Along for the ride

The bicycle-powered Pleasant Revolution rock ’n’ roll tour pedals through Sacramento

Kipchoge and the Ginger Ninjas bring their show to Sacramento on November 5.

Kipchoge and the Ginger Ninjas bring their show to Sacramento on November 5.

Photo By Mike Hill

E. coli update

The bicycle lifestyle was something I was forced to endure for two years when I found myself unable to keep up with my car payments and the repo-man stepped in. I mixed public transportation with bicycling and discovered that my employment opportunities were limited because there wasn’t enough time in the day to bike where the bus didn’t go. Thank goodness those years are behind me.

Now, I cruise around in my comfortable Buick, impervious to weather and small animals that go bump in the night, occasionally pawning a piece of jewelry to pay for another 10 gallons of gas (I’m not kidding) because I commute more than 50 miles every weekday for work as a data processor in Chico, Calif.

Bicycling is only for kids and athletes and people who can’t afford a car, right?

That’s what I used to think until the rock band Kipchoge and the Ginger Ninjas challenged my perceptions.

I volunteer part-time as a radio disc jockey and producer at KRBS-LP 107.1 FM in Oroville, near Chico. In September, fellow disc jockey (and Ninjas bassist) Jesse Louis asked me to produce a radio series based on the Ginger Ninjas’ upcoming Pleasant Revolution Tour.

The tour kicked-off last week in Nevada City, Calif. and will reach Palenque, Mexico, sometime early next year—and every single participant will be riding a bicycle. Kipchoge and the Ginger Ninjas, along with Gabe Dominguez of Shake Your Peace!, will roll through Sacramento on November 5, then perform at the Delta of Venus in Davis on November 6, then head to the Bay Area. Shows are slated at organic farms and other venues along the way, and many others will pop up organically.I jumped at the chance to produce the series. Musicians who promote the use of bicycles in our everyday lives and play sustainable rock ’n’ roll would make for an intriguing series. I could edit the shows in my spare time without leaving the comfort of my living room. But then I started to wonder: Should I practice what I would be preaching?

Like many folks, my lifestyle has afforded me the luxury of good food and personal gas-powered transportation. I’ll find myself halfway to the store to pick up a few groceries before I realize that I could have bicycled the mile. Never mind the price of gas: I can work harder to make more money to buy more gas to drive to work to make more money to buy more gas. I thought of the lyrics from a Ninjas’ song: “Do I care enough about peace / to admit I’m addicted / to my automobile / my own two little / axles of evil?”

I called Jesse back and told him I was thinking about joining the tour and producing the show on the road. Never mind that I’m 10 years older, 40 pounds heavier and six-ways from Sunday less cool than these environmental hipsters. Never mind that I would have to quit my day job, sell my car and put aside the panic that I will have a heart attack and die while trying to bicycle out of the driveway.

I turned to the experts for advice. Holly and Brian Gillespie, owners of a bike shop in Paradise, Calif., spent their honeymoon bicycling 15,000 miles from Reno, Nev. to the southernmost tip of South America. A few years later, they toured the world and became the first pair to bike across Siberia in the middle of winter.

“It’ll be very painful the first couple of weeks and I don’t envy you there,” advised Holly. When she saw the stricken look on my face she added, “But [by] about week three, oh my goodness, everything just starts working well on your body and with the trip.”

So, it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility.

Under the guise of collecting interviews for the series, I invited myself to dinner at the Ginger Ninjas’ headquarters. I needed to find out if these guys were for real. I cornered the Ginger Ninjas’ frontman, Kipchoge, in the kitchen while the band cooked a vegetarian dinner for the residents of the communal property.

After college, Kipchoge worked at an environmental think tank in Colorado called Rocky Mountain Institute, where he learned about using the marketplace to address environmental and social problems. He decided he wanted to start a business.

“That would be my way of doing some social change,” he said.

He partnered up with Ross Evans to form Xtracycle, which has a conversion kit that allows a low-slung load of up to 200 pounds to be carried by a regular bike. There is no support car following the tour and the band members are hauling everything on Xtracycles.

“It was hard to find a business that was a net positive to the world,” Kipchoge said. “The fundamental basis of what we do is trying to change the world in a small way. And the bike really fit into that vision.”

Kipchoge was enthusiastic about the tour and about working with Dominquez of Shake Your Peace! who, he said, has pushed the envelope in human-powered sound by creating the Soul Cycle Mobile Sound System, which is powered by audience members on bicycles and allows musicians the freedom to set up anywhere, anytime.

“Suddenly, you’re not dependant on venues,” Kipchoge said. “We could make an instant concert because it’s real easy to deploy and set up on our bikes. If we get hassled, we can move to another place easily, and that’s a real exciting element of the tour.”

My friend Jesse was the latest addition to the band. “When I heard about this tour I thought, ‘How can I adjust everything in my life to go on this tour?’ I’m not exactly interested in being your everyday run-of-the-mill rock star, but I could definitely be a bicycle rock star.”

Eco Lopez, singer-guitarist for the Ginger Ninjas, said one of her main interests in the tour is the opportunity to interact with children.

“I like the idea of arriving in a town and connecting with the schools and the kids, sharing the music and showing them the bikes and getting it into their minds that they could grab a bike from where they live and go anywhere in the world,” she said.

After Sacramento and San Francisco, we will be cruising down the coast into Baja and beyond.

Yes, I said “we.”

I’ll admit I was scared to give up all of the material possessions I’d earned in the last decade, but when the opportunity to be the change I wanted to see in the world came along, I realized it was time to rock and roll.