It took a kit of gear and a sense of adventure. But this past fall musician Ben Weaver completely changed the way he organized a record tour.
He left his band’s van at home. A bike loaded with bags and a rack, including a custom setup sewn to fit a banjo, served as transport on a 1,400-mile trip from Minneapolis to New Orleans.
With the shift in transportation came a new approach on where to play — schools, farms, a bike shop, and other untraditional venues were scheduled instead of bars. “I realized recently that playing a dive bar show in Cleveland for drunk people wasn’t the best use of anyone’s time,” he said.
The bike tour was planned to launch Weaver’s eighth album, “I Would Rather Be A Buffalo” (Hymie’s Records). Over the past two years he’d traveled by bike to play gigs, including on short tours. But at 25 days long the trip to New Orleans was a new level.
He followed the Mississippi River. His audience skewed younger and vastly more sober than any before, including a Catholic Worker Farm and a book shop. He played a gig at Aldo Leopold Middle School in Iowa.
The tour changed Weaver on a few fronts. The perpetual motion and adventure of a bike trip was a needed break from the grind of life. The energy he got from new audiences, Weaver said, was reaffirming of his craft.
He had a few epiphanies on gear as well. “Just bring less stuff,” he said. “Bike touring requires very little — some food, your bike tools, raingear, and the clothes on your back.”
To that extent, he packed only two sets of clothing the whole trip, including a jersey and bike shorts from the brand Search And State. He washed the clothes each night in a sink at a motel or a farmhouse where they’d arranged to stay.
Banjo Brothers, a Minneapolis company, sponsored Weaver by outfitting his bike. The company made a “franken bag” by converting one of its panniers into a waterproof Banjo hauler with a custom cover.
A guitar graced the other side of his bike rack, letting Weaver pick an instrument of choice for solo shows. A dry bag stuffed with clothing and small items was on top.
His bike, a Vaya model from Salsa Cycles, had the requisite attachment points for fenders and racks. It’s a road bike that can handle gravel and pavement, taking tires up to 42mm wide and made with a stable frame geometry for control during long days in the saddle.
He brought a kit of tools for repairs. His foul-weather gear came from O2 Rainwear, a company that donated waterproof-breathable jacket and pants that together weigh just a few ounces.
Fancy equipment aside, I asked Weaver about his most important gear for the grind of the road: “Bungee cords, hands down,” he said. “Carrying a banjo and a guitar on a bike is not easy, but if you cinch it all tight enough on the rack they will stay in place.”