'Commuter of the Year' breaks cyclist stereotypes
Liz Klaproth is a commuter without an attitude. Rather than enduring a dreadful hour fighting cranky fellow motorists for a piece of asphalt only to arrive at work on edge, the 29-year-old bank teller hops on her worn two-wheel bicycle at 8 a.m. for an easy spin to her office in downtown Sebastopol.
She’s also pumping up those feel-good endorphins to start her day in an up mood.
The trip takes 10 minutes, leaving her enough time to enjoy a leisurely coffee and breakfast at Whole Foods before clocking in at 8:30.
“It’s my relaxation time,” she says, using a word rarely associated with commuting. “Everyone else is in a hurry, but in a traffic jam. I’m laughing. I’m not stuck.”
Klaproth is not a big recreational rider. Her bike for five years has been her main transportation. She’s used it to get to work, run errands and meet with friends, even in the snows of Illinois and the steamy heat of New Orleans, where she lived before moving to Sonoma County two years ago. And while her current commute may be only a mile each way, her commitment to cycling to work, rain or shine, on a down-market “junker” bike while clad in proper bank attire captured the attention of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.
She was recently named “Sonoma County Bike Coalition Commuter of the Year” as part of National Bike Month in May.
“We liked the fact that she rides to work in her normal clothes and how the friends who nominated her talked about how much she inspired them because cycling is just a normal part of her life,” said Aileen Carroll, outreach director for the non-profit organization.
“I have known this lady for years and she bikes everywhere,” one friend wrote in nominating her for an award Klaproth figured would go to a long-distance commuter.
“To work, to the bar, to meet up and hang out with us. I have seen her with loads of groceries in her basket. She is awesome.”
Klaproth busts the stereotype of a bike commuter - an advanced cyclist lithely mounted on titanium wheels with an extensive wardrobe of spandex shorts and jerseys, who on weekends rides 50 miles for fun.
Coalition Executive Director Gary Helfrich said the group wants to dispel misconceptions about bike commuting that inhibit more people from taking up the practice, which has both health and environmental benefits.
One myth is that you need special clothes to ride and a shower once you arrive at work, said Helfrich, who cycles into downtown Santa Rosa from Camp Meeker every day, a 15-mile trip that takes about an hour and a half.
The expense of adding showers is one of the key impediments to many companies developing a cycling culture, he lamented. It’s nice, but not an essential amenity, he stressed.
“I don’t wear bike clothes. I’ve never had bike shorts. I never wear bike shoes. You wear whatever is comfortable for you. I just get cotton sweatpants at Big 5 Sporting Goods, a t-shirt and a windbreaker and I’m good to go.”
Since he leaves at 6:30 a.m. it’s not hot. “It’s not a race. You’re not going for your personal best.”
Typically, he switches into slacks and a shirt when he gets to the office.
Klaproth has a snappy little front basket for her purse and groceries, but experience has taught her to not over-pack after once tumbling painfully on a downhill when the heavy front load sent her flying too fast.
She’s made some adaptations. She clipped her hair to a pixie because it took too long to dry on wet days. She finds skirts more comfortable than pants for riding because they won’t get caught in the gears.
“In winter I wear a couple layers of leggings. It can be freezing. In winter I try to leave (for home) by 5:30. My office is really understanding if the weather is really bad out,” said Klaproth, who has lights but prefers not to ride after dark.
For the young bank worker, who has a degree in audio production, bike commuting has had other benefits.
Within the first two years, she shed nearly 50 pounds without dieting while saving more than $20,000, enough to buy with cash a new electric Chevrolet Spark.
“Riding my bike,” she said, “has made a huge difference in what I can do and the way I feel.”
You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 521-5204.