Ty and Johanna Schmidt believe that bicycles are much more than tangible things or toys. They see bikes as powerful tools in promoting independence, freedom, confidence and stronger, better connected communities. Whether it’s commuting to work year round or riding to the library with their two boys, Carter and Jameson, bikes are a huge 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 University of Southern California, respectively, they met in Tucson. Ty and Johanna spent several years in southern Arizona where they both fell in love with the Hispanic culture. The Mexican food. The Sonoran desert.
They moved North! (Norte!) to Traverse City in 2006 to be closer to Johanna’s family. Upon arriving, they began to notice things: fewer bikes and longer car lines at school; like-minded moms and dads who wanted to bike to school, but simply didn’t have the time; unsafe riding by kids as they pedaled on sidewalks or didn’t know how to signal or negotiate a 4-way stop.
Because they job share – Ty and Johanna are both Physical Therapists at Munson where they split a 40hr/week position – they had the time and decided to try to help fix these things.
They started inviting neighborhood families to drop their kids off at their house so 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 2-3 kids join. Soon it was 6-8. Then it took off. Much more than just escorting, their train was very social . The kids talk. They chat. Minecraft. Recess heroics. Weekend happenings. And it was a lot of FUN.
Ty and Johanna also committed to making every bike train trip a teaching moment. They would take the time to teach the students about riding safely, courteously and predictably while they pedaled to school. A light bulb went off. They wondered, “What if this could help happen at all of Traverse City’s neighborhood schools?”
Ty and Johanna reached out to some friends and talked them into forming their own trains and that’s how Norte!, Traverse City’s bike-centric, youth-focused advocacy organization, was born.
Today, The Great Traverse City Bike Train Experiment boasts 18 bike trains which connects 9 different neighborhood schools to 12 different Traverse City neighborhoods but Norte! has grown to become much more than just kids pedaling to school. From Pro Walk/Pro Bike advocacy to a mountain bike club to youth empowerment projects to educational programming including The Bike Mas Project to the Estrellas to a comprehensive Safe Routes To School initiative, Norte! is building a happy, healthy, strong Traverse City by empowering the young and young at heart.