David Byrne, a founder of the band Talking Heads, has been biking for transportation for decades, in New York City where he lives and while visiting foreign cities. (He brings a folding bike when he travels.) His new book Bicycle Diaries recounts his experiences bicycling in various cities: Berlin, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, London, Manila, San Francisco and Sydney. Don’t expect a bike travelogue though. The book would more accurately be titled “Diaries of an Artist Who Bikes.” It contains a wide range of musings (can dogs deceive themselves?) and wonderings (does every culture have its own palette?) as well as encounters with artists, musicians and strangers on the street. It is a thought-filled, swirling read. And if you flip the pages front to back you’ll see a tiny bicycle scoot across the bottom of the page.
The most bikey parts come in the introduction, the New York chapter and the epilogue. Byrne started biking in the early 80s when it was a geeky, uncool thing to do but he found it exhilarating. Still does. Byrne, in his fifties, clearly enjoys having a bike-seat view of street life and urban landscapes. “It’s the liberating feeling—the physical and psychological sensation—that is more persuasive than any practical argument,” he writes to explain why he rides. He does use cars on occasion but says of driving, “The romance of being ‘on the road’ is pretty heady, but a cross-country ramble is a sometime thing. It isn’t a daily commute, a way of living, or even the best way to get from point A to point B.”
Byrne has applied his artsiness to the world of biking by organizing a public forum in 2007 that featured helmet designers, lock breakers, writers and singers (detailed in the New York chapter) and by designing one-of-a-kind bike racks (shown at the end of the book).
After reading Byrne’s description of Berlin—“No cars park or drive in the bike lanes, and the cyclists don’t ride on the streets or on the sidewalks either. There are little stoplights just for the bikers, even turn signals!”—I’m itching to go there and see it for myself. And that is the gift of this book: it makes you want to go some place new, bring a bike or rent one there, ride around and take your own photos, write your own journal.
Tempe, Arizona USA