Pedal Power: Los Altos native plans music-filled bike trip to Mexico

Los Altos native Joey Chang, the self-described "wildest beatboxin' cellist in the world," is gearing up for an ambitious journey to Mexico with a band and his instrument. On his bike.

Published October 1, 2007 by Palo Alto Daily News 
By Melanie Carroll

Los Altos native Joey Chang, the self-described "wildest beatboxin' cellist in the world," is gearing up for an ambitious journey to Mexico with a band and his instrument. On his bike.

The classically trained musician plans to ride about 35 miles a day touring with Shake Your Peace, a band that uses a pedal-powered PA system. The group intends to perform dozens of concerts as it travels south.

Shake Your Peace frontman Gabe Dominguez, a San Francisco resident, was one of the creators of the bike-powered PA system, which harnesses the momentum of a bicycle's back wheel as it rotates while elevated off the ground. Audience members are expected to help pedal the 800-watt system during concerts at farmers markets and other venues.

Chang, Dominguez and about a dozen others are planning to travel from North San Juan, Calif., (near Grass Valley) to Chiapas, in southern Mexico, Dominguez said. Random people will likely join the ride at various points, including a caravan of about 30 bikers that is expected to make the ride from San Francisco to Palo Alto, Dominguez said.

The band uses Xtracycles – heavy duty attachments that extend a bicycle frame, significantly increasing the weight it can carry – which allow them to bring along large items such as surfboards and cellos. The PA system is light enough to be pulled by one bicyclist, Chang said.

The goal of the trip, which is expected to take about four months, is to celebrate "sustainable rock 'n' roll," as well as demonstrate that bikes are fun and show that the journey is more important than the destination, Chang said. The ride begins Oct. 18.

"The primary goal is the same as it is off-tour, which is to live in such a way that we relish the experience and gift of being alive, one another, and are thankful for both," Dominguez wrote in an e-mail.

Shake Your Peace will be joined by another band, the Ginger Ninjas, a member of which, Kipchoge Spencer, co-founded the company that makes the Xtracycles, Dominguez said.

The musicians want to spread the philosophy of the "pleasant revolution," which Spencer describes as the sense of joy that people find when they adapt a more sustainable lifestyle.

The traveling musicians hope to get offers from audience members to sleep on a couch or floor, or maybe even a spare bed, along the way, Dominguez said. Other nights they will likely spend in tents.

Since cycling involves physical exertion, the musicians are going to make sure they eat well, Chang said.

"Food is very important for a bicyclist," Chang said. "We've got to make sure we have good food."

The cellist and vocalist said he's not trying to make a political statement, but quoted Ghandi in an effort to explain his intentions. "Be the change that you want to see in the world," Chang said.

The musician, who graduated from Mountain View High School and was trained at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, said he's always wanted to do something like this.

"It's rocking, it's totally awesome," Chang said.

Chang lives on an organic vegetable farm near Pescadero where he volunteers. He supports himself playing gigs, odd jobs and baby-sitting, the cellist said. It takes him about six hours to bike from Los Altos to the organic farm.

"I'm a musician and a street poet and bucket drummer," Chang said.

Some of the songs featured on his MySpace page include: "Earth is a Garden" and "Fancy Cars."

Chang said we live in a "toxic society" in the sense that the messages from television urge people to buy things, and people depend on pills to feel happy.

He says what people really need are friends, community and organic living.

"Everywhere I drive I see cars. Infinite lines of cars creeping like ants upon the landscape. I want to learn how to live without cars. Just bikes," Chang wrote in his blog.

E-mail Melanie Carroll at