2014 Bike Commuters of the Year
Bike Commuter of the Year (BCOY) award recipients are recognized for their dedication to riding their bike for everyday transportation. They are a testament to the many benefits of bicycle commuting: from improving their health to bringing families together. Nominations were accepted, evaluated and awarded by each county’s Bike to Work Day representative. Here are the 2014 winners of the Bike Commuter of the Year Award. Many of the Awards will be presented at events on Bike to Work Day. In addition to an award, 2014 winners will receive a set of Revolights to light them on their commute and a set of Bay Trail Maps to help them with planning adventures. Check your local bicycle coalition for events.
Congratulations to all the Bike Commuters of the Year!
Bike Commuters of the Year by County
Rachel Donovan has one of the coolest jobs in the Bay: she is a bridge inspector for Caltrans, which means she gets to climb around all Bay Area toll bridges: “We rappel, drive motor boats, climb around on the piers and go spelunking inside the bridge structures.” Her climbing does not get in the way of her other passion: biking.
“Rachel is a tireless advocate for corporate bike commuting programs in the Bay Area,” wrote one of her colleagues in a nomination. Her efforts and pro-bike attitude, they wrote, helped push Caltrans to third place in the 2013 Region-wide Company Bike Challenge and 1st in Alameda County. They added that “more employees participated in last year's Bike To Work Day than ever before, thanks to Rachel's work!” Under her tenure, Caltrans has become one of Team Bike Challenge’s most active companies, with exceedingly well attended bike commute workshops and weekend rides.
It wasn’t always so. It took long hours of organizing and encouraging for their to be a bicycle culture at Caltrans. The first weekend group ride she organized was a 20 mile ride on the Iron Horse trail from Dublin/Pleasanton BART to Pleasant Hill. “We were biking just to spend time together on the weekend and enjoy the beautiful Bay Area,” said Donovan. “A lot of us are traffic engineers and planners, so we’re also riding on the roads that we’re helping plan and design.”
Since that first ride, Donovan has designed bike jerseys for Caltrans’ Sustainability Team, coordinated bike commute workshops, classes, and many more social rides. Still, she shirks from the title of Bike Commuter of the Year saying that “sometimes people give me the credit for this achievement, just because I was the team organizer, but come on now, I couldn’t have biked all 20,000+ miles myself!”
“There are so many people I can think of here at Caltrans and everywhere else who deserve this title much more than me,” Donovan said, “Perhaps I can be a Bike Commute Encourager?” Of course as one of her colleagues who nominated her wrote “commuter of the year is not just about biking the most miles, it is about inspiring others to do so as well,” and in that category Rachel Donovan is unbeatable.
Ray Pixton has been biking to work since 1981, when he started working for the Contra Costa Water District. He is a construction inspector, and he rides rain or shine. “It feels weird to drive a car now,” he says, “I have 3 cars and they just sit in the driveway.”
Ray’s coworkers nominated him for the award, writing that his dedication to riding to work inspired them. “It’s news to me,” said Pixton about being an inspiration to his coworkers; “I just thought I was doing my own thing.” His commute is a pleasure, he says, because the 8 miles from Concord to Pleasant Hill allow him to ride on trails alongside the canals he also helps inspect.
It wasn’t always easy though: “I remember my first ride was a 5-mile ride and I just about died, I was so out shape,” Pixton joked, “but I stuck to it.” His commitment helped him out when, in the 90s, he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. “Exercise has been a really important part of my treatment to keep my blood sugar levels down,” says Pixton.
Last year he raised close to $900 for the Tour de Cure, a 50-mile fundraiser ride for the American Diabetes Association. He’s planning on riding again this May and plans on surpassing $900. “It’s been a good goal which helps me train and gets me in better shape, but 50 miles is about my limit - I’m 61 after all!” Pixton is retiring this summer and although he’s not sure if he’s going to stop working, he won’t stop biking. “I’ll miss the commute,” he says.
Rich Steele bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge everyday from his home in Tiburon to his office in San Francisco and back. Everyday he packs his work clothes in his backpack along with his computer. To save space, Rich smartly leaves a brown belt/shoes and black belt/shoes at his office to change into. His dedication to bike commuting doesn't waiver, no matter the weather, Rich always bikes. To encourage friends and neighbors to bike, Rich organizes meeting places to lead commuter convoys from Marin County to San Francisco. His wife, Dana, admires Rich for being a role model to their children about healthy living, biking and sustainability. She says, “He is MY Bike Commuter of the Year (and every year),” and feels his passion for cycling and keeping a car off the road is admirable.
