On a warm night in late spring, Greg Hum joined hundreds of other bicyclists on Boston Bike Party’s one year anniversary ride, which traveled from downtown Boston, up Massachusetts Avenue, through Harvard and past Tufts to the tempo of homemade sound systems that riders wore or dragged behind their bikes.
If you’ve seen Hum around Boston, you probably remember him. He rides his bicycle while simultaneously pounding two drumsticks — often steering with just one palm — on a small Zildjian cymbal, a Latin Percussion jam block and a five-gallon bucket on which he has written “Hum Drum” in black tape, all of which is mounted to his handlebars.
During the anniversary ride, the column of bikers gained members as it traveled, at times filling all lanes, and riders dismounted at Powder House Circle to dance and blow bubbles by the pre-Revolution windmill. The mob screamed like banshees as they rode down into the Cambridge Street tunnel, the cries echoing off the concrete walls, mixing strangely with Hum’s primal beat.
“Being a drummer who loves biking, I realized I could probably squeeze in practice on the way to work,” he said dryly.
Hum is particularly keen to play while riding — a stunt he calls “bike-drumming” – on Boston’s popular group bike rides, some of which swell to hundreds of cyclists.
“I bring out the drums for large group rides when there are a lot of people together on bikes to enjoy it,” Hum said. “Live music makes everything more fun, including group rides, so I help literally drum up excitement for rides like Boston Bike Party. My goal is to show people that riding bikes in Boston can be fun.”
Hum, who is outgoing and often wears a scraggly beard and a bike helmet, lives in Somerville and commutes by bike to Boston University, where he works as an information technology systems administrator.
He began cycling in 2008 when he was a student at BU. He took to it immediately, going on to found a student organization that hosted bike repair workshops and group rides. Since graduating, he’s stayed involved with the cycling community by advocating for bike commuters and organizing a midnight ride that follows the route of the Boston Marathon. At this year’s event, the first since the 2013 bombing, there was an outpouring of interest in the ride, and Hum worked with the MBTA to charter a train to transport riders to the starting location.
“The Marathon Bombing,” Greg wrote at the time, “shattered my world that week, but also seemed to cement the wonderful community energy that brings people in Boston together.”
Most recently, Hum has become involved with Boston Bike Party’s monthly evening ride featuring loud music, bright lights and a garish celebratory atmosphere. On June 13, Boston Bike Party hosted a “Bike Prom,” during which riders were encouraged to wear formal dresses and tuxedos.
As an advocate for bike safety, Hum acknowledges riding with one hand and a divided attention puts him in a delicate position. He says, though, that he takes every possible precaution to ensure his own safety and that of others on the road and that he’s only been in one accident while drumming, which took place after his wheel hit a curb.
“If I ever feel unsafe, I simply stop drumming and put both hands on my handlebars,” he said. “I welcome people to try their hand at drumming on bikes, but stress that whoever wants to try to always put safety first, and be able to steer and brake safely if they do drum or play other musical instruments on bikes.”
Hum first started experimenting with mounting percussion instruments to his bike in 2009. He got the idea, he said, from a BU friend named Galen Mook, who created a similar do-it-yourself drum kit attached to his bike. And before that, Hum says, a cello student at Berklee College named Joey Chang constructed a similar bikemounted drum set that he rode around Boston and surrounding areas beginning in the early 2000s.
“I am just the latest drum-biker to carry the torch,” Hum said.
This year, Hum and Chang met for the first time in California, where they went for a bike ride and played an impromptu duet that Hum recorded and uploaded to YouTube. The internet, actually, might be what most sets Hum apart from his predecessors: while there are sporadic clips available of Mook and Chang playing their drums, Hum uses a headmounted camera to capture first person footage of himself riding and playing the drums, some of which has spread virally and contributed to his online persona. In one popular clip, he takes to the streets on a snowy day in 2013, seemingly struggling at times to maintain control.
“Do you play while you ride?” asks a man on the sidewalk before Greg mounts his bike.
“Yeah, man,” Hum replies.
“Awesome,” the man says.