Paula Dierenfeld and Steve Beckley show off their bicycles.
Paula Dierenfeld and Steve Beckley show off their bicycles.
Does it seem as if more people than you ever imagined like to spend time in spandex? After more than 10,000 bicyclists pedaled through Des Moines on Tuesday as part of RAGBRAI XLI, that impression is understandable.

Biking is the second most popular outdoor recreational activity in the country, according to The Outdoor Foundation, and Iowa is one of the country’s most bicycle-friendly states. So in honor of bicycling, this week we bring you the stories of four bosses who bike.

Steve Beckley

Age: 61
Title: President and founder of Beckley Imports and Beckley Automotive Services
Bike: Gunnar touring bike, made to be light but strong enough to carry packs over distances
Biking style: Distance riding
Biking since: 2007
Benefit: Cardiovascular health and socializing

For more than 30 years, Steve Beckley worked hard and played harder as he was building his European car repair business from scratch into a company that now employs 12 people and services all makes in downtown Des Moines. But by the time he was 50, he almost lost everything he’d worked for.

There had been a perfect storm building: a family history of heart disease, the onset of type 2 diabetes, years of drinking, smoking and overwork, and then a diagnosis of heart disease. 

“A group of friends and family intervened and convinced me that my business was in jeopardy, my health was in jeopardy, and my relationships with family and friends were in jeopardy. All that was going over the edge, so I had to make a choice,” he said. “I was scared into doing what I was supposed to do.”

Not that it was an easy transformation. At first, he worked to stop “doing what was bad for me.” It took him another five years, and a second cardiac episode, to start doing what was good for him. 

In cardiac rehabilitation therapy, “I told these guys in rehab that my goal was to ride RAGBRAI,” he said. A year later, he met that goal and he has ridden in RAGBRAI every year since then except for 2012.  Beckley said he also had to learnthat taking care of his health isn’t bad for business. 

“I still feel guilty leaving work or coming in late to go biking,” he said, “but I have a wife and I have a secretary who support me, and they have a different viewpoint.”

“I’d been in business for 35 years, and up until my early 50s, I had to be involved in everything,” he said. “I was convinced of that. So once I had to step away, all of the sudden I found out how much more capable my people were ... It was just me who was holding them back.”

Paula Dierenfeld

Age: 58
Title: Johnston mayor and attorney with Nyemaster Goode law firm
Bike: Catrike recumbent tricycle
Biking style: Recreational trail riding
Biking since: 2006
Benefit: A way to enjoy Johnston’s recreational trails and spend time with her husband

Paula Dierenfeld is serious about her fitness regimen. She runs six miles many mornings, does strength training at Kosama fitness center and joins her husband, Dave Roederer, for long walks for fitness. Bicycling, she does for fun.

“We do the riding of our bicycles for leisure,” said Dierenfeld, who often can be seen with her husband tooling along Johnston’s trails on their Catrikes, which, strictly speaking are recumbent tricycles. “It’s a nice relaxing way to get out and take a ride through the wooded areas. We do it when we want to spend some leisure time together.”

Dierenfeld said the couple bought the trikes about six or seven years ago. When they began dating, both were avid runners, but after Roederer began to experience back problems, they looked at the recumbent tricycles as another way they could exercise together.

“We got a pair of those and just kind of got into it,” she said. “It was something that we could have fun on and we have really enjoyed them.”

Dierenfeld said although the city of Johnston doesn’t yet have a wellness program for its employees, “I try to lead by example and to encourage everyone to find some form of exercise that works for them.”
To that end, she started a Mayor’s Bike Ride two years ago, which local businesses support. The event is not a fundraiser, just a fun way for residents to get together and ride the city’s trail system. She said participation in the ride tripled from its first to second year.
“We’re pretty proud of the trail system in Johnston,” she said. And with recent emphasis on connecting existing trails in Central Iowa, she said, “we can literally get on our bicycles in Johnston and ride all the way to Gray’s Lake and beyond.”

Trent Middendorf

Title: Executive vice president, Middendorf Insurance Associates
Bike: Mountain bike equipped with road tires for easier pedaling on paved surfaces and a trailer bike attachment
Biking style: Recreational family outings
Benefit: Family recreation

Trent Middendorf and his wife, Sarah, of Clive, got into bicycling as a young couple when they lived in Madison, Wis., which he describes as a “heavy biking community.”

When they decided to move back to Iowa in 2006 and Trent joined his father’s insurance brokerage, “we had two little kids, so biking went into the background,” he said. 

But it didn’t go out of the picture completely. “We’re both in the office all day and biking in the evening is something we enjoy,” he said. But now they ride Clive trails with two little 
ones in tow. Kai, 5, rides the trailer bike with his dad. Daughter 
Fiona, 3, rides in a bicycle buggy pulled behind mom’s bike.

This summer Sarah, a commercial underwriter with Chubb Insurance, is training to ride the bicycle leg of a triathlon, so she gets up early to ride as well.

Middendorf and his father recently attended a luncheon for business leaders who are interested in encouraging bicycling by employees. 
“We went with an open mind,” he said, 
but so far, he hasn’t seen a way to make bike commuting work 
for his own schedule. He needs a car to meet with clients throughout the day, and his office doesn’t have shower facilities, which he would need if he were to ride to and from work.

Mary O’Keefe

Age: 57
Title: Chief marketing officer, Principal Financial Group Inc.
Bike: B-cycle
Biking style: Transportation, exercise
Biking since: 2010
Benefit: A fast and refreshing way to get to meetings downtown.

Mary O’Keefe knows that exercise and wellness are important. She’s not discounting that one bit when she says that she bikes for a very functional reason: It’s the quickest way to get around downtown. 

The chief marketing officer for Principal Financial Group Inc. spends much of her week meeting with various business and community groups, often in downtown Des Moines.
So in 2010, when the B-cycle program came to downtown and a rack of B-cycles was placed right outside her office, O’Keefe was an early adopter. “The benefit to me is that it’s the fastest way to get around.” said O’Keefe. She said she can get almost anywhere she needs to be downtown in about 15 minutes, compared with the half-hour it would take her to get her car out of the garage, drive to the location of her meeting and find a place to park.

O’Keefe’s preferred forms of exercise are riding horses and walking, but as a busy executive, she doesn’t have a lot of extra time for exercise. “I could be in meetings nine hours a day,” she said, “and it’s hard to get up any earlier than 5:30 a.m. ... That‘s where every little bit helps.” 

O’Keefe said she wants to model health at any fitness level. “People see a 57-year-old woman, a little overweight, who doesn’t necessarily excel at fitness,” she said. “I think it’s important to show that you can do a little bit at a time.”

There now are six B-cycle stands around downtown. The bikes come with an attached bicycle lock and have a large basket in which you can stow a purse or briefcase. “There are times I thought I should borrow a little dog,” joked O’Keefe. “Like Toto.”