Most people will know David Byrne as the charismatic and even iconic gyrating oversize-suited frontman of pop music beat combo Talking Heads, but that particular image was a long time ago and he's so much more than that; composer, film-maker, photographer, artist and most relevantly here, keen bicycle rider and activist.
The bicycle has been Byrne's primary mode of transport since the 1980s, using it as a quick and easy way of getting around his hometown New York, and he also takes a bike with him on his world travels whenever possible. He's been writing a travel and tour diary for decades and this recently drifted online in blog form and from there it has morphed into this book.
Bryne starts the book with a chapter on some American cities he's visited and talks about what he sees when he's riding his bike, from how the transport infrastructure effects his bike riding to a mix of social and historical topics. The following chapters each concentrate on one of the world's cities he's touched down in his travels including Berlin, Buenos Aires, Sydney and London. He uses what he sees whilst riding his bike and his experiences in each city as a springboard for diving into a sea of different subjects; architecture, music (as you would expect from the man), politics, sociology, economics, history, art, and any other manner of general musings that are piqued by his circumstances, and then for the final chapter he returns to a more bike-specific mindset when discussing his local New York.
The book signs off with an epilogue that covers the usual blah-blah-blah about the current car-centric transport system being unsustainable and the many ways this impacts on cities and their inhabitants, and how a different future needs to be found. A frighteningly brief appendix skims over bike security, maintenance, clothing and travel and the book is finally brought to a close by some drawings of Byrne designs for New-York bike racks.
Bicycle Diaries is lightly peppered with black-and-white photographs and illustrations of an uninspiring quality that don't really add much to the book, but there's a flick-book style line-drawing of a bicycle that runs from the spine of the book to the edge of the page and back again, which is cheeky.
If you want to read a book about cycling then you'll need to look elsewhere, this one won't tell you how to mend a puncture, what gear ratio to chose, how to pedal faster or be full of amusing yet interesting Tour De France anecdotes. If you want to read a book about where a bike can take you and the experiences and thoughts that can blossom from this then Bicycle Dreams is worth a look, you don't even have to be a David Byrne fan, the man's broad intellect are more than enough to keep you entertained. I'm no great follower or fan of Brynes work but I know that it's eclectic and unafraid to absorb and reinterpret world rhythms, in many ways the book is like his music, he is a multi-cultural sponge, observing all the that world can offer and regurgitating it with his own particular spin. All in all it's a gently engaging insight into an intelligent man's thoughts and how he sees the world.
Bicycle Diaries - David Byrne
Faber And Faber
It's not all about the bike.
road.cc test report
Make and model: David Byrne Bicycle Diaries
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
"A celebration of bike riding - of the rewards of seeing the world at bike level. It gives the reader an insight into what the author is seeing and thinking as he pedals around cities such as London, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Manila, New York, and San Francisco."
A pretty spot-on description, highlighting the fact that it's not a technical cycling book, but one of experiences.
A decent hardback cover but the paper inside feels cheap, and the monochrome photos and illustrations are poor quality. It would possibly work better overall as a paperback.
Damn, books are expensive these days aren't they. It seems quite spendy considering the quality of the paper and photographs.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The world viewpoint and the eclectic mix of subject matter.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
You could tell when Byrne was on one of his favourite subjects as it could get a bit long-winded and preachy at times.
Did you enjoy using the product? On the whole, yes.
Would you consider buying the product? Not at that RRP, but I'd certainly borrow it off someone.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Tricky things books, I'd mouth a caveat that it might not be their cup-of-tea, but I'd let them borrow my copy.
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
A book about cycling that isn't all about training, hardship, effort, miles travelled and drugs taken or not, but about more earthly matters. Got to be a good thing.
About the tester
Age: 42 Height: 180cm Weight: 73kg
I usually ride: It varies as to the season. My best bike is: The one I\'m on at the time
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo cross, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Fun
Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he’s not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he’s not doing either of those he’s pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he’s agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours doesn’t. He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.