Drum Biker: Greg HumPosted: September 18, 2013
There is a good chance you have seen or heard Greg Hum riding by somewhere around Boston. If you are a cyclist in Boston, there is also a good chance that you’ve gone on a ride Greg had a hand in creating. In 2009, Greg had an idea to cycle the route of the Boston Marathon at midnight before the race with a group of friends. Fast forward to 2013 and the Midnight Marathon ride has become an institution and tradition: this year the MBTA ran an exclusive Commuter Rail train from South Station to the start line in Hopkinton. Earlier this year, Greg was part of the group that brought Boston Bike Party to life. Next Tuesday, September 24, Boston Bike Party’s monthly installment – this month’s theme is “Back to School” – will roll again from Dewey Square at 7:30pm. Greg and I caught up for a little Q&A about drum biking, using guardrails as instruments, and Oreo cookies, among other things.
So far, what was your all time favorite reaction to your drum biking?
One time I was drumming on my bike through Downtown Crossing when a group of maybe ten teenagers broke out into dance as they crossed the street in front of me, so I stopped biking and kept drumming for what turned into a two-minute long spontaneous sidewalk dance party. The other great moment was when a driver next to me at a red light started honking his car horn to the rhythm of my drumming, and I mean honking to off-beats and honking his own drum rolls. It was obvious this guy was a drummer as well, and for the two minutes we were stopped at the red light, the beauty of being able to communicate and make music with a stranger in a car just by banging some drum sticks on my bicycle blew my mind.
Was your drum bike born this way or was it an evolution?
My drum-bike was definitely an evolution that has gone through several iterations, which started with just a bucket and a huge cowbell, inspired by my friend Galen, who was drumming on his bike before me. My original setup looked pretty absurd because I literally just plopped a bucket on top of my bike’s front basket. Later on I added a plastic woodblock and a real splash cymbal to get more sounds. I’m the fourth and latest drum-biker in a long line of drum-bikers, and each of us have very different biking, drumming, and drum-biking setups and styles.
Do you remember the first time you bike drummed and what was that like?
At first I felt like I was going to die, because I would have to be biking with just one hand. I wasn’t used to drawing attention to myself and was pretty timid about making lots of noise out in public. Of course, after practicing this almost every day for the past four years, I’m now not only good at drumming with both hands while steering and braking with one, but I’m not shy with performing in front of people anymore and actually have an idea of how different types of crowds will react to different types of drumming. Recently I’ve started incorporating different types of urban sounds to my drumming, like drumming to the beat of a the crosswalk signal beeps, or hitting guard rails and lamp posts on-beat as I bike by them; something I would never have imagined myself doing when I first started.
So, you’ve drum biked all over the country. How does the reaction in other cities compare with Boston?
I’ve found that people in cities like Boston, San Francisco and Chicago tend to be more reserved when they see something out of the ordinary like a guy drumming on a bike. I get a lot of smiles and double-takes, but nothing too crazy. Meanwhile, drumming in cities like New York and Miami, I get lots of people who yell complements at a distance or just start clapping and dancing to the beat, which is extremely thrilling. Portland, Oregon was the only city where someone rolled up to me on a bike and flat out called me “an idiot” to my face, and shortly after that, where someone risked their life running into the middle of the street to me to tell me he loved my drumming and to give me a single dollar.
You started the Midnight Marathon ride four years ago and earlier this year helped start Boston bike party- what’s next?
I’m taking my life one pedal-stroke and downbeat at a time, but I do love the idea of getting lots of people together for bike rides. I had a chance to visit Portland, Oregon this year in time for their month-long community-organized bike-fun festival called Pedalpalooza. There are so many events on the Pedalpalooza calendar that it’s just not humanly possible to attend half of them, and every weekend there’s a big bike ride that hundreds or thousands of people partake in, like the famous World Naked Bike Ride, and the Midnight Mystery Ride which I found myself on an hour after getting off my airplane. There are a lot of neat bike rides that happen year round in Boston, but I think it would be pretty cool to dedicate a few weeks here to nothing but having fun on bikes.
What do you do when you are not starting rides or bringing music to the streets of Boston?
When I’m not drumming or biking, I’m at my day job which involves helping people set up and use their computers. Recently, I’ve been diving head-first into the world of rock-climbing, which had definitely helped with my drumming strength, endurance, and drum-biking balance. Downtime usually involves relaxing outside somewhere with a pack of Oreos and thinking of other neat ways to make people smile.
The lead photo of this post appeared in Momentum Magazine, Issue #62.
Ride on, Greg!