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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