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The Väsen Bicycle Tours

An interview with whom many consider the best band on the planet.

Olov Johansson and Mikael Martin are not only two of the finest musicians on the planet, they're also two of the funniest people I know. And wouldn't you know it, they're also avid cyclists and are embarking on their fifth tour by bicycle. I emailed Olov a bunch of questions to get an idea of what it was all about, and my very first one was, "What gave you the idea to do a bike tour?" They're answer surprised me, as it emanated from an artist that we have had at our concert series, and whose I knew to also be an avid outdoorsman.

Olov: "Well, we did three bike tours about 10 years ago, and picked it up again last year. The idea to do the first tour with Väsen came from Mikael, who met an American cello player, Ben Sollee, who was stranded in Sweden because of the volcano in Iceland cancelling all flights. Ben did bicycle tours in the U.S. and Micke thought we should try it, so we did!"

CS: I guess routing a tour would be tough, as the distances are so long between gigs. Could it even work easily in the U.S., especially in a place like New England?

Olov: "It’s a challenge to book a bicycle tour because you need a routing where you can play almost every night and it needs to be in bicycle range. This coming summer the shortest bike rides will be 20 km and the longest 60 km. Here in Uppland where we are touring this summer there are lots of small towns, churches etc where we can play. I think you need to do the tour in an area there is lots of people living, where there are roads, venues and audience. I wouldn’t try to do it in the north of Sweden for ex."

CS: Any specific timing issues, in terms of the show days and getting ready?

Olov: "We plan it so we will arrive at least a few hours before the show so there is time to recover and gain new energy for the concert. We also make sure we can have dinner before the show when we arrive to keep the energy levels up."

CS: How about packing for the trips...any special racks or things?

Olov: "I have packs on both sides and on both wheels. Then I have made a support for nyckelharpas just behind the seat. I can fit two nyckelharpas there. Mikael also have 4 packs but also have a one wheel trailer for a small amp and his two instruments. I’m not sure about the weight but I’m guessing it’s around 20 -30 kg."

CS: I know of a couple of bands that did tours through Vermont, and the distances long and the hills tough. They did use E-bikes to make the pedaling a little easier. Do you?

Olov: "No we are using our legs only for powering our bikes."

CS: Wow! That's a lot of work. Any special route planning when you put it all together?

Olov: "Yes, the tour planning is very critical for having a nice experience on the road. We try to look for venues within max 40 km distance but can do longer if there is a good reason for it. Maybe shorter trips the days before and after. A really nice venue etc. We also need to plan so there is places to eat and we need accommodation along the route as well. We stay with presenters, in hotels, B/Bs etc. It’s usually really nice to go a short bike trip after the gig at night. Usually no wind, all the nice smells from forests, flowers, lakes etc come out in those situations."

CS: I'm already jealous. Except if there are big hills at night...any of those?

Olov: "Here in Uppland there aren’t any big hills. The challenge can be the big open fields and the wind going in the wrong direction."

CS: Do you get the chance to meet people along the way that you wouldn't;t if traveling by car?

Olov: "Yes, there is a certain amount of meeting people who are curious about what we are up to with instruments and all gear."

CS: In that case, there have top be some good stories....

Olov: "Last year it was really hot a few days during the bicycle tour. We had time so we stopped at a public beach in Morgongåva to cool off in the water. There were also two small boys in the water throwing mud at each other and other people as well. Their mother yelled at them with no result. Micke got up from the water and put on his bicycle clothes and got ready to get out on the roads again. Suddenly on of the boys came and asked Micke – Who are you?

-I’m Santa Claus! Micke answered. The boy dropped his chin and looked like he just met Santa Claus. – Have you been a good boy? Micke asked. – Yes, yes the boy nodded. – I think you should listen a bit more to your mother, Micke said. - Bye, now we have to go to the north pole.

-Wait a minute, Santa goes by Reindeer, not by bike, the boy said.

-Summertime I go by bike, hope to see you next Christmas."

CS: Thanks and have a great tour!!

I think it's equally important to know musicians off the stage, and when we do concerts, I always offer up a next-morning hike if musicians wish. Many do, as their legs get tired from all the driving. But one thing I've found out is that the best of the best are creative in so many ways, and see humor in all sorts of things. Here's a screenshot of a video that Mikael put together for this latest tour:

And a shot of their soundcheck with us, putting together all the gear they have to tour with by bike. Not a great shot, but you realize how much is involved:

And finally, you'll need to see just what the magic on stage is.


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