Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Local fitting pro shares memories of rides with George W. Bush

Posted by on November 28th, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Former President George Bush and Portland-based bike fitting expert Michael Sylvester in 2008.
(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.

Sylvester (L) and Pres. Bush on ‘the Oval’ loop on the White House grounds.

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.”

Official Presidential Cycling Socks

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.”

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  • jocko November 28, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    Bush! What a tool. Seems like a cool experience for Michael though and I for one don’t think less of him. Plus that kind of seems like something you couldn’t decline if you wanted to keep your job.

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  • jered November 28, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    I’ve heard rumor that Bush kept funding going for a few bike programs that would have otherwise been cut. Dude found Jesus and bikes. I can just hear hime bombing some singletrack “he he he”. Great story, thanks for sharing that, always nice to see another side of someone so polarizing.

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  • Tom M November 28, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    The President on bicycle is a good start. But getting Congress on bicycles on a regular basis for transport would be even better.

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  • Nick V November 28, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    Interesting story! Whether you supported GW or not, I would think that it is a huge feather in one’s cap to work with any president, especially one still in office!

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  • Steve B November 28, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    This story demonstrates how much love there is for bicycles, yet how many challenges remain for advocates to bridge recreation cycling lovers into transportation cycling believers.

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  • Paul Johnson November 28, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Bike-sniffing dogs? So did they alert on the presence of bicycles?

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  • Nat West November 28, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Now that Bush ain’t the prez any more, I find him kind of endearing. Haven’t we all found ourselves in over our heads at times? All mountain bikers are my friends and brothers on the trail.

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    • JRB November 29, 2011 at 5:18 pm

      Not a comment on the story or Michael, but I have never found people who commit crimes against humanity endearing. There’s being over your head and then there is ordering or allowing torture, imprisonment without charge or trial, extraordinary rendition etc. The man, along with his cronies in torture, should have been put on trial, and if convicted, sent to prison. Hopefully we will find the political will in this country to make that happen before the statute of limitations runs out.

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  • sorebore November 28, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    The former POTUS show’s us with his charming comment on politics , the true nature of his status as puppet. I am sure he would rather ride his bike all day.
    It is hard for a child to take up the family business when one truly is not passionate about it.

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  • jocko November 28, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    ah you said it mate.

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  • Chris November 28, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    The former president smoked weed with Harold and Kumar – seems like a regular guy.

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  • Bill Stites November 28, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    It is great to see Michael’s abilities and knowledge recognized – this is a testament to the talent we have in this town.
    I would add that Michael VOLUNTEERED to consult on the cockpit design on the latest Truck Trike. I really look forward to the opportunity to return the favor – perhaps designing and CNC machining a sweet part for one of his projects.

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    • sorebore November 28, 2011 at 4:16 pm

      Yes, Mr. Sylvester is inherently talented,and the Truck Trike is awesome!!! I would have VOLUNTEERED to pedal it myself to help move George out of the White House, had it been around at the time.

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  • NW Biker November 28, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Okay, nobody should have to see that face on a Monday…or any other day, for that matter. Okay, fine, so he likes to bike. He was the worst president this country has ever had to endure, and I’d rather not have to see his squinched up little face ever again.

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    • Hugh Johnson November 28, 2011 at 6:03 pm

      It’s a bike related story…like it or not. Deal with it. We’ve all had to deal with stories we didn’t like on BikePortland.

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      • Natalie November 28, 2011 at 11:24 pm

        It’s a politics related comment… like it or not. Deal with it. We’ve all had to deal with comments we didn’t like on BikePortland.

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  • Richard November 28, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    “I would just rather ride my bicycle.”

    A bike ride lasting from about January 2001 to January 2009 would have been an excellent idea, George.

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    • Thomas Le Ngo November 29, 2011 at 3:09 pm

      Yeah, but I don’t really think that would’ve changed who the puppeteers were.

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    • matt picio November 30, 2011 at 12:37 pm

      Or perhaps a year earlier, during the campaign – would’ve been an awesome time to mountain bike the Continental Divide Trail…

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  • captainkarma November 28, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    Why are we even talking about this, years after? There must be SOME relevant news out there.

    I feel like Scrooge, having a bit of indigestion, visited by scary ghosts of the past.

