Greater Morristown mourns cyclist, killed in accident

The late Richard Klapman. Photo courtesy of the Morris Area Freewheelers.
The late Richard Klapman. Photo courtesy of the Morris Area Freewheelers.

Morristown said goodbye on Tuesday to Richard Klapman, whose fatal bike accident has stunned the local cycling community.

Klapman died Saturday at Morristown Medical Center from injuries sustained on Aug. 18, 2014, when he struck the pavement on West Main Street in the Brookside section of Mendham Township. He was 60.

The late Richard Klapman. Photo courtesy of the Morris Area Freewheelers.
The late Richard Klapman. Photo courtesy of the Morris Area Freewheelers.

It’s unclear whether his bicycle hit a pothole, or was swerving to avoid one, when he went over, said Jim Hunt, president of the Morris Area Freewheelers.

UPDATE: Police say cyclist tried to avoid hitting “mini-manhole.”

“It was rare and tragic. This is the first fatality we’ve ever had, at least in my 20 years” with the bike club, said Hunt, who described members as “heartbroken.”

Mourners packed Tuesday’s funeral service at Temple B’nai Or in Morristown, where Klapman was remembered as a quiet, thoughtful member of the congregation and an active participant in its men’s club.

“We’re still in shock and disbelief, how somebody can be so healthy, doing what he loves… This is incomprehensible,” said Rabbi Donald Rossoff.

A devoted husband and doting grandfather, Klapman also was ever-helpful at the temple, the rabbi said.

“Whenever there was something that needed to be done, he did it without asking, without fanfare or need for recognition,” Rabbi Rossoff said, adding that Klapman also served as treasurer for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.  He moved to Morristown from Basking Ridge a decade ago, according to his obituary.

Klapman retired in January after 40 years at AT&T, and cycling was a fairly new pursuit that he looked forward to enjoying in his golden years, the rabbi said.

“Everyone is extraordinarily sad. Richard was very well liked. We’re all shocked and sad. It’s hard to find words,” Hunt, of the Freewheelers, said after Tuesday’s service.

“He was tremendously energetic, enthusiastic and friendly, a really kind guy. Whenever he led a ride, he was always talking with people, and engaging with people.”

“We’re still in shock and disbelief.” — Rabbi Donald Rossoff

The accident occurred on a Monday morning, about 10 miles into a moderately paced 30-mile ride that Klapman was leading from Loantaka Brook Reservation in Morris Township, said Hunt, who was not on that ride but spoke with cyclists afterward.

Klapman was near the bottom of a hill, somewhere in the middle of a half-dozen riders, Hunt said. No other bicycles or vehicles were involved in the crash. Beyond that, he said, accounts vary on what happened.

Although Klapman wore a helmet, he fell sideways and landed on his face, sustaining a concussion, Hunt said. The Mendham Township police and First Aid Squad responded quickly, he noted.

“Every road in north Jersey has something that is a challenge for cyclists. Potholes on some roads need to be fixed and paved. This particular road was not one of the worst that we ride on,” said Hunt, whose club organizes 1,400 rides annually for more than 700 members, ranging in age from 18 to 89.

The club has emphasized biking safety since its founding more than 30 years ago, he said.

To honor Klapman, the Freewheelers have donated to the Crohn’s foundation and future rides will be preceded by a moment of silence, Hunt said.

According to his obituary, Klapman is survived by his wife, Gay (née Schwartz); their daughter, Elizabeth Levy and her husband, Jesse; a granddaughter, Alexandra; parents Bernard and Gertrude Klapman; a brother, Arthur Klapman; and a sister, Phyllis Levin. Shiva will be at the family home on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 pm. Donations to are welcome.