With birds chirping, the sun rising and the world slowly waking up, Columbia Elementary School students pedaled their hearts out early Wednesday.
Scads of kids biked into the schoolyard from all directions, in observance of the seventh annual National Bike To School Day.
"I love riding my bike," said Columbia fifth grader Naveah Lira, sprouting a big smile. "It's super cool to go downhill and use your hands as turn signals."
Dressed in a neon green T-shirt that says "Kids on Bikes" and, of course, a helmet, Naveah was pumped for the event.
"I don't usually ride my bike to school, but I will more now," she said.
The first National Bike to School Day took place on May 9, 2012, in tune with the League of American Bicyclists' National Bike Month.
More than 135 schools in Colorado and more than 2,000 schools around the nation participated this year, according to organizers.
But promoting bike riding is a regular occurrence at Columbia, a Colorado Springs District 11 school in the Middle Shooks Run neighborhood.
Columbia is one of 12 schools in the city that have the Kids on Bikes program, which hosts weekly morning rides to school in the fall and spring, gives kids the opportunity to earn helmets, bike locks, bikes and other prizes, teaches bike safety skills and runs an after-school bike club.
The organization also offers summer camps, sponsors the Pedal Station community bike center at 1026 S. Tejon St., and holds educational events.
Eleven-year-old Naveah, who's in the bike club at Columbia, said she's learned a lot.
"We always start with the ABCs - check your air, brakes and chain," she said, adding that the club "helps kids stay active."
Half of school children rode bikes or walked to school in the late 1960s and early 1970s, said Mark Schenberger, program manager with Kids on Bikes. Today, it's a mere 10 to 15 percent. But at Columbia, up to 20 percent, or one in five students, ride or walk to school.
"It gets overlooked - sometimes it's easier to drive - but biking is better for kids' health and fitness, and they tend to have better grades," Schenberger said.
Sometimes a few kids show up to ride en masse to school during the weekly gatherings and other times it's a large group, said Columbia physical education teacher Katie White.
"We're happy either way," she said. "I love that kids are starting their day off on this great note."
Several students met on Wednesday at Boulder Park, a few blocks from school, and rode together to the campus.
Schenberger went over the rules before the group took off.
"How far apart do you have to be from each other?" he asked students.
"A few inches?" one boy guessed.
"A bike length apart," Schenberger said.
"What happens when you get to a stop sign?"
"Pretend we're a car, and come to a complete stop," was the right answer.
"If someone else crosses the street, should I?"
Absolutely not. Check traffic, and make your own decision.
Schenberger handed out stickers, bookmarks and granola bars before kids rode in single file to school.
Jill Wright joined her first-grade son, Eli, on the trek. They started riding their bikes to school last year, when Eli was a kindergartner.
"It's a nice way for us to get exercise and spend a little time together before school," she said.
Eli also likes that his friends are there.
"I get a lot of fresh air and get to be with my friends and my favorite P.E. teacher," he said.
The Bike to School event builds on the popularity of Walk to School Day in October.
Kids get really excited about it, said Lora Woodworth, volunteer coordinator at Steele Elementary School, which this year is holding its bike day on Thursday because of scheduling conflicts.
"It gets everybody thinking about biking, and it supports our community," she said.
Ten adult volunteers assist with the event, which has drawn up to 75 students each year, Woodworth said, adding that with good weather predicted for Thursday morning, this year should produce a healthy response.
An average of 50 of the school's 300 students regularly ride to school, she said.
Students will receive snacks and prizes on Thursday morning after reaching the school.
"I think every school should participate," Woodworth said. "It's lots of fun for the kids and gets them thinking about using alternative methods to get to school."