Q&A with Kipchoge Spencer
Prospector: Who is going on this next tour?
Kipchoge Spencer: A band of eight, in our 20s and 30s, half women are going on this world tour. Last tour we started with 15 and fluctuated between 7 and 19; 7-8 now seems optimal.
Pros: Why are you doing this?
KS: The world has car trouble. It’s simultaneously beset with the imminent, immense threat of climate change, an ever-growing population striving to own more of the same automobiles that cause it, wars raging to control the cars’ fuel supply, cities choked by gridlock and bad air, sprawling auto-centric suburbs that isolate us from our would-be communities, and streets so religiously dedicated to motor vehicles that alternatives are perceived as unsafe if not insane; meanwhile the 5 billion people who can’t afford a car often have no viable means of participating in a transport-centric economy. And the brightest hope we’re offered are hybrid autos that feed the same sprawl, cause the same congestion, use nearly as much of the same fuel on the same roads, and cost more.
Music and bicycles-universal symbols of human openness and connection, elements of our common humanity, and paragons of low-tech sustainability-become vehicles for seeing the world at human speed.
Pros: Why by bicycle and not some other method of transportation?
KS: Sharing music, seeing the world, and meeting new humans, like any other tour. But also: adventure; and pursuing a lifestyle that reflects our values and vision about how we want the world to be. Also central: intended to promote and spread utilitarian and transportation cycling.
One of the primary aims of our tours is to show people around the world that (a) it IS possible to carry most everything you need on your bike for short or even long distances, and (b) that doing so is “cool” and to be encouraged and celebrated, not just something you do because you can’t afford the alternative, but because you choose to.
Unlike conventional bicycle tourists, who ostensibly show that wealthy people do ride bikes, too, and that you can carry stuff on bikes, the Pleasant Revolution tours show “wealthy” people working and living by bicycle, not just traveling. And more importantly, the association with music and American rock-and-roll shows bicycles in a light that is unknown in most of the world-as symbols of pride and freedom, similar to their heavier 4-wheeled counterparts.
This effort, too, saw tangible results. After reading about the Ginger Ninjas in the newspaper, the office of the Mayor of Guadalajara (at 4 million residents, Mexico’s second largest city) invited the Pleasant Revolution team on a bike ride with the Mayor to discuss cycling and transportation.
On the ride, I spoke to the attentive mayor about other Latin American cities with favorable bicycle policies and infrastructure. I also invited several of Guadalaja’s own well-informed bicycle advocates, leaders of groups who had been trying unsuccessfully to meet with the conservative Mayor since his inauguration, then introduced the Mayor to these advocates and left them to talk for the majority of the ride.
Three months later, on the tour’s northward trek home, the Pleasant Revolution again stopped in Guadalajara. An official from the Mayor’s office came to a concert specifically to tell the band that he thought their visit had had a marked impact on the city’s and the mayor’s transportation planning and views. He cited the energy behind the American and rock and roll aspects of the tour as making impressions on local decision makers. The ride and subsequent encounter were captured by Morkin, and will likely be part of the forthcoming film.
Pros: What is your tour schedule?
KS: Our current tour schedule is online at http://www.pleasantrevolution.net/2008/07/26/on-the-road-againon-the-road-again. We’ll first visit the Democratic National Convention (Denver, CO), and then the Republican National Convention (St. Paul, MN). After that we’ll cycle around the East Coast and Florida through September and October, then leave the country for Mexico, Central America, South America, and Europe.
Pros: You just returned from Mexico. Tell us something about that tour.
KS: 5000 miles one-way, mostly by bike (we took the mexican bus most of the way home), left North San Juan November 1, down the California coast, down Baja, across to the mainland on ferry, through the heart of Mexico to Chiapas, southern-most state and arrived in destination Palenque April 11 (see the whole route schedule and gigs played by scrolling down the calendar and clicking “previous page” here http://www.pleasantrevolution.net/2008/07/26/on-the-road-again/.
Pros: Why Mexico?
KS: Mexico hasn’t yet made a lot of the bad development decisions we have that we’re now paying 10x as much to live with or undo. Wanted to assist Mexico on track to skip the sprawl, leapfrogging the U.S.-style transportation model and going straight to smart development. We also wanted to show Mexicans that there’s a different kind of working class, thoughtful, peace-loving American than what they see on Baywatch, CNN, or on their beaches vacationing.
Pros: How does your group afford such tours?
KS: Small grants, lucrative US tours, playing shows throughout places we visit, fund raising shows like this one tonight, and passing the hat – in Mexico it was in plazas and city governments.
Pros: I imagine it’s hard to pack everything on your bike, but is that what you do?
KS: Yes, several bands have toured before by bicycle, with support from a car, van, truck, etc. We wanted to try doing it with no automobile. For the environmental side, but also just for the liberated self sufficiency. Our bikes weigh between 120 and 200 pounds loaded. We go slow, averaging about 5 mph, but slowness is part of the message and experiment.
Pros: What is special about the bikes you ride?
KS: We ride Xtracycle load carrying sport utility bikes (www.xtracycle.com). Designed to ride like regular bikes but carry loads really well, including kids and adult passengers. This is a company I co-founded 10 years ago that was headquartered up in North San Juan for most of its life until I resigned to go on this tour and become a full time bicycling musician. Now the company is in the Bay Area.
Pros: What music will you play at tonight’s good bye/fundraising concert?
KS: Mind shaking love groove folkfunk roots rock explosive international pedal powered mountain music for a pleasant revolution.
Pros: Will you return to Nevada County, then, in March 1010?
KS: We don’t plan that far ahead. As far as we can see now, we’ll be in South America this coming winter/spring, then Eurasia for seven months or so, then who knows.
Pros: Tell us more about yourself.
KS: I’m 35, single, did consider North San Juan home for past 10 years, but now consider myself to be a nomad. I was named after Kipchoge Keino, a famous Kenyan runner. The vision is to live an evolving adventure, pushing personal limits, exploring cultural boundaries, trying all the while to align my lifestyle choices with how I want the world to be. It’s an exercise in walking the talk; in no way are we saints in this regard; it’s just a process of hypocrisy and exploration on the path to the best living we can muster.
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