Napa County : Paul Schapiro
Paul Schapiro is the Napa County Bicycle Commuter of the Year. Paul lives in American Canyon in the southern part of Napa County and has ALWAYS biked to work to the City of Napa, a 15 mile round trip on a not very bike-friendly Highway 29.
Not only does Paul bike to and from work, he does ALL his errands on his bike…meetings and social events after work, grocery and other shopping on the weekends (and he even bikes into Napa to the Trader Joe’s because he loves to shop there!). And he is well known for trying to get his co-workers to ride to work! He has been successful in getting many on bikes and several are now participating in Cycle for Sight annually.
All of this is truly admirable but what is amazing is that last fall Paul was in a terrible accident while riding his bike. A car door was opened just as he approached it, and the collision sent him to the hospital. He had surgery on a knee and ankle and was in a full leg cast for months. But as soon as that cast was off he was in physical therapy with a goal to get on his bike as soon as possible. Paul proclaimed that he wouldn’t be himself if he couldn’t get back on his bike.
Well, he is back on the bike and has been making the commute every day with the weekend trips as well… AND he did the Cycle for Sight in Napa on April 26 and then rode to Napa to attend Napa Bike Fest on April 27. Paul is not yet totally recovered from the bike crash, can’t walk real well and he may never run again, but he can and does ride his bike every day!
Paul is truly a special bike commuter and an inspiration to all of those who know him.
San Francisco County : Bao-Tran Ausman
You might be noticing more and more parents biking with kids around the city, and Bao-Tran Ausman, SF Bicycle Coalition member since 2010, is among them. A prime and dedicated example of family biking, Bao-Tran now carries her two children on the back of her Surly Big Dummy all over town, routinely picking up her daughters, 8-year-old Ava and 5-year-old Alexandra. If that’s not enough, sometimes Bao-Tran goes shopping with the kids and carts groceries in panniers. Talk about pedaling strength packed in an all-in-one commute!
Bao-Tran started biking a year after giving birth to her first child when she couldn’t find time to go to gym and needed a dependable mode of transportation. Biking has proved to be both the most timely and reliable, so she sticks with it.
When asked who she chooses to commute by bike with her kids, she had this to say, “When my husband was working out of town, I was responsible for picking up my kids daily within an hour. So, I needed a sure and timely way to get to my kids since I had a little over 6 miles to bike in an hour time frame. Biking allowed me get from work to their schools in a predicable fashion, and my kids loved being on the Surly “big dummy” because they can snack, talk with each other, and see the world around them. I love it because I can depend on my commute and get the exercise I need (sometime more than I want thanks to the hills).”
She has advice for biking with kids in tow, “Don’t be scared; it’s easier than you think. Introduce your kids to bicycling by having them ride with you, with their seats at same level as you. Start with riding in safe area like Golden Gate Park on Sunday; Sunday Streets; and taking them on short trips to store in the neighborhood. Once they are comfortable; go a further distance. You might consider a tag alone so they ride in tandem with you and can (get used to) observing the road. Then, when they are able to ride on their own, begin to teach them road safety before they ride on the road, choose wide neighborhood streets and stop at every stops sign to look both ways.”
San Mateo County : Lori Burns
Lori Burns works for the town of Colma and lives in San Bruno about 6 miles from her work. Lori says her life changed for the better on Thursday, May 13, Bike to Work Day 2010.
Lori describes her transformation: “Four years ago, I was a chubby but active woman, who loved the notion of reducing my carbon footprint, but not too sure how to do it. I decided to “ride my talk” and bike to work that Thursday morning, much like “thousands” of commuters throughout the Bay Area. I got up about 30 minutes earlier than normal, stuffed some business attire into a back pack and cruised to work due north on El Camino Real. There were some parts of the ride that were pretty hairy, but I made it!
