A reflection on ‘The Bicycle Diaries’ by David Byrne

Originally posted on Slowquest in 2011.

David Byrne's primary mode of city transport during his career as a musician and artist is a bicycle. In a conversational style, Byrne talks about his observations whilst riding his bike.

On a podcast of 'the Bike Show' on Resonance FM, there was a feature on how when you cycle, your brain is in an alpha-wave state. Your conscious and unconscious minds are slightly better linked and thoughts are more easily able to bubble over from one to the other. I found I had a clarity of thought and more ideas would emerge whilst I was travelling by bicycle.

For Byrne, the city is a physical manifestation of human wants and desires in all their unadulterated glory so to explore the human condition, go and explore the surroundings.

Human's are a product of their environment and the environment is a product of the humans. A bicycle is a very good way to explore this physical map of human beings' creativity. 

The bike, part human-powered, part gravity powered, assisted and coaxed onward by the topography of the landscape, mediates the conversation between human and environment.

Bryne talks about the different uses for his bike journeys; exploring, going to a gig, meeting up with friends, colleagues or artists. The bicycle journeys to these meetings act as thinking space to reflect on the events. As an artist, it offers him inspiration to develop his practice.

Bryne's observations, triggered by his experience of the journeys by bike create stories which are interwoven with historical anecdotes. Travelling is not only an act but a way of thinking and living. The cycle ride is a meditation; the bike is the vehicle by which to enter the meditative state.

I met someone whilst cycling through Switzerland who talked about how when you go cycling, after the initial pain of the first kilometres you enter a trance-like, flow state, and the mind is able to wander.

Brynes' cycling narratives are situated in the context of his life and experiences and create a picture of how he sees and understands the world. The cycle rides connect events, people, and places in a way that makes them make sense by creating a map of his own 'data'. 

Stories are given enhanced meaning through their syntactic positioning enabled by the cycle journeys. The nature of cycle travel means that geography is given a chance, and events, mirrored in thoughts are given space in memory to exist and be processed more meaningfully.

Without my own experience of cycle travel I think I would have interpreted the book differently; more as a series of interesting events, rather than a way that those events are allowed and enabled to exist because of the nature of the journey.

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