‘Saxo-biking’ and mathematics collide


Sydney Laput

Ian Copple, a senior in LAS, rides his bike on the Main Quad playing the saxophone which he refers to as saxo-biking.

By Julia Youman, Staff Writer

On a sunny Friday afternoon, Ian Copple whisks around the corner of the main quad playing saxophone while riding his bike. After doing a couple laps, he sits down, places his instrument on the sidewalk and reveals a recent tattoo of a math equation on his ribs. 

“This ‘c’ is actually supposed to be an ‘e,’ but no one would even know that unless I pointed it out,” he said.

As with most things he does, Copple said he’s his own biggest critic. He’s been playing saxophone since fourth grade, but he said he’s only recently learned to play without caring about little mistakes.

“My main musical goal was just to not mess up, which is a terrible goal,” he said. “Because as a student, if your goal is to never make an error, you’re never gonna learn and you’re never going to have fun with it.”

After clarifying that he’s getting the tattoo updated in a week, he goes into detail about what a fourier series means and even pulls out his phone to show an animation he made of it on Desmos, an advanced graphing calculator. At its core, Copple says it’s a fusion of his love for music and math. 

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Copple, senior in LAS and Education at the University, has made friends all over campus while doing what he refers to as “saxo-biking,” which combines two things he’s good at: biking without hands and playing the saxophone. 

Within five minutes of meeting him, two different people come up to Copple on the quad and strike up a conversation. One of them recognized him from saxo-biking in front of Taco Bell on Green Street a few weekends ago. He said this happens all the time. 

“When I add people on Snapchat in those settings, I make sure to put the day that I met them and a saxophone emoji by their name,” he said.

Riding in front of Taco Bell and playing George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” in front of a long KAM’s line on a Saturday night are just a few fun memories he’s made while saxo-biking. 

While he does bike around during the day, Copple said he prefers to do it at night when fewer people and cars are around. 

While nighttime offers better safety precautions, he also said he likes that it’s a lot less attention-grabbing.

“A global disaster is what it took for me to get over my performance anxiety because during the pandemic there was no audience at all,” Copple said. 

After the pandemic hit, Copple spent the summer in Champaign, which he described as a “ghost-town.” With barely anyone around, he said he became more comfortable with playing in public. 

The pandemic is also what led him to pick up the saxophone again in the first place. While he’s not taking any formal classes and mainly focusing on student teaching, he said he likes  doing it for fun around campus. 

Most of what he plays is by ear which is why he always bikes around with an earbud in. With perfect pitch, he can listen to a song, hear how the instrument sounds, and play it on the saxophone.

“I don’t thrive with sheet music,” he said. “Most of what I do is just listen to my Spotify playlists on shuffle and play along to that.”

In high school, Copple was one of three saxophonists in his band, which he admits made it really hard to mess up. Most of what he played was sheet music and he said he didn’t start to have fun with it until joining the pep band.  

“You didn’t have to be good, you just had to be loud I just thought, ‘Wow. This is an opportunity to not care at all about notes I missed.’”

He carries the same mantra into his teaching today. 

After three semesters of actuarial science, Copple made a switch to math and added a secondary education minor. 

“I was the kid in high school who did math competitions not even to win but just to be challenged,” he said. “When I started tutoring other people, I was like this is something that is really rejuvenating and gives me life.”

When he’s not saxo-biking around campus or learning how to play another instrument, Copple said he likes to learn more about math and find ways to help others like it as well.

“I don’t want students to just be good at math, I want them to see the beauty in it because in math and music, there’s patterns and you can enjoy it.”


[email protected]