Bicycle Schools, Complete with Bamboo Bikes, On a Roll in Brazil

File under things that make you feel good.

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Mikael Colville-Andersen

File under things that make you feel good: Take 46 community educational centers in São Paulo, Brazil. Add 4,600 bikes made from environmentally sustainable bamboo, designed by Flavio Deslandes, a Brazilian entrepreneur who lives in Copenhagen, and assembled by locals in São Paulo. Mix with hundreds of Brazilian schoolchildren.

What you get is an educational program called Escolas de Bicicletas, or “Bicycle Schools,” developed by the São Paulo Department of Education in partnership with Copenhagenize Consulting (whose CEO, Mikael Colville-Andersen, also runs the Copenhagenize and Copenhagen Cycle Chic blogs).

The kids in the program, between the ages of 10 and 14, learn pretty much everything about life on two wheels – safe bike-handling, traffic laws, basic maintenance. They’ll even be riding to and from school together in “bicycle convoys.” It's a concept based in part on the type of cycling curriculum that’s been in Danish schools since 1947, adapted to the Brazilian context by local educators.

Colville-Andersen writes:

Most of the course will be hands-on experience with the bicycles but the classroom work will revolve around bicycle history, bicycle culture and other aspects like social inclusion and sustainability. All from a practical, sensible point of view. The goal has never been to create a legion of bike geeks -- just giving bicycles to kids and getting them to ride them. A legion of Citizen Cyclists. Citizens who just happen to use a bicycle.

The project isn’t cheap – the cost is about $1.3 million per year – but it is designed to have multiple benefits, which is probably why it just won a “Young Brazilian” award in the category of environment. In addition to the bike-assembly jobs, 92 young people have been hired as educators for the program. Kids who participate in this first year of the bicycle schools — some 1,400 of them so far — are getting not only bikes, but also helmets, locks, lights, reflective vests, and rear-view mirrors.

Already, according to Colville-Andersen, school administrators from other Brazilian cities are calling to find out how they can deliver similar programs to their kids.

"The city’s education department have been brilliant and visionary," Colville-Andersen tells me in an email. "It’s an amazing project, so inspirational."

Bamboo plus bikes plus kids. It’s an irresistible equation.

All photos courtesy Mikael Colville-Andersen

About the Author

  • Sarah Goodyear has written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog. She lives in Brooklyn.