While bragging about my feat all day long to my co-workers and complaining about the narrow stretch of road between South San Francisco and the Colma border, a colleague told me about the Bicentennial Trail that runs along the BART line from San Bruno to South San Francisco. With that “insider tip,” I just had to try that route. The Bicentennial Trail got me totally hooked! I began to ride more often, and became more committed to biking to work. So determined I was that I packed a week’s worth of business clothing (shoes and accessories – much like packing for a vacation) and brought my stuff to my office over the weekend, so I could ride daily without wearing wrinkled slacks. Because my clothing was already at my office, I had no choice (other than buying more work clothes) but to ride my bike to work. Slowly, I began to grow stronger, and more importantly, I lost weight! Everyone noticed, but most especially me.
I took a bike-riding trip to Bar Harbor, Maine that summer and rode the carriage roads that President Roosevelt funded and then I turned my husband on to cycling! We began spending weekends exploring bike trails all over the Bay Area. What a wonderful way to fill our time as we try to live a healthy life style – while saving for retirement (bike riding is a pretty inexpensive hobby after all).
Last year, five friends joined my husband and I for the Back Roads Challenge in Sonoma County, which benefited various Sonoma County charities. We road 70 miles from Petaluma to Bolinas and back, 3500 feet elevation change! This year, we are tackling the Cycle for Sight in Yountville to benefit Veteran’s programs. We have chosen the 50-mile course. Wish us luck!”
“Commuting to work on my bicycle helps prepare me for the longer rides, clears my mind and keeps me healthy. Give it a try!”
Lori Burns is a true inspiration and example of how Bike to Work Day can be the transformative pivotal point it’s meant to be.
Santa Clara County : Michele Rowic
Michele Rowic commutes to and from work, to meetings, to the grocery store – all on bike, rain or shine. Michele is a librarian at the San Jose Public Library. Michele’s commitment to cycling extends into her work. This year, she originated the Giro de Libro (Tour of the Book) bike ride in which participants ride their bikes to multiple library branches to learn more about cycling and the San Jose Public Library system. During the ride, cyclists will visit nine different libraries, participating in activities at each site.
Her co-workers may have summed her up best when writing, “She inspires me and all my colleagues at SJPL to live a slower, more sustainable existence. Her commitment to cycling extends into her work”. Another co-worker wrote, “She is one of the most dedicated bike riders I have ever met. She rides her bike to work and back home practically every day, even during the winter when it is quite cold and wet.”
Congratulations, Michele! And thank you for helping to inspire everyone you meet to embrace the bicycle for everyday use!
Solano County : James Oliver
James Oliver has been riding his bike to work for the past eight years. He started riding to stay fit and lost 45 pounds. He had to go to great lengths to adapt his bike for his 70% disability.
Regardless of the weather James rides to work, eight miles round trip, to Vacaville Convalescent & Rehabilitation Center where he is an Occupational Therapist. During the holiday season he decorates his bike with lights and wreath to bring joy to all he sees or sees him.
James enjoys the commuting on the newly completed bike path on Leisure Town Road as he listens to books on tape on his journey. He loves that each day the trip is different depending on what is in bloom or what bird is migrating through the area.
James is co-captain for Relay for Life and goes out on his bike during his lunch seeking donations for this worthy event.
He constantly sets goals for himself and hopes to complete a 500-mile ride along the famous El Camino de Santiago in Spain by age 70.
James has a humble spirit, even though he accomplished a lot during his life.He is honored to receive the 2014 Solano County Bike Commuter of the Year.
Sonoma County : Liz Klaproth
Liz Klaproth is the Sonoma Bike Commuter of the Year. Daily, through rain or shine, she rides her bike from her home on a hill in Sebastopol to her job at Argent Bank in Sonoma. Personifying a Bike to Work aesthetic she is committed to riding her bike in clothes appropriate for a banker.
Her dedication to the environment is one reason why she lives a car-free life, but another reason is the convenience. "I used to live in bigger cities and never had a need for a car. I now live and work in Sebastopol it’s the most convenient way to get around. No point in turning on a car when I can get most places faster on bike."
She inspires her friends who are in awe of her dedication to a life of bicycling. It was a friend that taught her to bike when she was young, "My best friend growing up taught me. It’s the classic story of “promise I won’t let go” followed by her letting go and me immediately crashing into a tree. You pick it up fast after your first wreck I guess. Only one major crash since then. Now I have a pretty nifty happy faced scar on my knee."
The friends that nominated her, have this to say, “I have known this lady for years and she bikes everywhere! 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!”
Congratulations, Liz! Thank you for inspiring all those you come into contact with by using your bike for everyday transportation.