Cleveland students get pumped on way to school
Ride - A daily cycling caravan cuts fossil fuel use and amps up the fun
Monday, March 05, 2007
If your morning drive winds through the Mount Tabor and Clinton neighborhoods of Southeast Portland, chances are you've seen Keegan Heron and his buddies on their bikes.
They're hard to miss.
Most mornings, a dozen or so Cleveland High School students strap on helmets, hop on bikes and gather on Southeast 54th Avenue where they begin their 10-minute ride to school.
Often, by the time they reach the school on Southeast 26th Avenue, their cycling caravan has picked up a half-dozen more students -- so many, the school administration recently added more bike racks.
Biking to school isn't new, of course. What sets the Cleveland caravan members apart is their motivation. By biking, they say, they're doing their part to protect the planet and cut down on the use of fossil fuels. The students also stand out for their success. They have an informal arrangement -- no one makes wake-up calls or does a head count before they take off -- but this hardy group manages to meet about the same time every day.
The cycling group is Heron's brainchild. A Cleveland junior, he got hooked on riding to school as a sixth-grader at Sunnyside Environmental School, where most of the teachers and about a quarter of the students ride their bikes to school. The school hosted a bike-to-school week and Heron got hooked.
"I've been biking, literally, every single day since," he said.
When he got to Cleveland, Heron asked a couple of students to ride with him. Last spring, he talked to more teens. His pitch: It's just as quick to ride as drive -- an important selling point since he knew no high school student would want to wake up any earlier just to bike to class.
At first, some worried about biking because they hadn't ridden in a long time. So Heron told them to start out by joining the group once a week.
Heron's message went over well at Cleveland. Word spread. Soon, eight and sometimes more students were showing up on their bikes every morning in front of Lee Rosch's centrally located house on Southeast 54th Avenue.
Girls and boys make the ride. Some are athletes, some aren't. Mostly, they're just a group of friends who've grown up in the same Southeast Portland neighborhood.
Making their way along Southeast Lincoln Street, past Division and over to Clinton, the group sets a leisurely pace. Riding with their hands in their pockets, they fill out an entire lane, prompting a car or two to maneuver around them.
Rosch, whose parents also commute on bikes, said the sheer number of cyclists in the group offers some protection.
"It's safer when cars see a whole clump of bikes," said Rosch, acknowledging that the group should probably ride single file. "They'll pay more attention than if it's just one or two bikes."
But riding single file might make it harder for the students to talk on the 21/2-mile ride. After all, it's as much about hanging out with friends, Heron and Rosch said, as it is about getting to school on time every morning.
"Our culture is all about getting from one destination to the other," said Heron, whose parents also bike or bus to work. "We have stopped enjoying the journey. Biking slows us down a bit."