Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on November 28th, 2011 at 12:13 pm
(Photos courtesy Michael Sylvester)
On August 28th, 2008, local bicycle fitting expert Michael Sylvester got a call from Trek Bicycle Corporation president John Burke. Burke wanted to know if Sylvester was free to do a bike fit for former President of the United States George W. Bush.
Less than a month later Sylvester (who was running Trek's national bike fit program at the time) found himself on the back porch of the White House chumming it up with President Bush and dialing in his position on his four mountain bikes.
Sylvester recently shared his story and photos from that memorable day.
After getting through security guards that checked all his tools and even had bike-sniffing dogs, Sylvester recalled that Bush arrived, " With a big hello and a warm welcome."
After he made adjustments to the seat position and handlebar height on the bikes, Sylvester said that President Bush wanted to take a test ride to see how they'd feel.
".. he looked over at me and said, "Politics Suck! They bring out the worst in everyone! I would just rather ride my bicycle". I was shocked."
"He was very excited to show me his route around the White House lawn, through the Rose Garden and weaving through trees on the grounds," remembers Sylvester, "George seemed excited to show me his skills and that he was in pretty good condition for someone who runs the country."
In even better shape were the gear-laden secret service agents that ran around trying to follow Sylvester and the president while wearing bullet proof vests and machine guns.
Throughout the experience, Sylvester was surprised by Bush's candor.
"Twice while riding around 'the Oval' — a paved loop around the back of the White House grounds — he looked over at me and said, "Politics Suck! They bring out the worst in everyone! I would just rather ride my bicycle". I was shocked."
In the waning months of his administration, Sylvester says Bush spoke with nostalgia about leaving the White House and, "also of the difficulties of the political scene."
After several hours of fitting and test rides, Sylvester suggested that President Bush could use some work on his body mechanics. Bush agreed and they made their way to the White House for a yoga session to, "help him with the areas of his body that if opened would help his cycling and overall perspective," says Sylvester.
"He was very open to this [yoga] and talked about how his daughter was also a believer in Yoga and wanted to show me his Triangle pose... The President has his own yoga mat with the Presidential seal on it!"
The next day, Sylvester joined the President and some other riders for a jaunt on a series of interconnected trails in a forested area a few miles from the White House.
On that ride, Sylvester noticed that one of the secret service agents was carrying a large electronic device. He later learned it was known as the "football" — which allows the President to access weapon launch codes if there was an attack on the U.S. "I am told the football must stay within a certain distance of his body at all times."
After riding the trails, Sylvester assessed the President's prowess as "a really good rider — better than the average recreational rider." (And that's coming from someone who knows a thing or two about riding bikes.)
After his amazing three days with President Bush two years ago, Sylvester has told the story to many friends and clients. "I am struck by the response of people," he says.
"Some were angry that I would help George Bush in any way. Some ask if I screwed up his bikes so he would get what he deserved. Some were very happy for me to have had the opportunity to work with the President."
In the end, after spending about eight hours with President Bush, Sylvester is somewhat zen in his feelings about the experience.
"He shared his human side with me. I think that no one is all evil or all good. I think we are all a mixture of both good and bad. I do not ignore all of the difficultly George Bush has caused in the world. I am forever interested in people and how they think and move. I am honored to have been given the opportunity to meet the President and to begin to understand more of the picture surrounding the White House."
And of course, Sylvester also chalked up the President's demeanor to the power of bicycles: "To me it seems that under it all we are only human and we enjoy the movement of the bicycle and it seems to bring out a playfulness in us all."