I love my classic Nishiki road bike. I know, it’s kind of a Bay Area hipster cliché, but what can I say? I enjoy riding and I try to bike as much as I can – to work, for fun, whatever. So I was excited to hear about the new 10-day, 200-mile bike tour that the bands Rupa and the April Fishes and Shake Your Peace have planned.
But when I meet up with the musicians behind the fully bike-powered Bay Rising Tour, I have to say I was a little surprised. There are no sleek road bikes or spandex apparel – on first glance it doesn’t look like a veteran cycling crew at all. It does, however, look like a band: there are a lot of musical instruments. I spot two guitars, a ukulele, some type of drum, and…a cello! Today is a test run, starting from the Mission district going all the way across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. And it seems to be as much about learning how to load everything as it is about the actual ride.
Rupa Marya, the bandleader for the April Fishes, admits that there is a lot to learn about the actual packing process. She’s strapping her guitar onto her cargo bike for the first time. “I don’t want to be biking up a hill and losing my pedals, or instruments, or underwear for that matter, which is sitting precariously on top of my bike,” she says.
Although this tour is completely in the Bay Area, it’s still ten days on the road and they’ll average about 20 miles per day, hauling all their gear. Even as a decently experienced cyclist, this sounds ambitious to me – especially for a band that has never done this before.
“The last four years, we’ve been used to touring on buses and trains and planes and boats,” says Marya. “We’re used to getting on to something and being passive and then getting off and playing a show. And our shows are really physically exhausting and so now it’s gonna be more physically exhausting.”
That's because they're carrying everything – literally everything: an entire sound system, a drum set, percussion set ups, four guitars, a Cuban tres, a saxophone, a trumpet, a fiddle, and more. And it will all be transported on bike trailers, Xtra-cycle long bikes, and on riders’ backs. They’ve had to get creative with their packing.
If there's an expert here, it's Gabe Dominguez, lead singer of Shake Your Peace. “I used my Xtra-cycle long bike to haul a normal wheel-based bike, so like a normal street cruiser here today.” With Dominguez’ bike setup, the ride adds up to 11 people and 12 bikes. After all the equipment is loaded, we are ready to start.
On April 19, the bands will depart, in similar fashion from San Francisco. They'll be performing in some non-traditional places, including a Bike Party in San Jose, a Sustainable Living Center in Oakland, an Ohlone ceremony in Glen Cove (near Vallejo), and on their final and maybe their most ambitious day, “we’ll wake up in the morning and bike to San Quentin Prison and we’ll be playing for the inmates,” says Marya. But that’s not all. That same day, they’ll “get on a ferry and come back to San Francisco, hopefully on time, and bike to the Independent and play a show there,” says Marya. “And then we’ll take a really long hot bath, in a giant bathtub!”
Back on our test run, the most exhilarating point is reaching the Golden Gate Bridge. Most of the musicians are seeing it for the first time from a bike rather than a car. I ask Marya how it’s going. “It’s going rad! It’s so beautiful, we’re a little circus on wheels,” she yells.
As we roll past the tourists in Sausalito, it really does feel a bit like a circus. There’s nearly a dozen of us, sometimes spread out over a quarter mile of road, large and awkward instruments are strapped all over the bikes – we definitely turn some heads. But for Marya and her band, going outside their comfort zone is a big part of what they actually enjoy about touring.
“We did a tour along the U.S.-Mexico border that inspired a lot of music for me and the band,” recounts Marya. “I was like, ‘Hey guys, want to get in a van and go back and forth over the border and interview people and gather sound?’ ‘Hell yeah, let’s try that.’”
Earlier this year, the band traveled to Greece and played in a social center in Athens. Then they went to India to perform in the slums of Omnibad. So it’s really not a surprise that their latest endeavor would involve playing for kids, prisoners, and participating in a Native American ceremony all in the same week.
“All the different types of places you play and how you play – how you do it, how you roll – end up creating your ideas around art. And your life is integral to the art form, and the art form is not just the performance – it’s everything between the performances,” Marya explains.
When we roll into the docks at the ferry terminal in Sausalito, I realize that this tour is more than just testing the limits of what a band can do, or finding a more environmentally friendly way to travel. It's about how the uncertainty of the journey itself is part of the purpose. And as the April Fishes know, the only way to really learn that is to experience the ride.
The Bay Rising Tour kicks off on April 19 from the Mission District in San Francisco. For a complete listing of the tour dates, visit Rupa and the April Fishes official website.