For the month of April I’m touring up the East Coast, playing shows in every city from Richmond to Boston. But I’ve made a different kind of decision about my manner of travel… instead of taking the train, renting a tour van or borrowing a car, I’m going to be traveling on human power. That is… I’m traveling from Richmond to Boston on my bike.
The first thing I said to myself once the decision was made (after are you crazy?) was: how?
I am not simply a traveling minstrel. I am a professional musician, with equipment and merchandise. I can’t just pick up and go, or play a spontaneous show. I have amps, cords, pedals, boxes, t-shirts, cds and posters… not to mention all of the personal gear needed to sustain me for a month. How was I going to fit all of that stuff onto a bicycle?
After a month of research about panniers, trailers, touring bikes, etc., I came across a small company in California that makes extra-sized bicycles for exactly this predicament: Xtracycle. I have found photos of cyclists carrying surfboards, tires, and even other bikes on Xtracycle’s cargo cycles. So I got myself a Radish.
The Radish is one of the few out-of-the-box cargo bikes that Xtracycle sells (mostly people buy the kit, which extend the back of any given bike). I was lucky enough to test ride a diverse selection of cargo bikes at a sweet little bike shop in Carrboro, North Carolina called Cycle9, which is one of the few bike shops on the East Coast that stocks these kinds of cargo bikes. The good folks at Cycle9 put a helmet on me and let me ride one of their Radishes all over town, which I promptly fell in love with (check out my review of the Radish).
So with all of the cargo space in my Xtracycle Radish – and after investing in a smaller guitar and amp – the question was answered. I can fit everything I need on a bike.
But the question still stands: why go to all of this work? Why not just drive a car like any other rational American would?
It would be easy for me to spout off a guilt-based justification about how quickly our society is killing the Earth, and how each of us is individually contributing a great deal to that destruction by owning and over-using personal vehicles. And it would be true. I do feel guilty and hypocritical about simultaneously mourning the destruction of the natural world and contributing to it.
But the deeper reason why I am riding my bike the 600 miles to Boston: I find driving, for all of it’s convenience, to be spiritually deadening.
So let’s turn the question on it’s head… why, when I could be actively using my body, engaging with the land and the environment around me, viscerally feeling the miles go by underneath me, and genuinely living would I isolate myself in a sound-proof, wind-proof, experience-proof chamber?
Why in the world would anyone do that?
Thus it is out of my love for this world, my love for my body, my love for experiential living that has led me to make the decision to bike.
Not out of hatred for what we’re doing to our planet, but out of love for the feeling of wind on my skin, the feeling of having my instincts engage when I’m lost or in danger, the feeling of being alive.
So, my smart answer for why I’m biking to Boston?
Because it’s faster than walking.
- To come to one of the shows or to join me for a leg of the journey, check out my itinerary!
- To provide support for my trip, take a gander at the expenses and donation page.
- Read my review of the Xtracycle Radish.
- For more photos of me and my Radish, click here
- Visit the Xtracycle website and Cycle9 website
I recently made the decision to do my tour this Spring on bicycle, for reasons that I’ve explained in this post. I thought it might be nice to write a quick review of what I’ve noticed of the bike just in my preliminary riding around town. I’m sure I’ll have much more to say once I’ve ridden it 600 miles up the East Coast.
The first thing that struck me about Xtracycle’s Radish is the amount of stuff that it can hold. With two giant panniers beside the extended rear wheel, the Radish can hold more than four times what I would carry on the back of a normal bike. I say more than four times because all of the straps are adjustable, and the bags are essentially open flaps instead of restrictive bags, so I can have as wide a load as I want.
The Radish can hold 200 lbs of cargo in the back, which is perfect… it means that I can fit all of the stuff I need, but that the bike isn’t so heavy duty that I can’t lift and maneuver it when it’s empty.
It would be a real pain if I couldn’t lift it up the stairs to bring it into my house every night while I’m living in the city. That said, it is not light, even when it’s empty. I take a deep breath every time I’m going to pick it up.
…but it’s light enough to be playful. One major concern that I had about getting a longer bike than normal is that I like to jump curbs, skid to my stops, weave in and out of cones, and all of the other fun stuff that I did on a bike as a kid. Why ride a bike if you’re not going to enjoy it? To my relief, the Radish isn’t too heavy to do these kinds of playful stunts. Even though I do feel the extra length and weight, the Radish isn’t so bulky or heavy that I refrain from being a little adventurous.
While my initial concern was that 8 gears wouldn’t be enough for me (I don’t often need to pedal when going downhill, and 1st gear is amazingly easy, even with a load), it’s getting the gears to line up with the shifter that I have been having trouble with. From my first ride on the bike I noticed that the shifter would occasionally skip a gear and after spending hours with the bike upside down adjusting the shifter and even more hours riding the bike around and fiddling with the awkwardly-placed adjuster on the handlebars, I can say that I am slightly baffled. I love the bike enough that it doesn’t destroy my experience of it when I try to shift into fifth and it surprises me by shifting 2 minutes later, when I’m about to go up a hill. But it sure would be nice if I could get that fixed… and it is somewhat ridiculous that it came with that major of a problem out of the box.
