While biking from Black Mountain to Greensboro, four-piece string band The Steel Wheels stopped in Lincolnton Thursday while on their way to perform a concert in Charlotte that night.
The temporary Americana-style band has been riding between 60 and 85 miles a day since before Aug. 23 as part of their 4th Annual SpokeSongs Bicycle Music Tour, which benefits the Alzheimer’s Association, a band press release said.
This year’s ride spans 400 miles and includes eight shows across nine days, upright bass player Brian Dickel said.
The members not only ride long hours but also tow all their instruments and musical equipment. In past years, the group has ridden to raise money for nonprofits and other cycling-related organizations including “Lose the Training Wheels” — now called “iCan Shine” — which teaches special-needs children how to ride bikes without training wheels, tenor and banjo player Trent Wagler said.
Additional nonprofits have included Charity Ride for Kids and Wheels Up for Cory.
The Virginia-based group, who said they all knew of each other “in one way or another” before forming The Steel Wheels around eight years ago, chose to donate this year’s funds to the Alzheimer’s Association
in honor of Wagler’s grandfather who died from the disease in January.
“There’s always some sort of charitable giving with this tour,” Wagler said.
Because the band is such a spectacle to see on the streets during their annual tour, they like to direct the attention and focus of off them and onto organizations based on helping others.
In addition to hilly terrain, squelching temperatures and close encounters with vehicles, the band has endured many obstacles along the way, including flat tires on two consecutive days for one of the
members, they said.
Dickel considered the first leg of the tour, the ride from Black Mountain (through Lawndale) to North Wilkesboro to be the most physically intense.
“We didn’t have much civilization the first few days,” he said. “It was a brute.”
The men have stopped each night to sleep and refresh themselves at various hotels, much nicer locations than in past years.
Dickel remembered spending some nights of the tour in tents on people’s front porches in addition to an empty warehouse, where he said a noisy compressor woke him up.
Two additional friends of the band, who jokingly referred to themselves as “groupies,” have also been riding on this year’s tour, including Michigan native Matt Eich.
“It’s really hard,” he said.
As a result, the men resort to keeping the ride positive and upbeat.
“We just joke around all day,” Eich said. “It’s never boring.”
Somehow the friends find just enough energy to put on lively entertainment each night for local fans.
The band’s favorite part of playing concerts is connecting with the audience, giving them an entire night of music.
“The experience of sharing music — how it’s being responded to — the give and take of the audience,” Wagler said.
According to the group’s website, thesteelwheels.com, the members often “cluster” around one microphone, singing four-part harmony.
The Steel Wheels’ most popular album, Red Wing, rested on the Americana Music Association’s Top 40 chart for more than a dozen weeks, leveling out at spot 15, the website said.
The album additionally found its way into the top 10 for the Euro-Americana Chart. The group also boasts five award nominations from the 2010 Independent Music Awards.
Lincolnton resident and group fan Jim Putnam, also a Charlotte business owner, bought the band lunch Thursday afternoon during a quick stop at the Arby’s in Lincolnton.
Putnam, who described himself as a huge supporter of local arts, said he always attends local Steel Wheels shows and promotes them to whomever he can.
Additional band members include Erick Brubaker on fiddle and Jay Lapp on mandolin.
For more information on the group or their bike tour, visit thesteelwheels.com.