In the Netherlands, bikes abound. And now, they even take kids to school. Behold, the bicycle school bus.
The Dutch are bicycle fanatics. Almost half of daily travel in the Netherlands is by bicycle, while the country’s bike fleet comfortably outnumers its 16 million people. Devotees of the national obsession have taken the next logical step by launching what is likely the first bicycle school bus.
Built by Tolkamp Metaalspecials, and sold by the De Cafe Racer company, the bicycle school bus (BCO in Dutch) is powered entirely by children and the one adult driver (although there is an electric motor for tough hills). Its simple design has eight sets of pedals for the kids (ages 4 to 12), a driver seat for the adult, and three bench seats for freeloaders. The top speed is about 10 miles per hour, and features a sound system and canvas awning to ward off rainy days.
Co.Exist spoke with Thomas Tolkamp who built the BCO about its origins and how the idea is catching on around the world for the sets of 11 lucky kids who get to arrive in school pedaling their own school bus.
Co.Exist: What was the inspiration for the bus?
Tolkamp: I had already made other big bikes (like the Beerbikes) and a few years ago someone mailed me with the question if I could develop a bike especially for transporting kids. So for that other company (a child care) I made the first bicycle. Some other companies were also interested, so I began to produce more bicycles and have improved the bike.
How many of these have been sold? How many are in use?
We’ve sold around 25 bikes. They are still all in use, except for the very first one, which was a prototype.
Does it only come in yellow?
No, we’ve sold bicycles in green, blue, purple, grey, red, yellow, but all [standard] colors are available.
How much does it cost?
Around $15,000, so less than a taxi or normal bus.
Can the kids alone make it go?
It’s possible to ride the bike without the motor when most seats are in use, but it wouldn’t be safe to ride without an adult.
Do you have plans to export it?
We have already exported some bikes to Belgium and Germany, but not this kind of bike. We have gotten frequent requests for information about the bike from all around the world (North America, South America, Europe) but we’ve never sold a bike outside of Europe.
Do you think it will work well in other countries, or is it something special about the Dutch culture?
I don’t know really, but what I do know is that people from all around the world like the idea. We have gotten interest from the press all over the world and all people are positive.
I hope I can sell the bike in the near future to a foreign country and see how people at other countries react on the bike. I think it will work well in other countries, because as more and more people [are] becoming fat and "green living" becomes more important, ideas like this get more popular.
COMMENTARY: The Netherlands is the bicycle capital of the world, with 40% of all traffic movements by bicycle. They have created a bicycle friendly country that promotes a healthier, more active lifestyle for its residents.
In 2009, over 1.3 million bicycles were sold in the Netherlands according to preliminary figures. The Revenue is expected to be around 950 million euros, an increase of 4 percent from 2008. According to the RAI Association FietsVAK, the exhibition for the bicycle industry.
When people buy a bike, they’d rather buy a good bike”, said a spokesman for RAI. The average amount that was spent on a bicycle last year increased 3.5 percent to an average of 713 euros. In 2008 that figure was 683 euros.
The rise of the electric bike set last year continued. An increase of 30 percent is expected for 2009 with more than 150,000 e-bikes. The electric bike has a market share of 10 percent, with an average selling price of around 1900 good for 25% of the total bicycle sales.
The market share for e-bikes will increase further.
Dealers are still gaining ground as a sales channel for bicycles. Last year 85 percent of the bikes were bought in a real bicycle shop and the previous year it was still 82 percent.
Since 2009, the Dutch bike fleet grew to a total of 18 million bicycles, and probably more by now.
It's difficult to tell whether these pedal-powered school buses would be allowed on American streets because of a lack of bike lanes on many streets, city ordinances, speeders and most children commute to school using public transportation, school buses or their parents drive and pick them up from school. You would definitely need an adult to supervise the children.
These pedal-powered school buses really need older children. In the above picture, the bike bus is pedaled by kintergarderners. I think these kids are just too young to pedal a bike this big and bulk. I think you would need older children to pedal it.
The price of the BCO at $15,000 is a bit too pricey for most public schools to bear, then you have potential liability issues. For those two reasons, I have a feeling U.S. public and private schools would not buy them, so adoption will become an issue.