08 July 2010

Mike and the Bike Meet Lucille the Wheel

Michael Ward, Lance Armstrong and Phil Liggett Inspire Children (and their Parents) to Ride
“It’s time to hit the road and have some fun
two-wheeled action is better than one
riding on the bike is a rocking good deal
When Mike and the Bike Meet Lucille the Wheel”

It’s not just professional cyclists like Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer and David Zabriskie who tap out a rhythm with each pedal stroke as they take formation in the peloton and soar up hors de category climbs: professional musician and author of Mike and the Bike children’s books does the same as he rides west of his Los Angeles home, seeking both musical and literary inspiration.

By all accounts, he’s found it. Motivated by a different kind of “roadie” (in this case, a sound tech) on tour with his band the Wallflowers, Ward first began riding his mountain bike in 1991 all over town, quickly making the switch to a road bike for longer journeys and the mountain passes that beckoned. Ward was soon taking his bike with him everywhere on tour, enabling him to see large portions of the U.S. as well as Australia, Europe, and Japan from the vantage of a bicycle seats. Ward credits cycling for sparking much of his musical creativity: in direct contradiction to the stereotypical partying stoner musician, Ward observes (of both himself and comrades in the industry), “When you’re exercising, no matter what you do--hiking, biking, running, the gym, whatever--[we’re] uniformly better musicians for it.”

It was on one of his favorite solo rides in the mountains outside LA, shortly after his son Tennessee was born, that inspiration for Mike and the Bike struck. “Often, I would get a song idea, pull out a cell phone and sing the idea into my voice mail--wind noise, bouncing over roads and all,” Ward recounts. Three key ideas occurred almost simultaneously:

1. He should write a children’s book about cycling

2. His name rhymed with “bike”

3. With personal friends like Lance Armstrong, Phil Liggett and Davis Phinney, he could assemble a top-notch team to make this a great project.

Ward first met Lance Armstrong in Austin, Texas in 1996 while on tour with the Wallflowers, as Lance was emerging from his battle with cancer. (Ward also had the pleasure of introducing Armstrong to his fellow headline performer Sheryl Crow that evening, although they wouldn’t become romantically involved until much later.) The Wallflowers were subsequently invited to perform at a new fundraising event in Austin for the Livestrong Foundation named “Ride for the Roses;” from that point onward, a strong friendship (and California riding parter) emerged.

Mike and The Bike book and CD is an adventurous tale about a boy, his bike, and their travels in and around the fictitious small mountain town of Colberg (translation: “cole”= hill; “berg”= hill”), a “bike-riding heaven” located “far and away from big skyscraper buildings and traffic delay.” With contributions by Lance Armstrong and narration by Phil Liggett, widely regarded as the pre-eminent “voice of cycling,” Ward brought together a who’s who in the cycling world to craft a well-written story and share the joy, passion and enthusiasm for bikes that both children and parents can relate to. However, the celebrity voice he is proudest to have included on the CD is his son Tennessee; you can hear his musical accompaniment on the recording (sing-along optional).

Following up on the success of , released in 2005, Mike’s found a new friend and savvy mechanic to join him on his cycling adventures. In the newly-released Mike and the Bike Meet Lucille the Wheel, the authors made an intentional choice to cast a strong female protagonist who could not only match Mike pedal for pedal stroke up the climbs, but fix his flat while he stands by in admiration. “It was a conscious decision to declare the race a tie,” Ward states. “But the bigger message is to get kids excited to go out and ride their bikes—and hopefully for parents to do it with them.”

Recalling childhood days when he and his friends would set out for day-long adventures on their bikes and not return until moms across the neighborhood rang the dinner bells, he simultaneously acknowledges present-day safety concerns have parents a bit more cautious. That sense of freedom? “It’s something that we can’t let slip away as time change, “Ward says. “Look at the Dutch--everyone’s on bikes. When you go to Holland, bikes must outnumber cars 10 to 1...It would be great if we could plant the seed, and get a couple parents to go out and ride with their kids more.”

Diagnosed as a Type-1 diabetic 5 years ago, just as “Mike and the Bike” was being published, Ward’s perceptions on exercise, good health and staying active receive daily reinforcement. “I am consistently motivated to spread the message of health and fitness and taking care of your body. Especially Type 2 diabetes with kids is real concern of epidemic proportion, all around the world—if we can keep them healthy and active and eating right and being outdoors we stand a lot better chance of overcoming something like that.” Involved with fundraising events such as the American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure and and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Ward is optimistic: “[we can] raise awareness and get kids active and defeat this thing. And I think it’s possible....I think a cure is within reach.”

Practicing what he preaches, Ward rides regularly with his son Tennessee. About this time last year, they did a metric century (62 miles) together, one week prior to his 10th birthday--an event Ward describes as “a huge accomplishment.” “It’s a magical thing. It’s been the greatest father-son bonding experience, riding with my boy.” He encourages all parents to partake in this family-friendly activity and get out and ride with their kids--”and if you already do it, chapeau to you, as the French would say.”

One thing he never leaves home without? His “Mike and the Bike” team kit (in his affable and self-deprecating style, Ward fully acknowledges his choice of dress as “a silly bike racer, bibshorts all the way” and desire to match the bike liken him to a “ testosterone-laden version of ‘Sex and the City’”) and his Giro helmet. “Helmets have literally saved my skull more than once,” Ward recounts. Partnering up with Giro to now offer children’s Mike and the Bike and Lucille the Wheel helmets, helping keep kids safe? “It was a very proud moment to be able to do something like that.”

Order your copy of Mike and the Bike and/or Mike and the Bike Meet Lucille the Wheel with BicyclingHub.com today and start inspiring the next generation of cyclists in prose and song. For interactive games, music samples and an interactive race against Lance in the 2010 Tour de France, visit mikeandthebike.com .

ATTENTION! BicyclingHub.com has received one autographed copy of Mike and the Bike and Mike and the Bike Meet Lucille the Wheel for a special online auction to benefit the American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure. To cast your bid on this cycling keepsake and join in the fight to end diabetes, go to http://cgi.ebay.com/Mike-and-Bike-meet-Lucille-Wheel-Autographed-/160453992668?cmd=ViewItem&pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item255bcda0dc TODAY!

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