Music in the Mountains

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By: Adam Perry

As I set my Long Haul Trucker down at a Ride the Rockies aid station this spring atop Ute Pass, approximately 9,500 feet above sea level in central Colorado, a scruffy young man in an all-black kit still wearing his helmet and cleats eagerly waddled over to me.

“Dude, were you playing freakin’ Motörhead on that climb?”

“Hell yeah,” I replied.

“That’s awesome!” he said and hurried over to the growing port-a-potty line next to the complimentary water-and-snacks setup.

In Breckenridge the previous weekend, I’d chatted with two mechanics from Campus Cycles (poised to follow Ride the Rockies) about the growing phenomenon of cyclists bringing Bluetooth speakers along for bike tours, a habit some people love and some hate, and one of them suggested blaring Motörhead’s “Overkill” near the end of the 418-mile tour.

“You should play that on Ute Pass and see what happens,” he said.

Waiting that long, around 400 miles and six days into the ride, was my only issue with his request. After trudging over an extensive stretch of dirt road between Winter Park and the Blue River, the 2,000 riders participating in the 32nd-annual Ride the Rockies ascended Ute Pass with an epic view of the snow-capped Gore Range the only reward; all three-and-a-half miles of the climb, I finally unleashed all the Motörhead on my little SanDisk Clip Sport Plus mp3 player.

“Wait, stay with me! I need that music,” one rider said and smiled as I passed him on a switchback. I eased my pace and stuck with him for a little “Built for Speed” before moving on.  

It was an ear-opening week tuning in to the sound of my surroundings, from red-winged blackbirds and frogs to white-haired guys in their 60’s pedaling by on $6,000 bikes blasting Selena Gomez on little handle-bar-mounted Bluetooth speakers. I consciously kept my Outdoor Tech Buckshot speaker off between several Ride the Rockies aid stations to notice what music riders around me chose.

In the 45-degree cold between Breckenridge and Copper Mountain that began the tour’s first day, a tall rider who looked to be in his late 30’s surprised me by rocking Django Reinhart and Louis Armstrong. As the mellifluous 80-year-old jazz soared off his bike and into the cold mountain air, a much older woman riding in front of him turned around and said, “I’m lovin’ those tunes.”

“As a flatlander, music was very welcome on the climbs,” one Ride the Rockies participant commented after the tour. Another said, “I love it; it lifts my spirit and I wish there were more [cyclist DJ’s] out there.”

But not everyone is pleased by music, let alone music of a stranger’s choice, spontaneously filling the otherwise idyllic silence during an internationally renowned six-day group ride that costs a minimum of $495 per rider. “I’m always cool if someone wants to bring the Bike Party alone,” one rider said, while another complained, “It just comes across as noise pollution.”

One man explained he prefers “the sounds of breathing, cranks, tires and a tailwind” but doesn’t mind hearing music on organized bike tours.  

Personally, when the music suddenly appeared that I found loathsome, such as Styx or Dave Matthews, it didn’t affect me. I simply let the rider pass by or sped up to get the hell away. Several times, however, I biked toward sweet sounds, such as on a gorgeous descent into Steamboat Springs on the 81-mile second day of Ride the Rockies, when the view of mountains, magpies, and horses were juxtaposed with some guy’s decision to pump silky Lionel Richie and Toni Braxton as he coasted around Routt County.

It was good to feel similar love for my musical choices, too. While climbing from Copper Mountain to the 11,300-feet-high summit of Fremont Pass on the first day, my mp3 player shuffled to Franz Ferdinand’s raging version of the LCD Soundsystem classic “All of My Friends.” after hovering near me for a good while, the guy pedalling behind me finally spoke: “It feels like I should be paying you for these tunes.”

Ironically, later in the day as the weather turned very hot and we crossed the Eagle River, I played LCD Soundsystem’s own version of “All of My Friends” and a woman most likely in her late 50’s, struggling somewhat on the climb, politely asked me to pass her. It was the only time during my three Ride the Rockies I’ve heard someone openly voice displeasure with another rider’s music.

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Setting off from the aid station directly following the exchange with the woman who was clearly not an LCD Soundsystem fan, I broke the silence in a group of riders by putting on Paul Simon’s immortal afro-pop song “Obvious Child,” a tender and surreal track that can make you want to dance and also bring you to tears.

A few bars in, a middle-aged guy in sunglasses on a fancy carbon bike turned to some friends riding with him, nodded toward me (and/or the Paul Simon) and said, “I’m following this guy. That’s some inspiration right there.”

Numerous times along the six-day ride through the awe-inspiring (and often steep) Colorado Rockies, while playing everything from the Clash’s “Street Parade” to the Gorillaz hit “Clint Eastwood,” riders outright begged me to keep pace with them to grab some mojo from my music.

Most surprising was that the music I generally listen to while alone on a challenging ride – say, up the brutal Super Flagstaff climb in Boulder – got the least response. Playing the super-charged speed-metal of Metallica’s “Blackened” garnered not a head-turn, not a compliment or a gripe – nothing…well, except my own legs gaining some much-needed adrenaline as I grinded my way up Rabbit Ear Pass on day four.

In the end, according to Ride the Rockies director Deirdre Moynihan, music pouring from riders’ Bluetooth speakers is controversial but “I prefer that to having them with earbuds in their ears.”

 “I think it really depends on what type of music,” Moynihan told me. “Some music can be very intrusive, and when people are riding they get in their own zones, so music can be jarring to them. I think it is important for the cyclist with the Bluetooth speaker to be respectful of others that may not want to listen to their music…[or] just ride faster and get past them until you find someone that has the same taste in music!”

I certainly don’t have the same taste in music as Tom Dea and Andre van Hall, who have heroically completed Ride the Rockies on a red-and-white Cannondale tandem the last two years, pummeling the magnificent Colorado passes with ‘70s and ‘80s rock (Bob Seger, Guns ‘n’ Roses, etc.) from a big speaker.

          Andre is blind – it’s hard to miss him walking around the aid stations with his cane – and Tom, who naturally rides up front, is something of a burly, hilarious saint. I love riding close to the duo on climbs when possible, soaking up their music and camaraderie, and asking the very vocal big guy how he’s feeling.

“Like a piece of raw meat, Adam,” he joked at one point as we grinded up Ute Pass in the June afternoon heat of Ride the Rockies’ final day this spring. “Pulverize me,” Dea deadpanned as he and van Hall pedaled mightily and van Hall, in the rear, scrolled through the music on his phone, which read the artists, albums, and songs aloud.

“On a tandem, it is nice to have music – that way Andre doesn’t hear my lungs getting ready to burst on the climbs,” Dea said. “Hope our music didn’t offend anyone. If’n it did then it must have been on the days that Andre got to choose the music.”

Any music those two heroes played was fine with me and inspirational.

However, it turns out what I played was not fine with everyone. On a Ride the Rockies message board a few days after the tour, someone lamented, “Bluetooth speakers should be banned. Not everyone shares the same musical tastes as these self-appointed DJ’s. The dude playing thrash metal all the way up Rabbit Ears Pass at 7:30 a.m.” – me – “was especially annoying.”

Different strokes, I guess. My favorite comment on the message board was from a woman who replied, “Hey guy-that-was-playing-metal-music, come ride with us next time on the climbs! Maybe we can hit 5mph!”

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