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.”
(Note: In an effort to better educate drivers about sharing the road with cyclists and pedestrians, Trailnet has produced a Driver’s Guide to Active Transportation. Read about its development here.)
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.
Trailnet Champion Harold Karabell
For ten years, Harold Karabell has led bicycle tours that highlight St. Louis’ unique neighborhoods and interesting inhabitants, both living and deceased. Riders on his tours have pedaled their way through Calvary and Bellefontaine cemeteries, LaSalle Park and Soulard, Old North and “North of Old North” (Hyde Park, College Hill, and O’Fallon Park), exploring the history and architecture of these fascinating parts of St. Louis. He recently led Trailnet’s Literary Tour, winding through the Central West End, Academy, and Fountain Park neighborhoods, regaling riders with the life stories of local writers such as Tennessee Williams, T.S. Eliot, and Kate Chopin while reading selections from their works. Of all of the tours that he leads, Harold lists the cemetery and literary tours as the most popular, though he himself plays no favorites.
“People seem truly fascinated by well-known authors and tombstones,” Harold says.
Harold is also a dedicated bike commuter, using his bicycle as his principal mode of transportation, a lifestyle that he concedes is a relatively new phenomenon.
“Forty-five years ago, I didn’t know a single adult bicycle commuter,” Harold says. “You would see children on bikes using them for fun and recreation, but seeing an adult bike commuter was even more unusual than dining with a vegan. My wife and I used our bikes much of the time when we became parents and were able to serve as a model of alternative transportation for the next generation. Now bikes are accepted as a legitimate and even preferred form of transportation for increasing numbers of people. We’re not marginal any longer, we’re almost mainstream.”
Harold believes that this shift came about in part because of people’s concerns about our energy dependence and related environmental issues, such as global warming.
“It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by some of the big environmental problems that we face. Riding a bicycle is the single most important thing that an individual can do to make a real contribution and feel good about yourself.”
A long-time resident of the Central West End, Harold feels fortunate to live in a “self-sufficient and sustainable neighborhood.” He describes St. Louis City as “a bike commuter’s paradise – it’s very easy for an educated cyclist to get anywhere they need to go in the city.”
Harold also sees Trailnet as an important agent for change in transportation habits.
“As the pre-eminent bicycle enthusiasm organization in the region, Trailnet builds a constituency of bicyclists and pedestrians and helps move alternative forms of transportation from the margins to the mainstream,” he says.
Going forward, Harold believes Trailnet’s most important focus should be education.
“One can learn, as I have, to ride safely and successfully anywhere in the absence of separate infrastructure, simply by taking one’s place on the road as part of the normal flow of traffic,” Harold said. “Nonetheless, we’re seeing more and better infrastructure each year. The best local example is the City’s protected bike lane on Chestnut Street, a considerable step forward compared to St. Louis’ older door-zone bike lanes. But even the best-designed infrastructure contains not-so-obvious dangers and won’t automatically prevent conflicts between bicyclists and other users of the road. Cyclists need to educate ourselves not to run red lights, not to ride in the door zone, not to be victims of the ‘right hook’ at an intersection, not to be nighttime ninjas, and not to ignore the risks inherent in riding even in state-of-the-art separate facilities.”
Whether commuters or recreational riders, people have many reasons for riding a bike – they might do so to lose weight, to save money at the gas pump, or to do their part for the environment. Harold agrees with his long-time friend Paul McFarlane from the former St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation (which became part of Trailnet in 2011), who sums it up this way: “The bicycle is the answer to every question.”
For Harold, the most important motivation for riding a bicycle is that it’s simply the most pleasurable way to travel.
“If it weren’t just joyful to get on a bike, most of us wouldn’t do it in the first place,” he says. “Being on a bike opens up the sights and sounds of the city in a way that no other vehicle can. Not being confined inside a car allows you to see your neighborhood in a new and exciting way, to hear the birds, to discover that very large part of the world that remains unknown and unknowable when speeding along in a car.”
In that spirit, Harold says, “Nothing makes me happier than to be on my bike heading toward a dinner date with a good veggie burger. Forty-five years ago, who would have imagined that such a thing would be possible for so many of us on an everyday basis?”
Tweed Ride – first cultural tour of 2015
Forty tweed-clad bicyclists rode through the neighborhoods surrounding Tower Grove Park on Saturday morning, enjoying spring blooms and several of the architectural gems that grace the area.
Michael Allen of the Preservation Research Office led the tour, which included McDonald Park, the Carpenter Branch Library, Pope Pius V Catholic Church, Roosevelt High School and the headquarters of the National Organization of Garden Clubs. At each stop, Michael presented the fascinating history and architectural significance of the site.
The tour wound its way through Tower Grove Park, visiting the Christopher Columbus statue (one of few examples in the world of the explorer sporting a beard), and the stone ruins salvaged from the Lindell Hotel that sit at the edge of the park’s central pond.
The ride ended at The London Tea Room, where many members of the group enjoyed Afternoon Tea and lunch (don’t miss their tomato soup and croissants).
Many thanks to LaBerta and Sons Cycles for providing eco-SAG support, to Michael Allen for choosing our destinations and sharing his seemingly limitless knowledge of the area, and to Mark Axe and Peter Wollenberg for the great photographs. Trailnet thanks The London Tea Room not only for providing delicious food and a variety of fancy teas to riders, but also for donating part of the proceeds from their sales to Trailnet.
Join us for our next Cultural Tour, The Art of Riding, on Saturday, May 2, and remember – May is National Bike Month!
New for 2015: Season Pass for Trailnet members only!
Enjoy all of our BFC Rides* and Cultural Tours for one low price – only $220 for the season. No waiting in line, no need to register for individual events. For a supplement of $35 you can also be eligible for recognition as a Century Club Member.
Not a Trailnet Member? Click here to join so that you can take advantage of this great deal.
Register for the season pass here. Following checkout you will be automatically preregistered in all of the BFC Rides* and Cultural Tours. When you arrive at an event, just proceed to the Preregistered table to receive your map and wristband.**
|Included BFC Rides
||Included Cultural Tours
|Bottom Out Bicycle Ride
|| Tweed Ride
|Poker Flats Campfire (ride only)
||The Art of Riding
|Strawberry Festival and Berry Bike Ride
||Tour de Museum
|Great Pizza Bicycle Ride
|| People, Public Space and Progress
|Route 66 Bicycle Ride
|| Jazz History Bike Tour
|Bridge Birthday Bash
|| Prohibition in St. Louis Bicycle Tour
|Big Bottle Bicycle Ride
||LGBTQ* History Tour
|I Scream for Ice Cream
||Open Studios Tour
|Farrhadtour und Augustfest
|Bike St. Louis City Tour
|Fat Tire Campfire at Klondike
|Giro della Montagna
|Ride the Rivers Century
*Lucky’s Ride and the camping portion of Poker Flats are not included.
** Wristbands are issued for all BFC Rides.