Students bike with their parents to Ocean Avenue Elementary School on Friday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

It’s 7:15 a.m. on a school day, and 5-year-old Juneau Yunitz steps out the front door and walks to a bright orange electric bike with a two-seat bench mounted on the back.

He pulls a helmet out of the black milk crate attached to the front of the bike and struggles to fit it over the hood of his brown fluffy sweatshirt. He doesn’t want help, though.

Rather than driving them to school, Juneau’s parents transport Juneau and his 7-year-old brother, Gus, on an e-bike, which the family has nicknamed “the radmobile.”

Gus and Juneau are not eligible to be picked up by the school bus because they live too close to the school, less than a mile, in their case. But the family prefers the radmobile over the family car, which makes them part of a movement that is challenging a decades-long social trend.

Jung Yun, right, and her two children, Gus, 7, left, and Juneau, 5, ride an electric bike to school last month. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

In 1969, around 50% of kids ages 5-14 walked or biked to school, according to the National Center for Safe Routes to School. By 2009, that number had dropped to 13%. In 2017, only 10% of kids ages 5-17 cycled or walked to school, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Now over 50% of students are shuttled in a private vehicle.

But biking to school seems to be back in vogue. Students in communities around Maine and the nation are commuting by both e-bike and standard bicycle, often accompanied by parents on their own bikes. It’s an organic movement happening with individuals or families, and sometimes with big groups of neighbors creating bicycle caravans.


No one is consistently tracking bike-to-school trends on a national level, so it’s hard to say concretely how many kids are commuting this way. But accounts and reporting from around the country show that rolling to school on two wheels – especially in packs – has been growing in popularity, with kids in New Jersey, Denver, New York City and Portland, Oregon, commuting this way.

Gus and Juneau’s parents switch off taking them to school. On a chilly morning in late September – it was 46 degrees at 7 a.m. – it was their mother, Jung Yun’s, turn.

In the driveway in front of their house, Yun swung her leg over the bike and with two feet firmly on the ground and two hands on the handlebars she directed Gus and Juneau to climb up onto the railed wooden seat attached to the back.

They both settled in, one behind the other with their legs dangling off the side.

“OK, I guess we should go,” said Yun, taking off down the quiet Deering-area road on the mile-long trip to Portland’s Longfellow Elementary School.

Jung Yun and her two children, Gus, 7, left, and Juneau, 5, ride “the radmobile” to school last month. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine said Portland has made important strides toward making the city more bike friendly, including by implementing a bike-share program and building bike lanes. The city also is in the early phase of a few major street redesigns intended to improve bike and pedestrian accessibility, said Jean Sideris, executive director of The Bicycle Coalition of Maine.


“A lot of work is being done to make the city more bike-able and walkable,” said Sideris.

Still, she said, more work is necessary to make biking and walking around the city efficient and safe.

“Our transportation system right now assumes car ownership,” she said. “A lot of people don’t drive or can’t drive so that’s a big barrier. Providing options for how they can get around is important.”

Students and their parents prepare to leave for Ocean Avenue Elementary School last month. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Biking and walking also appeal to many families because they are climate friendly alternatives and offer physical and mental health benefits.

Those are some of the reasons Ashley Edmonson started biking to school with her 9-year-old daughter Laura five years ago. Now they are part of a regular bike-to-school group.

Early one recent morning, Laura stood over her red mountain bike, chatting animatedly with a few friends gathered at the side of the road next to Portland’s Longfellow Park.


“I’ve been biking to school since kindergarten,” said Laura, now a fourth-grader at Ocean Avenue Elementary School. “My mom and I started it,” she said proudly.

Laura and her mom were the initial members of what they now call the Ocean Avenue “bike bus.”

Back in kindergarten, Laura biked to school with just her mom, she explained. But on this day, she stood surrounded by 25 other Ocean Avenue students ranging from kindergarteners to fifth-graders.

Most days of the week and for most of the school year, around 30 students and parents ride together to Ocean Avenue.

A group of students prepares to bike with parents to Ocean Avenue Elementary School. Biking as a group carries safety and other benefits, they say.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

While the students and their families could bike independently from their homes, moving as a pack has a few important benefits, said Myles Smith, a bike bus parent.

The bike bus provides safety in numbers, which is important as they have to bike on and across streets with fast-moving traffic and without designated bike lanes, as well as contend with some drivers who are not happy to see bikers on the road, said Smith. Biking in a large group makes them much more visible to motorists and forces drivers to slow down and give way as they pass. It also helps build community and lets everyone get a little fresh air and exercise, said other parents.


At 7 a.m., a small cluster of students and their families stood next to Longfellow Park. Many wore gloves and some sported ear warmers under their helmets to protect against the brisk September air.

As the minutes went by, more families arrived, standing outside and chatting and waiting until it was time to head out. The riders took a circuitous route from the park to school, one they chose to avoid biking on busy Forest Avenue, said parent Shannon Belt. Most kids, including those as young as 5, rode independently, chatting with friends as they peddled. Some discussed their plans for that weekend. Others talked about what stuffed animal they were bringing to school for “pajama and stuffy day.”

A group of students bike with parents to Ocean Avenue Elementary School. Biking in a large group makes them much more visible to motorists and forces drivers to slow down and give way as they pass, they say. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

After using the walk signal to cross Forest Avenue at Ashmont Street, the route was largely quiet, although the riders still had to navigate around cars.

“Car front,” called out one parent, signaling a car heading toward the bikers.

The bike bus runs rain or shine. When it rains, the bikers wear raincoats and rain pants. When it’s cold, they bundle up. They stop riding once the snow and ice make the ground too slippery. Last year, the group biked to school until Christmas break.

Students and parents bikes to Ocean Avenue Elementary School. Many groups bike rain or shine, stopping only when snow and ice make the terrain slippery. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Beverly Stevens has been the principal of Ocean Avenue since the school opened its doors in 2011. There are far more students who bike to school now than 12 years ago.


“When we started in 2011 we had maybe five or six students biking on a given day,” said Stevens. “Now the bike racks are full.”

Stevens estimated that 30 to 50 kids now bike to school each day.

Stevens said she likes seeing the bikers arrive at school – both those who are part of the bike bus and those who bike in other groups or independently.

“They come in smiling,” she said. “Even while they’re biking they’re smiling. They’ve gotten energy out and are ready to learn. There’s one person who plays music on their bike. It’s just a fun time.”

Eli Herzlinger, 6, waves to his mom, Abby Fleisch, after arriving at Ocean Avenue Elementary School. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

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