REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM SPOKES MAGAZINE
The President’s Biking Buddy
by Neil Sandler
Minutes before his first meeting with his newest bicycling client – President George Bush, Mike Hamannwright, the owner of Revolution Cycles, had one question for the President’s physician.
“I asked whether I was permitted to touch him, after all this is the President of the United States we’re talking about, and I didn’t know what the protocol is. I mean, if I touched him would some Secret Service guy jump out and tackle me to the ground. I just didn’t know what to expect,” the 49-year-old Virginian told SPOKES in the office of his Clarendon store.
Now, looking back, it all seems laughable. But now, after several bike fittings at the White House, and after their first ride together at the Quantico Marine Base, south of the nation’s capital, on February 13, they are becoming friends with a mutual interest–bicycling.
President Bush, long known as an avid runner, capable of going upwards of four miles at an impressive seven-minute-per mile pace, has had knee problems and is beginning the process of becoming a bicycling enthusiast. And in these early stages, much of this passion will be derived from the efforts of the shaved head Hamannwright, who has also rekindled his passion for riding over the past year, having lost 40 pounds since the summer of 2003.
“Let there be no doubt about it, the President of the United States is one very fit man. He wants to get on that bike and go. His goal is a good cardio workout and trust me he gets it. I’m no racer, but I ride a lot and keep in shape and my goal for that ride (with the President) was not to embarrass myself. While I never felt like I’d get dropped, if I didn’t pay attention to my breathing I would have. And in the gnarly sections (their 18 mile route through the Marine base included road and off-road sections) the President was clearly more competent that I was. He rode harder.”
Riding on hardtail mountain bikes, the group, consisting of the President, Hamannwright, a photographer, a young relative of the President, and two security members all on bikes, completed the 18 mile circuit in one hour, 15 minutes.
“We were all pretty sweaty when we finished,” Hamannwright. said.
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How this native of a small town in Northern California, and now president of four bike shops in the D.C. area, came to become President Bush’s source of all information bicycling, began last July, as Hamannwright was preparing to lead a group of 12 customers on a bike tour to view the Tour de France.
“It was a busy week, but when the White House calls you drop everything you are doing,” he recalled.
The President, who had been viewed by the press, covering his re-election campaign, riding mountain bikes at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, had apparently been having lower back problems. Hamannwright had been identified by White House staff as an excellent local bicycle fitter. Hamannwright was scheduled to visit the White House and conduct a bike fitting. “I packed up my Hyundai with most of the tools used in a Fit Kit, brought a bike trainer (to put the President’s bike on) and an assortment of bar ends and stems. I’ve always prided myself in being a good bike fitter so I wasn’t nervous about that.”
He arrived at the White House early, and was given a tour and had time to say hello to several security personnel and other staff who were among his store’s customers. Hamannwright then met with the President’s doctor, who explained how since the President moved from running to biking, he’d experienced some lower back pain. After the doctor of course cleared Hamannwright to touch the Presidential body, they went into the President’s gym in the private quarters of the White House, where the President was warming up on his treadmill.
“The President seemed taller and broader in the shoulders than I thought he’d be, and very, very fit. During the course of our time together, I’ve learned that as much as the President loves running, bicycling, and exercising, what he loves most is the fitness he derives from the exercise.
“He is very much into making the most of his workouts. He uses a heart rate monitor and keeps track of his maximum and average heart rate. On the bike, he uses a bike computer and tracks his mileage, average speed, maximum speed and he always like to push himself.”
As with any customer with fitting problems, the two spoke about bicycling, the President’s goals and his problems on the bike. Hamannwright heard the President talk about his riding and workouts and quickly learned he was not a single track rider but rather more of a fitness rider, riding on dirt trails or roads and remaining mostly seated while riding.
“We talked about cadence: gear mashing (pushing large gears) versus spinning (pedaling faster in lower gears). I’m almost 50 and the President is 58. I felt a certain kinship in being a middle aged man now past his 40s, who is trying to stay in shape for the second 40 years of his life. We both talked about and realized we shared the importance of taking care of the machine that is going to take us to the second half of our lives.... our bodies.
