Bush's Not-So-Easy Riders
As in almost every weekend when he is in town, President Bush's motorcade left the White House early Saturday for the Secret Service training facility in Beltsville. There he blew off steam the way he has for four years now, ever since doctors warned him that running was killing his knees: a hard, determined, mountain bike ride.
Bush's love of biking has been well documented, especially by biographer Robert Draper, who writes in his recent book about the Bush presidency of the inordinate efforts by the agents and aides to find trails for the president while traveling. "I like to stay fit," Bush told Bicycling magazine in 2005. "I think you can do your job better if you're fit."
What's less known is that Bush has a regular posse of eight to 10 cyclists who typically join him for his 90-minute weekend rides -- some from the White House, some from agencies, and outside friends. The White House has been circumspect about the composition of this group but recently allowed two of the regulars -- Bush economic adviser Edward P. Lazear and legislative aide Barrett Karr-- to offer a small window into Bush's exercise world.
Among others who have been known to bike with Bush, at least occasionally, are former chief of staff Andrew Card, outside political adviser Mark McKinnon and another young legislative aide, Christopher Frech.
Karr, 35, says that Bush usually takes the lead as the group heads out, but at some point the Leader of the Free World will say, "Let the dogs out" -- and the faster riders will zoom to the front, along the single-track trails at Beltsville. (Bush rode yesterday at Fort Belvoir.) "He's very respectful of everybody on the ride being able to get a good workout," she says.
As she describes it, Bush is obsessed with the metrics of biking, closely measuring the miles traversed and the calories burned. Recently, the president obtained a power meter, which measures wattage, a way to quantify how much power a rider is producing.
"It's been fun to watch him become a serious mountain biker," Karr says. "He's going over logs. He's moving fast on some very [winding] trails."
Lazear, who at 59 is the oldest in the group after the 61-year-old president, says the regular bike ride "is not just a walk in the park -- it is his opportunity in the week to get serious exercise."
"He's a very strong rider, very disciplined," Lazear said. "We ride hard. There's no question. We ride really hard."
There is not much chatting along the way, Lazear says, since many of the trails "require a lot of concentration." Bush is often listening to music on his iPod -- country music, Karr believes.
And the group rides rain or shine. Lazear and Karr tell of riding in extreme cold, with temperatures in the teens, and extreme heat, when she donned a special cooling bandanna. Sometimes, after the ride is over, the group spends a half-hour or so helping clear and build more trails, Lazear says.
"It's a great outlet for him--he gets outside. He relieves stress. He cranks up the iPod," says Karr. "It seems like a good way to balance the stress of the Oval Office."