For most of the children in Sao Paulo, this is hardly an option. Not only do most of them live in favelas, far away from the urban center, but strong traffic and unreliable public transport make it much harder for local children to reach their schools in safety and on time.

At the same time, great problems can provide fertile soil for equally great ideas. And the bicycle school project appears to be one of them. Initiated by Sao Paulo’s own Department of Education and devised by Copenhagenize Consulting, the Escolas de Bicicletas program presents a winning concept for urban change.

Children in Sao Paulo, photo: Claudio Rimmele
Children in Sao Paulo, photo: Claudio Rimmele

The idea is simple: The Bicycle School takes a holistic approach to teaching kids how to ride their bicycle. Thanks to a great mix of theory (safe bike handling, traffic regulations, basic maintenance, bicycle history, bicycle culture) and actual riding practice, participating kids learn to incorporate bike-based mobility into their everyday lives. Since riding is more fun in a group, the second phase of the program aims to get the kids to cycle to school in small convoys guided by a bike expert who shows them safe ways to get to school.

Tackling a different problem, the widespread lack of money to actually afford a bike, the program also distributes bicycles, helmets, locks, lights, reflective vests, and rear-view mirrors to kids in need.

Girl in Sao Paulo, photo: Claudio Rimmele
Girl in Sao Paulo, photo: Claudio Rimmele

And since the initiative sets out to spread the word on sustainability and responsible mobility, all bikes are assembled by locals and made out of environmentally sustainable bamboo.

Changing the actual culture of mobility in a city that just reported the longest inner-city traffic jam in history (295 km) will surely require many and diverse innovative concepts. Starting at school level, however, makes perfect sense because children are great communicators who share ideas with parents and peers. The more kids realize that riding a bike is a great way to get around, the more things look up for a city that is currently struggling to move forward.

Text by Claudio Rimmele
header image: DWerner/ photocase.com