“Before the President even got on this bike, I’d determined it was too small for him and that was a reason for his lower back problems. As soon as he hopped on you could see he was scrunched up. I told him so, and said no amount of adjustments, bar ends or longer stems was going to help much, so I arranged to take the bike with me and get the right size (19.5 inch frame rather than the 17.5 inch frame) he was riding. He was cool with that. He seemed to trust my judgement and seemed eager to learn as much as possible about bicycling and proper bike fit. He understood that as we get older we are no longer as supple and need to ride more upright than when we in our 20s or 30s. I also got his road bike (a Trek 5200 carbon Postal team bike, given to him by Lance Armstrong two years earlier) and made sure it was set up properly and had my partner (and Revolution Bicycles’ head tech) Santiago “Pinkey” Gonzalez check it out (since it had been sitting idle for some time).” Gonzalez replaced the racing saddle with more of a comfort saddle, swapped the slender racing tires for more durable ones, and changed the handlebar stem.
Given that the President really only gets to ride out of doors on weekends, Hamannwright also provided him with a CycleOps fluid trainer and suggested he include at least 10 minutes on it daily to help keep his back supple for the weekend bike rides. The President generally does work out daily, generally using the treadmill, an elliptical trainer, and free weights, Hamannwright said. Hamannwright has since been told the trainer and bike have made it onto Air Force One for workouts during long flights.
Just prior to leaving for the Tour de France, Hamannwright dropped off the bikes and checked to see their fit. “He was dialed in,” Hamannwright said. The President did ask where the tour was going in France and was impressed Hamannwright and friends would ride some of the same peaks as the Tour racers.
Hamannwright returned to find in the mail a handwritten thank you note from the President saying the bikes fitted well and the back pain had disappeared. The President suggested they go for a ride sometime.
* * * * *
Fast forward past the 2004 Presidential election into early January 2005. A call comes from the White House requesting Hamannwright visit to check the President’s bike position. This time one of his knees is bothering him.
“This time we met out front of the White House, where the helicopter lands, and he was with both of his bikes,” Hamannwright recalls. I checked his position and cadence out and noticed he definitely needed to be doing much more spinning. I told him about the benefit of properly fitted bike shoes and clipless pedals. I also emphasized the need to warm up in cold riding weather. A couple of days later we fitted the bikes with clipless pedals (from Crank Brothers) and sent over a selection of bike shoes (President Bush selected a pair of Sidi Dominators).
The President suggested a ride that Sunday, but with the forecast for temperatures below freezing, the date was pushed back until Feb. 13.
That morning, Hamannwright started out with a big breakfast, then loaded his mountain bike into his Hyundai and headed over to nearby Quantico. After clearing security, he met with the security officers, photographer, and relative of the President who would join the ride.
When the President arrived, he gave Hamannwright the “thumbs up” from the Presidential SUV, hopped out, and said “Hey Mike, great day for a ride.”
“I just asked him to make sure he took it easy on this old guy. I also noticed right away he had his Sidi’s on and was using his clipless pedals.”
The President was not wearing cycling clothing, but rather Presidential exercise clothing.
With the President and Hamannwright leading the other younger riders, the President quickly announced: “the rule of the Presidential peloton is ‘don’t pass the President.’” Hamannwright laughed, saying “I’m more concerned about keeping up.”
Since the President was familiar with the roads and off-road trails of Quantico, he selected a favorite 18 mile circuit. “Someone instructed me to ride next to him. I’d been invited to do this ride and wow did that make me feel whoa... you know.”
“We all started out with a nice fast cadence, and I told the President his riding mechanics and fit look really clean. The ride slowly ramped up the pace. I have to tell you the President’s work outs are really dialed in. We started with something like a seven mile slight uphill, which leveled off. He knows the route, he knows his body, and monitored both his body and his performance the entire way. I don’t recall his heart rate ever dropping below 150. We talked about bicycling, exercise and just stuff for most of the ride. I knew he exercised listening to music and at one point he plugged in his Apple I-Pod and off he went to the front. There were rocky and muddy sections and he just cleaned them like an experienced rider. I didn’t feel as confident as him.
“We were hauling, going over 15 mph on mountain bikes most of the ride. It was when we got to the hills that he really seemed to enjoy himself. It is clearly important to him to come away with a killer workout from beginning to end. There is no lull in his workout. You know how when you go on a ride with friends how mid-way in the ride you take a BS session to talk. No such lull here. We all finished the ride together, working up a good sweat. After we got a team photo taken, the President asked me to join him for a stretch session inside.
“As we were preparing to leave, the President told me ‘I’ll be sure to tell everyone at the White House what good shape you’re in. He mentioned that he’d noticed I wasn’t breathing hard on the ride. I told him I was hiding it. We both commented how the younger riders we breathing even easier than us. We both agreed it was because they were drafting us.’”
But best of all, the President’s parting words were: “Mike, you live near here right?” I replied, “about 15 minutes from here.” Then, the President said the magical words “Let’s do this again, okay?”