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Bicycle Diaries

3.41 of 5 stars 3.41  ·  rating details  ·  3,284 ratings  ·  568 reviews
A renowned musician and visual artist presents an idiosyncratic behind-the-handlebars view of the world’s cities

Since the early 1980s, David Byrne has been riding a bike as his principal means of transportation in New York City. Two decades ago, he discovered folding bikes and started taking them on tour. Byrne’s choice was made out of convenience rather than political mot...more
Hardcover, 297 pages
Published September 17th 2009 by Viking Adult
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8th out of 54 books — 31 voters
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31st out of 31 books — 16 voters


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Community Reviews

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Jeremy
Most of this is only tangentially about bicycling. Byrne is just too interested about too many different things to stick with one topic, and that was fine with me. He bounces giddily between reflections on city planning, geography, history, contemporary art, cultural anthropology, music, etc. The section about Manila and Buenos Aires in particular are extremely interesting, I had no idea about the weird personality cult/pseudo-religion that had developed around the Marcos's, or the bizarre hodge...more
Jeremy
Several reviewers have covered elements of this book including...

-its discursiveness (it is indeed, a pastiche of blog-like musings and observations)
-the fact that it is only tangentially about the subject alluded to in the title, the bicycle
-the fact that David Byrne is a liberal Renaissance man whose thoughts are generally more interesting and insightful than those of the average world citizen (sure, fine... I was a Talking Heads fan too, and even a liberal in most scenarios)

I've seen few rev...more
Rebekah
What a complete disappointment. I was so looking forward to reading weird random bicycle musings by David Byrne, but alas, his brain these days is less interesting than my own. I guess he's good at putting his thoughts into the ambiguous and metaphorical terms well-suited to song, but when he tries to spell them out in writing and "back them up with supporting evidence," well, he should leave it to those who understand the supporting evidence well enough to say something meaningful and interesti...more
Tosh
A neither or nor type of book for me. A lot of times David Byrne writes about the obvious, and other times he is responding to something that is interesting and he has something to say about it. The title is not really what the book is about. Although there is some bicycle riding stuff - but mostly it is Byrne commenting on pop and political culture of various areas of the world.

On one level it is sort of like getting a post card from a distant land and Byrne is noticing stuff because he's an o...more
Splendy
This book is as much about what defines the culture of cities as it is about bicycling. I’ve read David Byrne’s blog for years, and much of the blog content ended up in the book. He has this way of writing that is amazingly informative without being pretentious. He’s just really, really cool. And that shows in a seemingly effortless way.

This isn’t just another boring travelogue that leaves you feeling frustrated that someone would take the time to explain all the reasons why you should or shoul...more
Bernie
I ride my bike to work nearly every day that is above 20 degrees and not raining or snowing. I also ride to other places and take long trips on my own or with my wife on our tandem. I LOVE to bicycle! My daughter knows this too, and that it was very thoughtful of her to select this book to give to me as a Christmas present. It was a thought-provoking book whose conclusions gave me pause even when I disagreed with some.

As a bicyclist myself, I like that he focused on the act of bicycling—the enj...more
Sweetman Sweetman
Aug 20, 2010 Sweetman Sweetman rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone, travel and bicyle lovers especially
Recommended to Sweetman by: library find
I loved this book. It was a quick read, very interesting and now I AM DYING FOR A FOLDING BICYCLE! I know I can pay better attention to life around me and see interesting things in typically boring places. I know I'll be able to find a concrete box building with just one metal door and a lightbulb affixed to the side of it as its only decoration fascinating if I am riding on a folding bicycle. I just know it.
The lovely character of this book is that you feel as though your alongside Mr. Byrne. H...more
Mike
Nov 30, 2013 Mike rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone

Although I am a huge fan of the movie True Stories, I primarily think of David Byrne as a member of Talking Heads. Although I vaguely knew that he continued to work as a solo artist, I did not follow this phase of his career. Bicycle Diaries is the first of his books that I have read.

The book is about using a bicycle of course, but more importantly it is about how architecture, urban planning (or mis-planning) and people make the places that we live and work in habitable, desirable, or just plai...more
Keith
I asked the library to get this book something like half a year ago, as soon as I found out it was coming out. when it finally was released and the library had a copy for me I got it and devoured it. I'm a fan of david byrne, as much or even more of his work after the talking heads, and I'm a fan of bicycles, so a book full of david byrnes musings about riding a bike through a bunch of different cities around the world seemed like a winner to me, and so it was. While it may seem a bit silly... r...more
Jana
David Byrne is such a cool charming person. But a man who sings Home can’t be anything else. I love this sweet and smart blog-alike-book, because my best without a heartbeat friend is my little bikey. During the summer time I do bike marathons all over my county. Bunch of my friends are nuts over marathons/bikes as much as I am, and it’s 30-80 km in a day, and afterwards is beers and laughs. I love that feeling of exhaustion, bonding with other people in our journeys, when the heat is unbearable...more
Ken Deshaies
David Byrne is one of the more creative entertainers on the planet. From his seminal band, "Talking Heads", to his foray into film with "True Stories" (a wonderfully engaging and funny movie), he's kept a good part of America talking. It turns out that he had a penchant for bicycling and tended to bring a folding bike along on his tours. Hence, while members of other bands might be out drinking or drugging, David was leisurely bicycling his way through cities and bergs around the world. He found...more
James Cridland
I knew that David Byrne had something to do with music, but didn't actually know more than that (shhh) - 67% of the way in, he drops into the narrative that he was, of course, one of the founders of Talking Heads.