I love my Radish so I wipe it down every evening after a day of riding, but those who are not quite so attentive might get frustrated with the way that dirt stands out on the milky white frame or with the way that the chain hangs down to leave grease on a white crossbar underneath it.
The disc brakes on the back wheel of the Radish are great… they help me to feel totally comfortable in most situations, knowing that I could stop on a dime even with wet brakes. The brakes rubbed badly for the first few weeks of riding, and when I looked online it seems like that is perfectly normal. It has corrected itself, more or less.
I should also say that I’m not a serious biker. I test-rode a few touring bikes and they simply felt uncomfortable and certainly couldn’t hold the amount of stuff that I am needing to take on the road. Some may call me crazy for taking a bike as casual as the Radish on a trip this serious, but the trip is more meditative than it is goal-focused. I have plenty of time in between cities and will not be rushing or racing.
When I was researching for this trip I looked all over for stores that carried Xtracycle gear so that I could test it out. I mostly got cockeyed looks when I walked into bike stores in Richmond, VA and asked for an Xtracycle… but I lucked out to find Cycle9.
Cycle9 is a little bike shop in Carrboro, NC which specializes in cargo and electric bikes. They were super friendly and helpful when I peppered them with ignorant questions about the basics of cargo biking and touring… and best of all, they didn’t treat me with the insider snobbishness that I often encounter in bike shops! Cycle9 is the bike shop for the everyday user who may not know much about bikes but wants to live more responsibly and freely in a world where it is increasingly possible to opt-out of the destruction and everyday frustration caused by our culture of individual car ownership.
Mike Morrell, ie “Zoecarnate” found the Friend Speaks My Mind music video on Martin Kelley’s Quakerquaker.org. See what Mike had to say about the video:
Haverford College just released a blog entry about Quakers’ historical relationship with music in which Jon Watts is featured! See the full article:
I was unaware of a YouTube video that recently went “viral” – at least in proportion to Quaker numbers – until friends referred me to it. The video shows 2006 QLSP graduate Jon Watts rising in the silence of worship in the Barn at Pendle Hill. His vocal ministry turns into a “rap” about Quaker history and theology, focusing on the diversity of views among Friends and his own upbringing in Friends General Conference.
Reposted from the 2009 Friends Center Newsletter
I am not adept at most of the modern social networking devices. No Blackberry or cell phone, even. At the insistence of Friends Center staff and students, there is a Facebook account with my name attached – for purposes of getting the word out on campus ministry programs. But I don’t know how to operate it.
Continue reading “Max Carter on Jon Watts’ Video”
Three months ago I traveled to the Sierra Friends Center in California to take a break from the spotlight… I had been traveling in the ministry and performing all over Philadelphia Yearly Meeting for two months. It was my intention to get some rest and do some discernment about my next steps, including some experimentation with internet outreach.
Continue reading ““Dance Party” Reflections – Two Months Later”
QQQQandA is a great resource: a blog made up of answers to questions sent to FGC’s Quaker Information Center. Recently they received a question inspired by my music video, “Dance Party Erupts During Quaker Meeting for Worship”:
Please explain — what is the deal about Quakers and music? Is it true that music is considered sinful? Why? If music is bad, how do you explain the video “Dance Party Erupts at Quaker Meeting for Worship”?
I recommend that you check out Joan Broadfield’s response.
Six days ago I released this music video, which has been shared widely among Friends.
Some of the lyrics have provoked dialogue, specifically about the relationship between modern Quakerism and Christianity. Here are a few of my own thoughts…
Let’s start with:
“I’m not a Christian
but I’m a Quaker
I’ve got Christ’s Inner Light
But he’s not my savior.”
If you visited my website seeking an anti-Christian Quaker manifesto, you were probably disappointed. After a Guilford College education and a year living in community with all types of spiritual seekers at Pendle Hill, I am decidedly “Christian-curious” and have no illusions about the roots of my religion.
Continue reading “Bringing our Quaker family into dialogue”
The Quaker Youtube video sensation, Dance Party Erupts During Quaker Meeting for Worship.
TODAY I AM RELEASING MY FIRST EVER MUSIC VIDEO!
Sorry for the “all-caps,” but I have to express my excitement. This has been a long time in the making and I only get to release my first music video once!
Plus… it is really good! I promise. We filmed it in April at Pendle Hill with many familiar resident faces. The concept of the shoot was “Meeting for Worship turns dance party” and it came out so well! …thanks to filmmaker Ben Schilling, his helper Allie and all those who graciously came to worship, dance and be filmed.
So, without further ado… watch this!
Continue reading “Dance Party Erupts During Quaker Meeting for Worship”
A week ago I got this email from a Meeting in Pennsylvania who had some questions about the song “Friend Speaks My Mind” after I performed for them this past April. Their questions were not uncommon, and so I took the time to respond carefully and in depth and am re-posting the response here. Hope it is helpful.
Continue reading ““Friend Speaks My Mind” Study Guide”
Photos by Natasha Smith
At the end of his final year at Guilford College, Jon Watts was awarded the Clarence and Lily Pickett grant and needed a photo for their website. Blammo! His first photo shoot ever. Called up some friends and made a nice afternoon of it. Thanks to Sidney Martin, Fedelma Mckenna, Colin Boussiere-Nichols and Liz Maillie. Photos by Dana Putney.