Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Few More Pics from the Tour

Trent's Xtracycle fully loaded with guitar, banjo, hatbox, stompbox, washer stick, and some clothes in the front panniers.

Full band and crew riding, including Trent's dad, Howard, on the way to Kalamazoo, MI

Show at Bells Brewery in Kalamazoo, MI.  Still looking good.

Brian with his bass rigged up to his Burley Trailer and on his Lemond Road Bike

Jay on his Surly Long Haul Trucker and pulling his Burley Nomad with the Mandolin and Baritone Guitar on or within.

Oliver loading up his Surly Cross Check after The Ark show in Ann Arbor.  

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Siderail Support for the Burley

With a little help from a roadside neighbor named Jim, we got a nice makeshift splint from scrap boards for Brian's trailer. Tim, our master mechanic was brilliant. Thank you to duct tape and zip ties.
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Mechanical issues outside of Chicago

Whether it was the potholes of Chicago or the accumulation of 10 days hauling his bass and cargo, Brian's Burley flatbed lost a siderail this morning. With some duct tape and a wrench, Tim and Brian are splinting it and we will try to ride on.
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Friday, August 12, 2011

Days Gone By, An Update From Chicago

Riding, playing shows, and blogging about the tour was a little audacious.  We've ridden over 400 miles and things have gone great the whole way.  We made it out of Michigan and into Chicago.  There was even a ride over 100 miles.    There have been so many stories and experiences, but so little blogging at the end of the day (I fell asleep holding onto a lamp the other night). 

Currently we sit in Chicago, resting and preparing for our Piece Brewery show tonight.  Piece is likely the best brewery/pizzeria in the city and we're looking forward to playing the show and enjoying A LOT of pizza.

8/11/11 Yesterday's ride along Lake Michigan was amazing!  We began outside of Chicago in Portage, IN and used a network of trails to wind our way into the city.  We were saved multiple times by a guy named Dick who could tell we were lost and knew the way to the trail.  We've been surprised again and again by the generosity of strangers on past tours and Dick was another incredible example of unexpected kindness.

Tim Schmidt, Trent Wagler, Fred Wolf, Brian Dickel, Jay Lapp, Matt Eich, and Oliver Craven in front of Lake Michigan
 8/9/11 We began our riding towards Chicago from Fennville, MI.  We played a great outdoor concert there with family, friends, and new fans in the making.  The weather has been unbelievable throughout, but Fennville was a real treat.

The Steel Wheels Show in Fennville, MI at Community Park 8/9/11

8/8/11 Our Monday South Haven show was a huge surprise with standing room only and a great show including some musical treats with Howard (Trent's dad) singing with The Steel Wheels.  It was Trent's birthday, so there was a festive spirit in the air.  The Wheels and crew were on the streets before the show drumming up some publicity.  South Haven is one of the most beautiful little towns we've played. 

Trent and Jay playing on the Streets of South Haven before the Foundry Hall show.  Crowds flock to see spandex-clad Americana musicians.

Trent, Howard (Trent's dad), and Jay singing Uncloudy Day at Foundry Hall.

Friday, August 5, 2011

First Big Ride is Done: Ann Arbor to Marshall (78 miles)

We had a great ride today to start off our bike tour. Currently we're sitting at Dark Horse Brewing Co. relaxing and getting ready for our show.

Seven riders are more fun than two. Our entourage started at 650 this morning after a short night of sleep. Our show at the Ark last night was a gift. That place knows how to support music like no one else.

Here's a picture of us and the bikes at Dark Horse. Notice the great case covers by Colorado Case Company. Woohoo!
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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wool? In this Heat? Yes.

This is an actual dialogue between actual people, taken out of context and dressed up with slightly more intelligent language to make it flow and sound quotable:

Trent: So, I'm trying to figure out what all I need for the bike tour, in terms of clothes.

Friend: Probably don't need much with this kind of heat.  Are you a spandex technical cyclist, or a cotton T-shirt old-school, casual kind of guy?

T: I'm thinking of wearing a lot of wool.

F: Wool?  Are you crazy?  In this heat?

T: I'm not wearing a sweater, it's a thin Merino Wool from-

F: Wool!  You guys are going to roast!

So, I realize it might sound a little peculiar if you haven't tried it, but wool is a great year-round fabric for cycling.  I will be taking along as much wool on our August bike tour for two reasons: 1. It wicks and cools equal to synthetics, 2. It doesn't smell as horrible as synthetics.  Check out Ibex or Smartwool if you want to learn all the technicalities, but wool is naturally anti-microbial and one day in the hot sun doesn't provide the same smelly funk as my synthetic jerseys. 

Now, the technical wool you'll find out there that is ultra-thin and wonderful in all temperatures, is NOT cheap.  I've also wondered about its durability over time, because it's so thin.

