Musician Ben Sollee and Band Touring by Bike: Cadence

Guest blogger and musician Ben Sollee is contributing a series of articles from the road about his Ditch the Van tour. He's traveling by bike, unsupported, throughout New England.

Day 5: Newburyport, NH to Portsmouth, NH (28 miles)

I came to cycling as a musician. Most of my riding techniques and even repair knowledge have been interpreted through my experience as an instrumentalist. I relate chain tension to the strings on my cello. I relate safe group riding to chamber music. But, the concept of cadence in cycling explicitly references one of the foundational principals in music: pace.

During the long stretch of Highway 1A on our ride today we fell into a group rhythm. Working in ensemble, we became a train that was smoother, faster, and less efforted than previous ride days. We did not accomplish this by setting a goal speed or counting pedal RPMs. It was just a matter of finding our cadence.

Now, when I get my cadence and start shifting those gears around it I feel like I’m playing an instrument. More specifically, I find myself listening. Of course, there’s the sound of my bike and traffic and so on. But, in my mind’s ear, I hear fiddle tunes. Maybe it’s a tune that my grandfather taught me or maybe it’s something from one of my
favorite fiddlers Rayna Gellert or Bruce Molsky. Point is, it’s not a specific melody or tune, but rather the dancing-lilt of a good old-time fiddle (or cello).

Everyone has their own cadence that can change with their hydration level, quality of sleep or, especially in this case, their riding weight. To find it, you have to be attentive to your body and the terrain. For me, having some type of measure, like a fiddle tune, helps me resonate with my ideal pace, which keeps me healthy as a rider and usually
results in a pleasant ride.

Follow the whole series here.

Musician Ben Sollee and Band Touring by Bike: Cadence
Ben Sollee can't help but think of biking in musical terms.

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