David Byrne: From Talking Heads Frontman to Leading Urban Cyclist

When David Byrne began rid­ing a bicy­cle in late-sev­en­ties and ear­ly-eight­ies New York, he drew fun­ny looks on the street. But the con­ve­nience of rolling from neigh­bor­hood to neigh­bor­hood, par­ty to par­ty, and gallery to gallery on two wheels could­n’t be denied, and now, over three decades lat­er, we find Byrne has evolved to occu­py a unique set of par­al­lel careers: singer-song­writer, artist of many media (includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to Microsoft Pow­er­Point), and urban cycling advo­cate. Over the past few years, what with sharply ris­ing gas prices and a rein­vig­o­rat­ed pub­lic inter­est in how bet­ter to use our cities, the world has paid espe­cial­ly close atten­tion to the lat­ter third of Byrne’s work. He’s respond­ed by writ­ing, tour­ing, lec­tur­ing, and even indus­tri­al-design­ing (bike racks, that is) in sup­port of the hum­ble bicy­cle, if not as human­i­ty’s only hope, then at least as a pret­ty darn per­son­al­ly and social­ly effec­tive way of get­ting from point A to point B.

“You don’t real­ly need the span­dex,” Byrne writes in his book Bicy­cle Diaries, whose pub­li­ca­tion occa­sioned the above New York Times video pro­file. He advo­cates cycling nei­ther as a hard-charg­ing sport nor as an atavis­tic hit of child­hood whim­sy, but as a full-fledged means of dai­ly trans­porta­tion. Not only does he wear reg­u­lar clothes doing it, but in this video he actu­al­ly goes hel­met­less, albeit on the car-free Hud­son Riv­er Green­way. As expressed in both book and video, Byrne’s thoughts on the exhil­a­ra­tion of cycling through cities — “there’s a sense of float­ing through the land­scape, watch­ing it as it goes by, but you can stop at any moment if some­thing catch­es your eye” — have kept me on my own bike. I ride it in Los Ange­les, a city of clear weath­er and flat ter­rain that some­times strikes me as an ide­al cycling envi­ron­ment — until Byrne or some­one else bring up Euro­pean towns, like Copen­hagen or Mod­e­na, through which tykes, octo­ge­nar­i­ans, and every­one in between ride reg­u­lar­ly and fear­less­ly. Even North Amer­i­ca’s most bike-friend­ly cities haven’t reached that lev­el yet, but with advo­cates as cre­ative and unbu­reau­crat­ic as David Byrne advis­ing them (though some­times with sug­ges­tions as grand as “bury the West Side High­way”), sure­ly it’s only a mat­ter of time.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Byrne: How Archi­tec­ture Helped Music Evolve

The Physics of the Bike

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

by | Permalink | Comments (5) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (5)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Shelley says:

    Three cheers for the reg­u­lar clothes.

  • Kathleen Ryan says:

    But no cheers for the hel­met­less­ness.

  • Cyclist safe­ty is depen­dent on many more aspects than hel­met wear­ing. I cycle in the Nether­lands: almost no one here wears hel­mets, about 30% of dai­ly jour­neys is by bike. Num­ber of deaths of cyclists last year? 5. I’d say that sep­a­rat­ed cycling infra­struc­ture and bet­ter cross roads design are more con­ducive to cyclist safe­ty than hel­mets.

  • bert says:

    Come ride in Chi­na. I don’t wear a hel­met maybe a mis­take. There are also places in the world that WERE friend­ly for bike rid­ing, 16 years ago Bei­jing was like that. Now it’s more and more and more and more cars and less and less and less room for the bikes. I still ride about once or twice a week to do some part time teach­ing on the side but I’m a big guy so my butt is a but sore after a 1hr ride one way but it’s good for me, the pol­lu­tion is anoth­er sto­ry.

    • Andrea Tharp says:

      If you can get a “trac­tor seat” they’re very com­fort­able. Not the fastest thing in the world but worth the trade-off if you’re not rac­ing :D

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.