If you come see a Steel Wheels show on the bike tour, I'll even be sporting my new Ibex "Mechanic Shirt" (pictured below), a button-up shirt made of the funk-preventative wool that doubles as stylish show attire.  That way when I get all excited and sweaty on-stage I can rinse the shirt, hang it to dry and stuff it in my bag until the next show.  Let the music bring the funk, not the shirt.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Lose The Training Wheels Tour Benefit

Every year, Spokesongs has chosen an organization or cause that we believe in and we've made it our goal to raise awareness of that cause through our tour.  In year one we helped kick off the "One Mile Challenge" campaign in Harrisonburg, VA.  Last year we raised money for the blossoming Friendly City Food Coop ( toward their goal of opening a locally grown, community owned grocery store.

This year The Steel Wheels hope to introduce you to an amazing organization called Lose The Training Wheels (  The mission of Lose The Training Wheels™ is to teach individuals with disabilities to ride a conventional two wheel bicycle and become lifelong independent riders. This achievement, in turn, creates a gateway of opportunity, helping them gain assurance and self-reliance in many other aspects of their lives.

There is no other program I can think of that we would love to support.  LTTW sponsors camps all over the country and are empowering kids and their families through cycling.  Using their uniquely designed technology and many dedicated volunteers, Lose The Training Wheels changes lives with every camp and every opportunity.  Please consider giving to this great cause or check out the website to contact them about bringing a camp to your community.   Go here to learn about how you can help:

Please watch this video:

Monday, July 18, 2011

Wysecycles Making a Difference One Pedal At a Time

Here is a great promo video from inspiring bike mechanic/community activist, Ben Wyse, about his one of a kind mobile bike shop in Harrisonburg, VA.  Ben was responsible for helping me convert my bike into a long-tail bike (SEE Xtracycle, Inc.) and is my go to Mechanic for all things BIKE.  Also, listen closely to the background music.  He's got good taste. 


Keep up the good work, Ben.  

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Upright Bass on a Bicycle?!

At almost every show this year we have at least mentioned in passing the fact that we embark on this annual bicycle tour pulling the instruments, merchandise, etc.  By now I'm used to some chuckling to all out laughter when they naturally direct their eyes to me and my huge upright bass.  After the laughter subsides and they realize that I really am going to pull my bass the inevitable question is how?
During the first SpokeSongs tour a couple of years ago the concept intrigued me but all I had at the time was my normal 1954 King bass and a short time frame to work with.  Although not impossible to fashion a trailer for a normal upright bass (it's been done before) it wasn't something I really had time or desire to do. Soon after that tour I added another bass to my collection that changed the way that we looked at the cycling tour and travel in general.  This bass appears normal and plays normal in every way until it's time to pack up after the show and I quickly "take it apart" and it all folds up neatly into the body of the instrument and packs into a flight case.  Although not small or light it is smaller and more compact than my other primary bass I use.  This is the bass I take any time we fly to a show or if space may be at a premium.  Space is never more at a premium than the SpokeSongs tour!  I'm also excited about the new thermal and reflective case covers we recently got from Colorado Case Company to cover up my flight case.  It's going to be sitting in the sun all day and this will certainly help keep temps under control.  (Also note the red Steel Wheels logo stitched into the case!)  This is what it looks like all packed up and ready to go.

Now that I had a slightly more compact and better protected bass the cycling tour seemed like more of a possibility.  Fast forward another year and another SpokeSongs tour was being planned.  I should disclose that at one time in my life I was a hardcore mountain biker and had even raced for a couple years.  I absolutely hated road biking and looked at it as a necessary evil between trails.  Sure I'd watch the cycling races on TV with great interest but it wasn't for me to do.  The problem was is that I didn't have a real road bike and riding on the road for training on my mountain bike really wasn't fun.  Then I got a taste of my first real road bike and as hard as it was for me to admit I actually liked it!  Now with my crazy schedule and family life hopping straight from the house to the road is great and I ride all the time and haven't touched the mountain bike since.  Anyhow, sorry for the side track.  All that to say that the pieces were starting to come together to work out the logistics of bringing the bass on the tour.  Last year I stayed home as my third daughter was born midway through the bike tour.  That was a smart decision to stay home!  This year the schedule is clear and no more kids on the way!
So now I've got the bike, the bass, and the legs are in better shape.  I just needed to add a way to pull the bass.  I scoured the Internet for hours, talked with bike shops, looked into building my own trailer, etc.  You may find it hard to believe but no one makes an upright bass trailer.  This didn't really alarm me since in a past life I grew up in a family excavating business where metal work and mechanics were a part of life.  I figured that I will find a good trailer and modify it from there.  After considering a lot of different options including weight, size, cost (I am a musician after all) I consulted with our friend Alan at Tree Fort Bikes and eventually decided on the Burley Flatbed.  I already owned a Burley for pulling my kids around and liked the hitch and strength to weight ratio of their designs.  I knew it wasn't big enough to fit the bass correctly but felt I could find a solution for it.  I got out my welder and in an afternoon came up with this solution.  
The only other modification I made to the trailer was replacing all the quick couplers with stainless steel grade 8 bolts and hardware which really tightened it up.  I bolted on the new metal frame I made for the bass to sit in and it was ready to go.  I just called Alan again at Tree Fort and ordered a few more items to "pimp my ride".  OK, not so much pimping but mostly things to keep me alive like lights, flags and reflective tape.  I've got water sports dry bags to put clothes, merchandise, food, etc in underneath the bass on the canvas part of the trailer.  That will also help bring the center of gravity back down on the trailer.  The total weight with the bass will probably come in around 75 lbs which is not bad at all and I can easily lift the tongue of the trailer so the balance is great!  I'm anxious to put a in a few longer rides with it fully loaded before the tour starts but I can't wait until August.  I'll leave you all with a picture of the bass strapped on the trailer but no other luggage.  Hope to see you all riding down the road soon!  -- Brian


Taking time off

In June, The Steel Wheels were on the road a lot. In these van travels, we brought our bicycles in hopes of getting into bike tour shape whilst van touring. Unfortunately the schedule provided little time for that to become a reality. That means we've got July to get ready.

