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Rock(hopper) Stars: Specialized, Dave Matthews Band Fight Global Warming

One of the ways members of the Dave Matthews Band are trying to reduce carbon output is by riding their bikes while on tour. To that end, the band has teamed up with Specialized Bicycles for rest, recreation and fan education.

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Overend and Lessard
Ned Overend and DMB bassist Stefan Lessard get in a little jam session. Photo by Chris Matthews

When the Dave Matthews Band goes on tour, which they often do, you’ll find 13 Prevost custom tour buses, 11 tractor-trailer rigs filled with gear and a good number of smaller vehicles in the massive caravan that weaves its way across the country each year.

The amount of carbon produced by such an entourage is staggering, and the band is keenly aware of this fact. In an effort to clean up its act, the band has been offsetting its carbon output for the last eight years and two years ago the band teamed up with an organization called Reverb to make the entire tour as green as possible.

From mandatory backstage recycling programs to “Eco-Villages” at their shows where fans are educated about global warming and carbon reduction programs, the band is making a huge push for its millions of fans to go green and it is leading by example. One of the ways that band members are trying to reduce carbon output is by riding their bikes while on tour. To that end, the band has teamed up with Specialized Bicycles in Morgan Hill, California.

The band not only rides, but is encouraging its fan base to ride as well. Through the Eco-Village, the band sells Specialized water bottles with a custom “Stand Up Against Global Warming” logo, all of which are made from recycled plastic and include a flyer inside each bottle with facts about global warming and what can be done to reduce its effects. The cost of every bottle goes to offset approximately 150 miles of driving. We sat down at a show at the Gorge Amphitheater on the Columbia River in Washington to chat with Stefan Lessard, the bass player for the band, about the band’s cycling interest and efforts to clean up its act.

Q: How did you get into cycling?

STEFAN LESSARD: I started riding when I was young, maybe four or five, and I seem to remember falling a lot. I rode BMX when I was a kid and loved it, and then got my first road bike when I was about sixteen-it was a Lotus; I loved that bike. I never rode anything but Lotus road bikes after that. Then I got into mountain biking and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Q: How often do you ride?

SL: I ride a lot. Touring as much as we do makes it hard, but we bring bikes on tour with us, we even have a full gym that we bring, and I also carry a bike on my own personal bus as well.

Q: What are some of your favorite places to ride?

The band at rest. - Photo Credit: Danny Clinch
The DMB at rest. - Photo by Danny Clinch

SL: Well, I live in Laguna Beach (California), so I have a lot of riding I can do right outside of my house. I ride in Aliso Creek, El Moro, and the trails around there. Some of it’s really technical stuff, but it’s great riding and it’s all right outside my door. I also like to ride in Toronto, San Francisco, Chicago has some good riding – but I really want to go to Moab soon – I’ve always wanted to ride there, I hear it’s incredible.

Q: Tell me about the bikes you own

SL: I ride myStumpjumper a lot-it’s a hardtail, so it’s really versatile; I can ride it on trails as well as on bike paths when I don’t have much time. I also have an Ellsworth full-suspension bike that I’ve had for a while. When I decided to get into mountain biking, I went into a local bike shop in Virginia and asked for the best, most expensive bike they had and that’s what they sold me; I love that bike. I also have a carbon fiber (Specialized) Epic S-Works, which is amazing; I have two of them actually – I keep one at my house in Laguna Beach and another near our studios in Charlottesville, (Virginia). I haven’t even had time to ride that one yet – but it’s there if I ever do.  I don’t ride road bikes much any more, but I really want one of the new S-Works Tarmac bikes – those are pretty sweet.

Q: How do you find time to ride when you’re touring so much?

SL: We make time for it. Dave (Matthews) and I, and some of the crew will go out during the days we’re on tour and ride; in fact, Dave and I and a couple of guys from the crew rode out this morning (around the Gorge Amphitheater) and it was great. Now I usually just ride instead of drive. I used go into cities and rent some really cool car to get around, but now, unless I have a long way to go, I like to ride my bike instead. I remember one time when we were at some ski resort town in the Midwest while we were touring, and Dave and I rode with another crew member and our head of security who was freaking out when he saw me flying down this hill; I think he regretted letting us go that day; it was a blast.

Q: What was the impetus behind the band’s decision to go green?

SL: Well, the reality is that we can’t really stop touring – it’s what we do, so the more we found out about it (global warming), the more we wanted to help change things. We started carbon offsetting about ten years ago, and we started using biodiesel in our trucks and buses as well.  It’s something that is very important to us; we want to do what we can to make a difference.

Q: Do you follow professional cycling?

SL: I watch the Tour (de France) when I have time, but biking is really a much more personal thing for me-a sense of freedom. I don’t have much time to watch sports on TV, but I do admire them.

Q: How do you incentivize your crew to reduce their carbon output?

SL: Mainly by providing them with bikes to ride. We always bring a bunch of bikes on tour with us and anybody can grab one and ride whenever there is down time. We try to make it a group effort as much as possible.