David Lee – Rock and roll meets cycling

David LeeBeing a musician requires time, dedication, and practice. Being an athlete requires time, dedication, and practice. Charleston resident David Lee manages to do both. As a guitarist for The Legendary Shack Shakers he’s played with Robert Plant, Rancid, and Dolly Parton. Being in a working rock band means touring, which literally had him playing in locations just hundreds of kilometers from the Arctic Circle as well as across Europe and Africa. In 2008 he parted ways with the Shack Shakers, took a bit of a musical break and formed a duo with a buddy under the name of The Mercenaries. They have carved out a niche as musicians that play to a cycling audience. The Mercenaries have had a gig at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. Earlier this year they played at the Mellow Johnny’s bike shop in Austin, Texas, then the next morning rolled out for the Rapha Gentleman’s Ride.

Like many cyclists, Lee’s first foray into racing was through BMX. However, he had some friends that were road racers.

“I really didn’t know much about it, but I bought a Trek 1000 in 1986 or something and I was hooked.”

In the span of one season he advanced from a category 4 to a 2.

“At the time I was fearless. I just jumped in and did it.”

Lee admits to the juxtaposition of being in a rock band and its accompanying lifestyle while also competing in cycling. However, while they seem polar extremes, there are some similarities between the two.

“While they are opposite – there’s the discipline side to it which is similar, but it also depends on how much you are touring,” says Lee. “The band I was in the last eight years was very blue collar and to make money we had to be in the trenches touring 250 days a year.”

In addition, the late nights with the one or two post-concert beers adds up to a lifestyle that isn’t conducive to cycling.

In the first years of being in a band he let cycling go and lived the rock and roll lifestyle. But he realized that he missed riding. To help with the situation of traveling with a bike, Lee kept a bike in a London locker for his European tours.

The hours of being in a band didn’t change, so instead he had to be disciplined with his training. After a late night of playing he’d set the alarm for 8:00AM so he could train, or get dropped off 40 to 50 miles away from the gig and literally ride into the sound check in his kit.

HTFUWhen he met people after the European gigs and they found out he was a rider, he would get invited to join them on epic rides through the European countryside.

“There was many times in early 2000 I didn’t have a cell phone or GPS and we’d take off riding in France with a crude map. I would literally place sticks on the side of the road pointing me back to the bus. It added an interesting angle to the ride when you have no idea where you are. If you get lost you’re S.O.L.”

Although last year Lee was a frequent racer, he has had a medical condition that put his racing on hold.

“In the middle of last summer I had a weird thing happen with my heart,” explained Lee. “I was getting ready for Masters Nationals and I was out training and it was really hot, then suddenly it felt like someone had thrown a switch and I had nothing: no power, zero. I put my hand on my heart and it was beating out of control.”

After a trip to see the doctor it was explained away as a case of severe dehydration. However, the symptoms returned two weeks later and wouldn’t subside. The doctors were forced to anesthetize Lee and then use paddles on his heart to “re-boot” it which corrected the irregular beat. After meeting with heart specialists Lee had to make some changes to his diet, such as eliminating coffee and other stimulants. “It happened during strenuous times of activity so I decided to quit lifting weights and I’ve just started riding again. I’ve done a handful of races and I’ve gotten the bug again.”

His latest affliction with the racing bug brought him to the South Carolina state road race championships where he finished 6th in the Masters race. He may not be able to go full bore in both bike racing and rock and roll lifestyles, but he can still mix it up on the course.

Music influences: I grew up listening to country music so Charlie Feathers, Johnny Cash and obviously Hank Williams. When I was 14 I saw the Dead Kennedys and that changed my life. I saw that energy and knew that’s what I wanted to play. I’m all over the map. Punk rock is just country music sped up.

Cycling Influences: Tom Boonen and Philippe Gilbert are my heroes and I love how they race. I also like Chad Gerlach and I hate how he keeps falling off the wagon. I feel like our lives ran a bit parallel. Me being around drunks and addicts who were into music. Then I see him and see how far he’d gone down and how he rebounded back to racing so awesome.

Bikes: Cannondale CADD 9 with Campagnolo Record 10 (race bike), Independent Fabrications XS (non-race bike), Crumpton

Favorite Tattoos: Mr Lee (on chest), HTFU (on hip)


  1. vernon says:

    Anyone know how to get in touch with David lee ?? He owns one of my Guitar teacher and mentors Guitar… I also own own of the Lucky Ward Guitars… I would like to talk to him and see how he came about knowing Lucky and how he found the guitar over seas. Thanks

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