Whenever I hear about musicians taking to the road by bicycle, it’s usually guys or gals with small stringed instruments. The Ditty Bops nationwide tour with the ukelele and mandolin come to mind.
Then along comes Mr. B and the Joy Box Express. Boogie woogie piano player Mark Braun and his ensemble travel around their home state of Michigan on a specially built three-man bicycle that hauls a 350-pound piano.
Have you ever tried to move an upright piano? I have, it ain’t easy to roll out the door and onto a truck. I can’t imagine pedaling one.
After putting 800-some miles on the bicycle rig to raise money for charitable organizations that improve children’s lives through the arts and athletics, Mr. B and the Joy Box Express is biking from the headwaters of the Mississippi River to New Orleans next year.
That’s a 1,900-mile bicycle tour with a piano. They’re scheduled to leave on Sept. 1 and expect it will take about 90 days; that’s 21 miles a day.
A group of cyclists left Michigan a couple of weeks ago to scout out the route and find places where Mr. B’s Joy Box Express can perform along the way.
Braun said the rig is about 16 feet long, and if you add the weight of the gear and the riders it weighs about 1,200 pounds. The rig is built like a pedicab with connections at the rear where two other cyclists (a guitar player and drummer) can attach the front forks of their bikes. The bassist rides his own bicycle with his bass in tow.
This must be one very fit band.
Interviewed recently in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette,
“One time we had it going 38 mph going downhill,” he says excitedly, then adds, “That’s too fast.
“It’s tempting,” he continues, “because whenever you get a big downhill, you just want to take it for all it’s worth, because it’s so hard going uphill. But we’re going to try to watch that.”
Mr. B’s Joy Box Express has made three trips across the state to perform in dozens of communities to raise money for youth sports and arts programs. In addition to raising money for the local groups, and band’s presence in town helps draw attention to the charities’ missions.