See you on the road!
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Monday, May 2, 2011

Ready to ride

Reason #712 I like my xtracycle: I can haul my daughter and her bike to go to an easy part of town to ride bikes together. If she gets tired, we load up the bike and head for home.  The original long-tail bicycle can be found at
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New Promo Pics for August Bike Tour! Photos by Aaron H. Johnston (

   Brian Dickel with bass, Trent Wagler with Xtracycle and guitar, Jay Lapp shocked and awed, Oliver Craven with hair.

This action photo shows Brian's first idea for bass hauling on tour.  It's called the caveman approach.  It has recently been replaced by something called the bike trailer approach.

These custom cycling outfits look limiting for long bike rides, but are amazingly comfortable and breathable with the latest fashion in mind. 

Window provides a slight view of wheels and such from Shenandoah Bicycle Company (best brick and mortar bike shop in Harrisonburg, VA or Shenandoah Valley for that matter)

Michigan 2010 Bike Tour WEMU On Air!

Let me set this one up for you. Trent and Jay just biked 60+ miles on their last day of the 2010 Spokesongs 500 Mile Bike Tour. They needed to get to the Eastern Michigan University radio station to play on air before the show ended. For some reason, Trent and Jay had the idea that if they got there by 2PM they'd be golden. If you look at the video you can see that they just arrived in their full "Tree Fort Bikes" team jersey and shorts, and there's only about 6 or 7 minutes before 2PM-which is when the show ends! So, this is some straight off the bike playing by Trent and Jay.

SpokeSongs 2010 Live on WEMU in MI from The Steel Wheels on Vimeo.

Bike Tour Video Promo for 2010. For 2011 Imagine This x 4!

Here's a short promo video from our friend Joel Landis that was made for the 2010 tour Jay Lapp and Trent Wagler did across Michigan. But you can watch it now and imagine that in 2011 we'll be doing much of the same state, with 4 riders and we're swinging through Chicago on our way to Indiana as well!

Steel Wheel Duo Bike Tour Promo from Joel Landis on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Urbana Bike Project Empowers With Two Wheels

Carl from The Bike Project in Urbana, IL in the Shop
So we played a great music series put on by the Folk and Roots Festival in Urbana, IL. The venue was the Independent Media Center which is committed to independent and free media in all forms. It's an inspiring collection of artists, activists, and dreamers of all kind in a repurposed post office.

After the show, I was talking to Carl who seemed to like the music, because that's what he was talking about, when the topic shifted to cycling. Pretty soon he was walking me downstairs to the Bike Project. Carl was passionate about the empowerment of people through the freedom of movement, specifically by bike. He and a whole host of other like minds created a bike shop that would not only provide affordable bikes, but also lend tools and skills to those who want to learn to fix their own bikes.

Harrisonburg, where I live, has a similar project run out of Our Community Place. Maybe every town should have one!

Brian Dickel, contemplating cycling and the upright bass at The Bike Project

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I'm commited to blog.

Hello blog.

We've seen each other around.  My brother and sister both know you pretty well and we have some other common friends, but it took me awhile to warm up to your charm.  Now, I..I just can't seem to look away.  To webleurize (made-up word alert!) all my thoughts would really be far too much for anyone, so we're limiting it to the various bicycle exploits of our band, The Steel Wheels.

Over the last two years, Trent Wagler and Jay Lapp of The Steel Wheels have done two separate cycling musical tours, biking hundreds of miles and singing hundreds of songs.  We have biked all our instruments, clothes, CDs, food, etc. wherever we're going to play.  It's kind of our "bike to work week", but we're touring musicians.  We've had various adventures over the past two years that I'll try to recall in these early posts.  We're also committed to continue our annual tour every year and we're planning our 3rd annual tour for August 2011 in Michiana (Michigan + Indiana) with our full 4-piece band. 

In the next few months we'll also try to post pictures/video and commentary on the prep to get the full band up on bikes for the tour and some of the insider scoop into our gear and strategy for the trip.

Thanks for your love and support.  Go bike. 

See you 'round, blogosphere.  TW

Photos of 1st SpokeSongs: Virginia 2009 by Aaron H. Johnston
                              Jay warming up before show in Lynchburg, VA in front of Trent's Xtracycle.

                                Trent and Jay pedal towards Staunton, VA September 2009

Last Year's Bike Tour: A Good Place To Start

SpokeSongs Bicycle Tour May 2010 

The Michigan Chapter