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By Karen Kefauver
May 9, 2013
Link to Sentinel Article

For the past six years, George Janour regularly rides from his home in Santa Cruz to his work in Los Gatos. (Nils Tikkanen/Contributed)Nils Tikkanen, far left, celebrated Bike to Work Day from Santa Cruz to Mountain View on Thursday by riding with a larger than usual group of bicycle commuters over the hill. Tikkanen makes the bike commute twice a week. (Contributed)Next time I feel too lazy to ride my bike around town and am tempted to drive my car instead, I’ll think about Courtney Dimpel, George Janour, Nils Tikkanen and a handful of other Santa Cruz County cyclists whom I consider “super commuters.”

These dedicated cyclists have made a lifestyle choice to climb out of bed, slip into their bike clothes, then tackle the Santa Cruz Mountains on two wheels to get to their jobs in Los Gatos and beyond.

I first heard the term “super commuter” back in the days of the dot-com boom when a record number of commuters were logging two to three hours driving one way to lucrative jobs that were hundreds of miles from their homes. That didn’t sound so super to me.

In honor of National Bike Month (May) and Santa Cruz Bike Week, which wraps up with a final event Saturday, I decided to redefine super commuter in terms of cycling. I spoke to three seasoned Santa Cruz cyclists about the rewards and challenges of long-distance bike commuting. They also shared some tips for less experienced bicycle commuters.

Courtney Dimpel: Aptos to Los Gatos

Courtney Dimpel, 30, is no stranger to early mornings. She is prepared to pedal in the darkness when she leaves home in Aptos to ride two hours (25-30 miles) to her internship at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Gatos.

“I wake up at the crack of dawn, get out my headlights, pack my backpack and head out on my bike. I’m usually on the road by 5:30 a.m. or 6 a.m. It’s really beautiful because it’s so peaceful,” she said.

She commutes by bike about twice a week and catches a ride home occasionally.

“Sometimes I coordinate a ride home,” said Dimpel, an EMT. “It can get pretty action-packed in the emergency room.”

She finds that the peace and quiet of her morning bike ride help her unwind.

“It’s a really nice feeling to watch the sun rise during my bike ride. It’s my Zen time. I love having that alone time. I feel relaxed and not stressed and I’m able to get things done and be productive because I’ve had that healthy outlet.”

Dimpel, who has an extensive background in bike racing, admits it’s not always easy to pedal to work.

“Sometimes it’s hard to motivate to get up and get out the door, but when I do, nine times out of 10, I’m really happy that I did.”

For those new to bike commuting, Dimpel said the “key to success is that you have the right equipment. You want a bike that fits and clothing that’s comfortable. You also have to be prepared if you get a flat tire. Whether your bike commute is 20 minutes or three hours, have the equipment to be safe and comfortable. That way, you’ll reduce the stress and you can really enjoy the ride.”

George Janour: Westside to Los Gatos

For the past six years, George Janour, 44, has said goodbye to his wife and two kids, now ages 8 and 9, and set off on his bicycle from his home on the Westside to his job as a product designer in Los Gatos.

He typically rides his bike to work twice a week and has fashioned the 50-mile round trip bike commute into something he really enjoys. And he has the numbers to prove it.

“I weigh 25 pounds less thanks to cycling, and it feels better. Cycling will do that for you if you stick with it,” he said.

He also has a spread sheet to track the reduction of his carbon footprint that results from cycling instead of driving. He also estimates he saves $400 to $500 a year in gas.

When he first considered commuting over the hill by bike, it didn’t look easy.

“It seemed like such a daunting task,” said Janour, a native of the Czech Republic who grew up in Holland, where daily cycling is part of the culture. “I was not familiar with the route from Santa Cruz. I did all this online research and figured out how to map it out. I was not a seasoned rider. I just figured, why not give it a try? I discovered it’s totally doable.”

For Janour, who currently logs 5,000 to 6,000 miles a year on his bike, the road to work also became the path to meeting more people in the area.

“I met the nicest people through the cycling community and I also started to race with the Bicycle Trip team,” he said. “Gradually, during my commute, I bumped into several regular bike commuters, like Nils Tikkanen. We became really good friends and often commute together, taking different routes. Sometimes we go up Highway 9 through Big Basin, other times we take Zayante Road. I especially like riding to work via Mount Charlie. It’s a beautiful route with few cars. It’s peaceful and one of the oldest roads in the county. Sometimes we take Old San Jose Road. We try to mix it up.”

Janour calculated that it takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes to ride to work. The return trip is 10 minutes shorter.

“Santa Cruz is a great cycling city,” said Janour, who will be moving to Bonny Doon soon (and shortening his bike commute by three miles). It’s very suitable for riding. When you ride your bike, it calms your senses and you are more productive at work. I believe it makes you a better person overall. People worry about cars, but it’s pretty safe. I highly recommend trying bike commuting.”

Nils Tikkanen strikes a pose with his bike in Big Sur for fun. (Contributed)

Nils Tikkanen: Santa Cruz to Mountain View

For Bike to Work Day Thursday, Nils Tikkanen, 31, invited some coworkers to join him in his bike commute from his home in Santa Cruz to his job in Mountain View, where he works at Google as a software engineer.

“I’m leading Google’s Bike to Work ride from Santa Cruz and we’re meeting at the downtown breakfast station,” emailed Tikkanen. “We have seven riders joining me for the 40-mile commute!”

Tikkanen, a member of the Bicycle Trip race team, estimates he rides 200 miles a week and strives to ride at least one way of his commute two times a week.

“It’s the best way to start out the day,” said Tikkanen. “I get to work feeling refreshed, and I often come up with the best ideas when I’m out on my bike.”

What words of wisdom does the UC Santa Cruz grad and veteran road bike racer have for those considering bike commuting?

“Try it! If you’re used to driving, it’s hard to break the habit, but your body and mind will thank you.”

Karen Kefauver (www.karenkefauver.com) is based in Santa Cruz. Her Spin City cycling column appears the second Friday of every month in the Sentinel. Also view her stories on the Sentinel’s Out and About blog at www.santacruzsentinel.com/blogs.

WHAT: Santa Cruz Bike Week
WHEN: 12 p.m. to  4 p.m. May 11, 2013
DETAILS: The Bicycle Trip’s Bike Fest is the final event of Santa Cruz Bike Week. The family event includes giveaways, a 2Hip BMX Stunt Show and more
WHERE: 1001 Soquel Avenue, Santa Cruz
INFO: Celebrating Bicycle Commuting and Community
COST: Free
INFO: 427-2580 or www.bicycletrip.com.


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