Review by Larry Kwan, CC Board Member (Treasurer)
David Byrne, founding member, lead singer, and guitarist of the famed 80’s band Talking Heads tells his tales of traveling by bicycle in various locations around the globe. His thoughts, experiences, and vision from a decade ago are current and relevant today.
David Byrne introduces the book with how he started cycling in Baltimore, uses cycling as a principal means of transportation in New York, and also cycles as a means of gaining acquaintance with the cities where the Talking Heads are to perform. He gives a nod to Jane Jacobs when he describes urban design and the typical American city – friendly to cars, unfriendly to cyclists and pedestrians. Eight chapters follow with each focused on his bicycling experiences in one city along with related political and cultural commentary. He closes the book with an Epilogue: The Future of Getting Around where he provides a glimpse of initiatives undertaken in New York, Tokyo, and other major cities and some of his bike rack designs.
In the closing months of 2019, I was in New York at the Broadway’s St. James Theatre to take in David Byrne’s “American Utopia”; his books were being sold in the lobby during the intermission. That is where I bought The Bicycle Diaries, a book on my radar for a while as I too am an avid cyclist. I did not anticipate at the time that Covid would close borders for the next two years, and that travel would be nil. Nor did I anticipate that I would join Community Cruisers, a charitable organization to promote bicycle use for transportation to improve health, sustainability, and equity in the Bow Valley.
This book served as an escape early in the lockdown and a guide to other bicycle transportation related resources.
Narrative is first person, casual and relaxed as if the reader were in the saddle with the author. No mention of spandex brands or bike gear, just the soul of bike transportation.
Reading the book was like being in a coffee shop conversation with David Byrne telling the stories and jokes. I found the stories entertaining and informative. I worked in Buenos Aires around the time David Byrne was riding his bicycle in the area and exploring the local food, drink, and music scene. His adventures brought me back to my time there … cortados on the Recoleta, empanadas from the street vendor and the call of the ice cream vendor: helado. As I read the book, I thought of my own cycling experiences: eating grilled sticky rice banana in Phnom Penh and exploring rice paddies in Ise Japan and racing down hills in Limoux France.
David Byrne’s chapter on New York gives a snapshot of how the city started to embrace cycling … more bicycle usage, infrastructure changes, related civic events and foodie stops. The week I spent in New York, I noticed that a lot of e-bikes with trailers making silent deliveries in Manhattan on the infrastructure that was envisioned a decade earlier. Prophetic?
For the observant, there is a bicycle cartoon on the bottom margins of the book that travels back and forth as you flip the pages … only from the mind of an artist.
We can be inspired by David Byrne to promote the use of bicycles as a principal means of transportation by locals and visitors alike in the Bow Valley, we can advocate infrastructure and we can organize related civic events. The side effects are better health, reduced environmental impact and more intimate experiences within the community. David Byrne was able to enthusiastically communicate in Bicycle Diaries that visiting and travelling by bicycle in your local environment provides for a rich and in-depth experience that has staying power.
Perhaps we can extend an invite to David Byrne to perform and lead a discussion at the Banff Centre. And it would be fun to ride a bicycle to that party!
- Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne published in 2009 is distributed by Penguin Books