    “When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
    but a turkey on two wheels, festooned in bike gear.”

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  • Barney November 28, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    “Tool,” “puppet,” “worst ever”.

    It’s amazing to me that people here can take an interesting bike story with a Portland connection and turn it into an opportunity to rip on their favorite personal villain.

    What has the current occupant of the White House done for cyclist’s lately???

    Dudes, get over it already!

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    • q`Tzal November 29, 2011 at 11:17 am

      A lot of us have a lot of pent up rage with Former President Shrub.

      As much as our nation needs to learn from mistakes committed during his reign it would be nice not to hear his name for a little while.

      Also you can’t expect those of us who despised Shrub to trust this PR whitewashing to any degree.

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      • Mike November 29, 2011 at 1:53 pm

        Is that what Jonathan is doing? PR whitewashing for a former president?

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    • matt picio November 30, 2011 at 12:38 pm

      At least they’re topical to the story, and not turning into a bash-fest for Rex Burkholder, Sam Adams, or Earl Blumenaur.

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  • Tom M November 28, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    BTW, those spitting venom at GW just prove his statements true.

    BTW, it is Congress that passes laws. The President gets to make the hard decisions and take the rap for Congress’ mistakes.

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  • Joe Rowe November 28, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    Great article. I think liberals have to see the good in Bush and the evil in all of us..

    Democrats like Earl Blumenauer could have attempted to impeach Bush & Cheney, but the voters let them neglect that duty.

    Earl is still in office doing the work of the 1% by passing free trade deals without apology. Earl supports the CRC. Earl does favors for the bike community, so he gets a free ride and no questions asked.

    Bush was just a puppet. The republican party used him to install their own cabinet and set of advisors like Cheney and Rove.

    I know this sounds crazy, but Shift 2 bikes should invite Bush and other Republicans for a pedalpalooza ride called “we’re in it together”.

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    • Ed G. November 29, 2011 at 9:58 am

      Joe, when are you running for office?

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  • Joe Rowe November 29, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Hey Ed G. I don’t know if you are paying a compliment or jab. If you or anyone would like to plan a red, blue and green ride for Pedalpalooza it would be fun, Democrats, Republicans, Greens and the goal to share a love of bikes, our human side and perhaps some mild debate.

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  • esther c November 30, 2011 at 10:03 am

    What was going on in our country while w was spending the weekend cheerfully riding his bike around. Cheney was busy at work in his office working on his global destruction schemes.

    How nice to know that w was an affable guy.

    I heard this story from Mike and I’ve always envisioned him telling the story in one of those History Channel formats, you know sitting down in front of a blank wall very matter of a factly, “I was Hitler’s bike fitter.”

    Yes, there’s good and evil in all of us, but most of us didn’t order military operations that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people. My evil is maybe being a little impatient and rude sometimes. And then feeling bad about it. And I admit to gossiping too much. Yes, I have watched an episode of the Kardashians, that’s pretty evil by my standards, contributing to the downfall of our culture. I don’t destroy countries and send innocent people off to their own deaths and to kill countless others.

    I’m not condemning Mike for doing his job. He worked for Trek and w was a client. But don’t apologize for w, saying he’s a nice guy and there’s good and bad in all of us. Hitler liked dogs and children.

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  • Joe Rowe November 30, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Ok Ester. Carl Rove came to town. Myself and a few friends paid to get in, listen and protest. Where were you?

    The German people _did_ know what was going on, and they did not act up.

    American voters _did_ know Bush and Cheney lied and broke laws, and they did not demand impeachment. Over a million dead civilians in those 2 wars.

    I’ve never read a blog post by you about the role of Earl Blumenauer in that reign of death.

    Ester I never saw you nor a single person from the bike community in the many years of Portland Protests to Impeach Bush and Cheney.

    The bike community has done some nice recent support of the occupy people. But the bike community is mostly active only on bike community issues.

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  • Joe Rowe November 30, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    Most Americans don’t consider their lack of activism as (quote) “contributing to the downfall of our culture.”

    Americans want to blame others for our wars and policy. I quote MLK.

    “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

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  • esther c November 30, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    I spent 8 years protesting w and his policies. What do you mean, where was I?

    My whole life is not lived on a bike.

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