Trailnet Champions – Matt LaBerta and Sons
On many Saturday mornings, Matt LaBerta loads his bike trailer with tools, tubes, a pump and his two sons to provide support for Trailnet’s Community rides. Matt has been helping our riders for five years and looks forward to each new ride season.
“The community rides are just fun,” Matt said. “Some of the stops that we make are places that I would have never thought to explore on my own. I bring the kids partly out of necessity, but mostly to expose them to these neat things about St. Louis. It shows them a whole other world and culture. Plus, it’s cool for them to see what I do.”
Matt has used his bicycle for transportation all of his life, often in places where pedaling to get where you need to go is a real challenge. Before his sons were born, Matt spent eight months living in a tent located 14,000 feet above sea level in the mountains of Colorado. He worked as a mechanic at a bike shop 9,000 feet below his campsite. “It took me seven minutes to get to work and forty-five minutes to get home.”
Although Matt prefers using a bike to get around, he does own a car and has been driving for a few years now.
“I took driver’s ed when I was thirty,” he said. “I got engaged and got my driver’s license in the same week. None of my friends were surprised that I had popped the question, but they were really shocked that I had gotten a driver’s license.”
As a bike commuter, Matt feels one of the most important roles Trailnet plays in the community is “getting people together and providing opportunities for cyclists, walkers, and other outdoor enthusiasts.” He added, “The encouragement that Trailnet provides is really important for making St. Louis a safer environment for cyclists. Drivers in St. Louis are finally getting used to having bikes on the road – lots of people ride year-round now, and it makes it better for everyone.”
In spite of these improvements, he also believes Trailnet has a lot of work to do in educating drivers, bicyclists and law enforcement.
“All of the new bike lanes and signage in town are great, but if cyclists and drivers don’t know how to use them safely, it pushes us all farther apart instead of bringing us together,” Matt said. “Cyclists know the laws because a lot of them have learned them the hard way. How to deal with pedestrians and bicycles should be a part of driver’s education and the driving test.”
One specific risk that Matt feels needs urgent attention is the use of cell phones by drivers. “I’ve been in situations where a whole line of cars aren’t paying attention to a traffic signal because they are all texting on their phones,” he said. “It’s really scary. Like a lot of different problems that we face, education and looking out for each other are the keys.”
Matt’s passion for bicycling and bike mechanics began when he was his son’s age. He had a series of bicycles growing up and routinely took the bikes apart, “spreading all of the parts across the driveway.” He got into welding 15 years ago and began creating sculptures, gates, fences, and interior metalwork for residential and commercial clients. His interest in welding meshed with his love of bicycles when he took a frame-building course in Oregon 10 years ago. At his bike shop in Soulard, Matt provides a range of services, including production of hand-built bike frames.
“I start by taking biometric measurements of my client, make a two-dimensional full-scale drawing of the frame, and then cut and file all of the tubing by hand.”
Visiting Laberta and Sons Cycles on a Saturday afternoon is a little like seeing all of those bike parts spread out on his family driveway – frames at various stages of completion, components, accessories, and tools. If visitors are lucky, they’ll also get a chance to talk with Mason and Mylo, the “Sons” of LaBerta and Sons. When asked about how they like working the community rides with their Dad, the boys had ready answers:
Mason “likes going down hills and having donut breaks.” Mylo likes “the Art Museum and helping Dad fix flat tires.” Matt reports that the boys often recognize people from past rides who they have helped and ask them if their bikes are ok.
Community riders will no longer be treated to the sight of the two young LaBertas sharing their Dad’s bike trailer. Now six years old, Mason will be riding his own bike, and Mylo, five, will be traveling solo in the trailer. Mason is looking forward to being on his own bike and “racing all of the people.” Mylo said he “won’t miss Mason because Dad puts toys in the trailer for me.”
Join Matt, Mason and Mylo for these upcoming Community Rides: Tour de Museum on Saturday, June 25th, the Jazz History Ride on July 16, the Prohibition Bike Ride on September 24, and the Open Studios Tour on October 8 and 9.