travelling en masse, they are substantially more visible to motorists and can navigate congested roads more easily.

One school which has seen its Bike Bus go from strength to strength is Gwaelod-Y-Garth Primary on the outskirts of Cardiff. Dozens of cyclists of all abilities now meet every other Friday in Taff’s Well before making the picturesque journey to the school site around a mile away.

“The children are happier [when they get to school], they’re more energised and there are the obvious health benefits that also go with it,” said mum Tori James, who helps organise the popular ‘Fridedays’ Bike Bus. “We have music playing too, and I definitely think that’s one the highlights.

“Lots of children have commented on the fact they get to cycle with their friends and can be sociable on the way to school, and they’re doing something fun and active at the same time.

“Many schools could do this. It takes a bit of determination and effort by both the parents and staff, but by working with organisations such as Sustrans you can get the expertise you need to map out safe routes that are available for all different ages.

“We have children in Reception class cycling with us. It really has a focus on ensuring it’s accessible to everyone – even those who have just learnt to ride a bike.”

Gwaelod-Y-Garth pupil Max Henley, nine, said: “The Bike Bus has great music, and I can talk to my friends on the way to school. The hill right at the end is quite steep so it’s a great feeling to get to the top.”

Fellow pupil Evan Smith, also nine, added: “I think [the Bike Bus] is good for the environment and it’s a really nice route. We go on the main road, then we go across a bridge and it’s lovely the see the river and all the trees and birds.”

Deputy headteacher at Gwaelod-Y-Garth Primary, Owain Jones, said the Fridedays Bike Bus was a perfect opportunity to get some fresh air and make use of their rural location. “It’s really important as part of everyone’s mental health and wellbeing. It also helps to reduce the traffic close to the school, making everything easier as a community,” he explained.

“Personally, it’s a good excuse to get the bike out every two weeks and have some exercise early in the morning. I think some of the children see the staff in a slightly different way and are happier to approach them about personal matters as they’ve built up that connection.”

Hamish Belding, the Sustrans Fridedays Bike Bus coordinator, was on hand to create a buzz and atmosphere during the well-attended ride on September 29 – a date which coincided with Cycle to School Week. “We are seeing Fridedays Bike Buses pop up all over the place. It just demonstrates that there is a demand from pupils, parents and schools to see more active journeys taking place,” he said.

“There’s a planning process around each Bike Bus which aims to make the journeys as safe as possible. As an organisation, we have a toolkit that parents can access which gives them lots of really useful tips and advice about how to choose a safe route to school, how they can manage a Fridedays Bike Bus, how they can keep it safe and – most importantly of all – how they can keep it sustainable.

“Once schools have an established Fridedays Bike Bus, they are removing vehicular traffic from the roads and are seeing quieter, safer environments.”

In addition to Bike Buses, there are now nearly 20 schools in Cardiff which have a ‘school street’ outside them to make it easier and safer for children and parents to get to school by walking and cycling.

Fiona Kinghorn, Executive Director of Public Health for Cardiff and Vale University Health Board said: “It’s fantastic to see the success of schemes such as Bike Buses, alongside wider improvements in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan to improve cycle routes and create school streets. These give parents and children the opportunity to get physical activity into their day which can help people feel fitter and happier, as well as reducing air pollution and carbon emissions.”

To find out more about how to set up a Fridedays Bike Bus please go here. To download the Fridedays Bike Bus toolkit please go here.

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