Impressive, then, that this book isn't called Road to Nowhere: it's a meandering and rather self-indulgent book; part travelogue, part social commentary, part political activism; part back-slapping prose - all using the construct of a bicycle trip or two.

Byrne, who lives in New York, ha...more
Wesley
This is a fantastic and colorful book. It's obviously pro bicycle but on a casual basis. The author isn't a racer or extremist in the sport. He rides just to be riding and enjoying the sights. This book is a translation of that casual riding and visualizations into literature. I've never been to these places, but there are some now I want to see because of this slowed perspective. Bicycle Diaries has a great point of view and was wonderfully researched. David Byrne comes off as a real diplomatic...more
Christopher
Guys, I'm sad to say that I didn't even finish it!

It wasn't what I expected. It wasn't about bicycles or bicycling as much as it was simply about Byrne's impressions and thoughts of different cities. Cities that he happened to travel through while on a bicycle.

I liked the "faster than a walk, slower than a train, often slightly higher than a person" passage from the introduction, but lost interest shortly thereafter.

It's very choppy, and not very cohesive. It's as though he literally did copy a...more
Stan
This is a book of David Byrne's musings while riding his bicycle in cities around the world. There is nothing particularly earthshaking here, but it is fascinating to observe this obviously brilliant man's open, active, free-ranging mind as he considers, well, whatever comes to mind. He describes his ride through Detroit as heartbreaking. He argues that what we build says something about who we are, and to some extent shapes what we become. He is saddened that old architecture is being replaced...more
Zanna
Byrne travels a lot and whenever he arrives in a place he spends some time cycling around. While very little of this book is literally about things seen from a cyclists point of view, his views on cities designed for driving and the privatisation of public spaces are linked to that perspective. I don't think he is critical enough, sharp enough about accountability for urban decay in the US. He's too mild mannered! But what can you do but be grateful for a broadly anti-colonial anti-corporate voi...more
Sonia Almeida
Loved it. I had it in my shelf for quite some time, but for some reason I was not that inclined to read a book only about cycling. Eventually, for lack of better options, patience for other books, I decided to give this a chance. And I'm so glad I did. David Byrne is such an interesting person, full of great thoughts and ideas. The bicycle is a mere excuse/vehicle to convey us with thoughts on modern cities, urban planning and development, differences/similarities between cities in different con...more
Elise
I have a bike in Brooklyn, but am still too chicken to ride it anywhere other than Prospect Park--and only on a warm, sunny day, over the weekend, when the park is closed to vehicle traffic. I wish I were more of a biker, though--the efficiency and environmental friendliness of bike travel definitely appeal to me. So, I was really impressed by and interested in the fact that David Byrne travels everywhere by bike--and by everywhere, I mean he folds his bike into his suitcase whenever he travels...more
Lisa
Mar 29, 2010 Lisa rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Lisa
Recommended to Lisa by: John McKenzie
The topics explored in this book are as wide ranging as the author's global travels. When road conditions aren't outright harrowing, bicycling can allow for an observant state of mind that is simultaneously aware of outward surroundings and aware of inner reflection; an optimal frame of mind for a tourist, or a writer. Bicycling is David Byrne's preferred mode of travel, both home in New York City and abroad. In this book he shares a few of the thoughts evoked by the different cities he explores...more
Andrew Hecht
"Likewise - now don't laugh - cars and trucks should view the bike lanes as if they were sacrosanct. A driver would never think of riding up on the sidewalk. Most drivers, anyway. Hell, there are some strollers and little old ladies up there! It would be unthinkable, except in action movies. A driver would get a serious fine or maybe even get locked up. Everyone around would wonder who that asshole was. Well, bike lanes should be treated the same way. You wouldn't park your car or pull over for...more
Shane
This is an interesting non-academic book about the author's experiences as a commuter cyclist in various cities around the globe. As the title indicates, this is written in diary format, and any of the chapters could be read as a stand-alone.

