Norte founders Ty and Johanna Schmidt believe bicycles are much more than toys. They started Norte because bicycles are potent tools of independence, freedom, confidence. Staying active builds stronger, better-connected communities. Both Ty and Johanna’s commute are year-round, rain or snow, on two wheels and two feet. They do the same when riding to the library with their two boys, Carter and Jameson. Bikes and staying active are a considerable part of their family’s lives.
Ty grew up in Dauphin, Manitoba, while Johanna is a Leelanau County native. After graduating from the University of North Dakota and the University of Southern California, they met in Tucson, Arizona. They moved north to Traverse City in 2006 to be closer to Johanna’s family. Norte is a mashup of their time in Tucson and them coming back home to northern Michigan.
Upon arriving in Traverse City, they began to notice things. Long car lines wrapping around neighborhood schools. Hardly any children were walking to school. And even fewer of them biking. So they decided to help fix these things.
They invited neighborhood families to drop their young ones off at their house. From there, they could bike with them to Eastern Elementary, where their boys attended. Ty would lead the “bike train” in the morning, and Johanna would pedal home with the group in the afternoon.
First, they had two or three join. Soon it was 6-8. Then things took off. Much more than escorting, their train was a social event. Everyone talked. Chatted. High fived. It became a must way to get to school.
Ty and Johanna also committed to making every bike train trip a teaching moment. First, they taught about riding safely, intelligently, and predictably. Then, a light bulb went off. “What if this could happen at all Traverse City’s neighborhood schools?”
Ty and Johanna reached out to some friends and talked them into forming more bike trains. Soon after, Norte—Northern Michigan’s bike-centric, youth-focused advocacy organization—was born.
Today, Norte has become much more than children pedaling to school in Traverse City. From walk-and-roll advocacy to youth leadership and many active-for-life educational programs. Through these initiatives, Norte is transforming the culture of health in Northern Michigan.