Can we get away from the sprawl? Probably not in our car-centric age. David Byrne is famous for Talking Heads, a group that found American culture of the late seventies ironic and strange. Who would have thought that he was such an advocate for pedal-powered transportation? Byrne’s new book Bicycle Diaries is a glimpse by bike of such varied world cities as Berlin, Buenos Aires, Sydney, and New York.
But it’s not just for cyclists. Bicycle Diaries is not a book about bikes so much as it is about Byrne’s trials and tribulations getting around to his meetings with musicians, art gallery curators, and companions by bike via urban thoroughfares and through the sprawl.
People expecting a more linear narrative may get annoyed with Byrne’s tangents about the art world, random people met along the way, buildings and food. Of course, Che Guevara’s The Motorcycle Diaries isn’t much about the motorcycle either; it is about the people and Che’s experiences along the way, and the diary entries that allow the reader to see a progression in how the revolutionary author is thinking. This is where Byrne’s writing is strongest, by allowing us to see the city through the eyes of a cyclist and by offering intelligent commentary about different cultures and modern life.
Cycling in London along Oxford Street, for example, is not easy. To read about Byrne’s cycling experiences through challenging cities like London makes you wonder why such world-class cities aren’t more cycling friendly. Along with many musings about London, Byrne writes:
“I wouldn’t be surprised if poetry–poetry in the broadest sense, in the sense of a world filled with metaphor, rhyme, and recurring patterns, shapes and designs–is how the world works. The world isn’t logical, it’s a song.”
In other words, science is impossibly limited in its explanation of human culture and the modern world.
Riding a bike in Manila gets different reactions:
“…some of them thought I was nuts or just plain obsessive but a few said ‘Why not? The streets are pretty crowded and chaotic, but you could give it a try.'”
While in Buenos Aires, Byrne muses about the rise of social media:
“…online communities tend to group like with like, which is fine and perfect for some tasks, but sometimes inspiration comes from accidental meetings and encounters with people outside one’s own demographic, and that’s less likely if you only communicate with your ‘friends.'”
Bicycle Diaries is interesting because of those ‘accidental meetings’ made by bicycle. I found it immensely readable; it’s a thoughtful diary and is a must-read for a city cyclist (but should be read by people who don’t bike as well). It’s a fabulous bike ride journey around the world that makes me all the more happy to be riding around on two wheels where anything can and does happen.