Aside from cycling, this book also offer's Byrne's take on art, philosophy, politics and various other topics. As someone who does quite a bit of cycling, this book comes across as having been written immediately following a ride, when the incresed oxygen...more
Sue
This is a pleasant memoir of David Byrne’s visits – with bicycle – to a variety of cities. I think he would make a fine travel companion because he has such regard for the people and cultures of the places he visits. In fact, I backed into this book in an unusual way. When the author visited my home city, Pittsburgh, he went to see the Maxo Vanka murals, a set of remarkable paintings in a Croatian Catholic church in an off-beat location. It’s the kind of place the locals don’t even know so well,...more
Alan
Oct 26, 2012 Alan rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Green thinkers and wobbly, squeaky wheels...
Recommended to Alan by: A long and illustrious career
You know his name, or ought to. David Byrne is a multitalented musician, writer, filmmaker and all-around artist. He's probably still best known for his performances with the band Talking Heads, even after all these years, but that's only been a small part of his long and illustrious career.

And he really walks (or rather rides) his talk. In Bicycle Diaries, Byrne goes on another world-wide tour, but it's not about the music this time. Or, at least, the music takes a back seat. This time, Byrne t...more
Karima
The author is arguably most associated with his role as a founding member and principal songwriter of the American new wave band Talking Heads,(active between 1975 and 1991.) As a fan of the TH (esp. his version of Cole Porter's "Don't Fence Me In") and an admirerer of Byrne's artistic sensibilities, I expected more from this book.
The title is misleading. Byrne travels a great deal and is an avid cyclist. I thought the book would be more like a journal; observations of sites seen and things hear...more
Derek
Aug 12, 2011 Derek rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Jen Askey, Ryan Askey
An undeniably likable narrative of getting around various cities via bicycle (and meeting an array of awesome/important people along the way), David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries is a nice enough account, but don't go looking for much of a glimpse into the persona of Mr. Byrne. While he spends a good deal of time philosophizing on a variety of topics (architecture and art, mostly), he tends to keep himself at arms' length--he talks a little about his work, but apparently the idea that a diary might be...more
Kevin
Jan 03, 2011 Kevin rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: cyclists, david byrne fans
Byrnes exploration of cities around the world via bicycle seems like a great idea for a book, and it is, those parts of the book that involve a bicycle and the focused attention of an interesting mind. The parts of the book that digress away from the cycle and evolve through Byrnes thinking on art and politics (some passages seem like the most embryonic of ideas that he should have fleshed out or eliminated) are simplistic, unoriginal and unsurprising. I whole heartedly agree with the point of v...more
Judson
Except during maybe a few culturally backward years in the late 80s/early 90s, David Byrne's utter coolness has been unassailable. That status absolves him from ever over-reaching at anything; why should he? It's also what makes this book great: Profundity is never approached, but the simple, bike-bestowed observances about cities, politics, architecture, music, and art pile up into an argument for being brainy and taking your time and for the urban world to get cooler about bikes. Chicago gets...more
Meghan
On the one hand, a rock star wrote a book and posed some good questions about how cities' transportation options influence quality of life. Cut him a break, right? Sure. On the other hand, I was hoping for more. He needed an editor to focus these thoughts. It read like a blog instead of a book.

I did appreciate his articulation of the joy of urban biking:

"It’s the liberating feeling—the physical and psychological sensation—that is more persuasive than any practical argument. Seeing things from a...more
Theresa
What a disappointment. I love me some Talking Heads, and somehow imagined that Byrne would have something interesting to say outside of music. Instead, this book was the equivalent of a middle-aged film star suddenly deciding to record an album - he may secretly dream of being a pop star, but that doesn't mean he should foist that dream on the rest of us. I agree with Byrne that bikes are cool and that riding in cities is scary in current conditions. I agree with him about Bush, and foreign poli...more
Mercedes
Byrne has been an avid bike rider for decades and these diaries chronicle his riding in major cities throughout the world along with his views on urban planning, art, architecture, music and more. I enjoy hearing positive narratives of urban bike riding and how it's not always just the freedom of the bike but the feeling of civic pride and independence in carving out an alternative healthy transportation. I tried several years to live without a car using a bike and public transportation and thou...more
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David Byrne is a musician and artist most associated with his role as a founding member and principal songwriter of the American new wave band Talking Heads, which was active between 1975 and 1991. Since then, Byrne has released his own solo recordings and worked with various media including film, photography, opera, and non-fiction. He has received Grammy, Oscar, and Golden Globe awards and been...more
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“I sense the world might be more dreamlike, metaphorical, and poetic than we currently believe--but just as irrational as sympathetic magic when looked at in a typically scientific way. 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.” 19 likes
“Creative work is more accurately a machine that digs down and finds stuff, emotional stuff that will someday be raw material that can be used to produce more stuff, stuff like itself - clay to be available for future use. ” 18 likes
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