Ginger Baker Was a Bicycle Racer

So the story as I first heard it went something like this: In 1967 the Brit blues-rock gods Cream (Jack Bruce, bass/vocals; Ginger Baker, drums; Eric Clapton, guitar/vocals) had arrived in Manhattan for a string of gigs. They were scheduled to hit the studio in a few weeks to record their second album. During sound checks, Baker and Clapton were chatting about a shared interest --- cycling.

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Bassist and his cyclist buds.

Clapton had just acquired a new bike (possibly one of the string of Cinelli Supercorsas he’s owned over the years) and was anxious for Baker to see it. A roadie (the kind that schleps sound equipment) overheard their conversation and asked if the new bike had “those disraeli gears.” Baker and Clapton thought the malapropism so funny that they used it for the title of the new album.

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Disraeli Gears, ATCO Records, 1967.

Clapton was (and apparently remains) an avid recreational road rider. Baker’s interest in cycling initially went somewhat deeper. While in his early teens, he became fascinated with the careers of Fausto Coppi, Gino Bartali, and England’s own Brian Robinson. Baker decided to become a professional cyclist, so he simultaneously worked a paper route, a baker’s delivery route, and a milk delivery route to earn enough money for a decent road-racing bike. Just as he was set to break the news to his parents that he was leaving school to try his hand against the French amateurs, a collision with a taxi destroyed his bike and broke his leg. While rehabbing, to kill time he toyed with various musical instruments including a guitar. But when a knowledgeable friend heard him screwing around on a drum kit and told him he sounded really good, there was an abrupt shift in plans.

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Clapton and classic Italian bling.

I became aware of this pair of anecdotes at about the time my son was cozying up to guitars and the blues and the British blues-rock scene of the sixties and seventies. The cycling connection served as additional provenance—in my son’s eyes, anyway—of the legitimacy of my own cycling interests. For that I am grateful. But it also got me wondering about other musical cyclists, and cycling musicians, of which there have been a few, including, but not limited to:

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David Byrne, bike rack designer, bicycle activist, and sometime artist.

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Frank Zappa, virtuoso velopercussionist, with Steve Allen, apprentice.

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The Chairman of the Board, pictured here training for a critérium des porteurs.

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Roy and Dale (Trigger DNS due to doping suspension).

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Australian superstar (you’ll just have to take my word for it) Kylie Minogue. Admit it, we’ve all rocked some pretty dubious kit at one time or another.

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Another famous cycling drummer.

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Harry and Shari Belafonte. Fathers should always strive to pass their interests on to their offspring.

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Does Miley qualify as a musician?

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Dean and Joey, who prefer the stability of three wheels. And what’s up with those grips on her ride? Kind of an S&M-looking deal . . .

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Kraftwerk. Wikipedia: ‘According to The Observer, "no other band since the Beatles has given so much to pop culture."’ I freaking kid you not.

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Does J-Lo qualify as a musician?

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The leadout train gets organized for Sir Paul.

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A stagiaire signing autographs before the depart.

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Venerable rouleur Victor Borge, the Jens Voigt of the piano.

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The Violet Crown Sports Association
P. O. Box 6815
Austin, TX 78762