“As a kid I had a dream–I wanted to own my own bicycle. When I got the bike I must have been the happiest boy in Liverpool, maybe the world. I lived for that bike. Most kids left their bike in the backyard at night. Not me. I insisted on taking mine indoors and the first night I even kept it in my bed.”
When you think about it, it shouldn’t be a surprise that there’s such a strong connection between cycling and music. The rhythm of the pedal stroke, the beat of the heart and the chorus of nature surrounding you.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sung a song in my head to help me get up a grueling climb. And quite often I’ll notice a song looping in my brain–replaying several times over before I even realize it’s there.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, poetry tends to write itself when I’m on a ride. This must be similar to what so many musicians experience on a bike. What are songs really, other than poetry set to music?
Two cycling musicians that come to the forefront of my mind are Neil Pert (drummer for Rush) and David Byrne (front-man for The Talking Heads). Both have been cycling for years, and both have written books on their experiences on two wheels.
Awhile back, while thumbing through books at the library, I came across Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne. I was shocked. How could this book have gone under my radar? How is it possible that I didn’t know about it? Since I was a pre-teen, I’ve been in love with Byrne’s music. His ability to completely re-invent himself every few years just makes me appreciate him more. Now, I realize that I also love his writing. I’ve gone through Bicycle Diaries twice–and plan on referencing it again and again. While touring, Byrne brings his folding bike and explores cities around the world.
What I love is that he doesn’t just write about the top “bike friendly” cities–he also explores some of the “least friendly”–and sees beauty in them as well. David goes into great detail about bike infrastructure and what city planners need to focus on to improve ridership. He brings up the ex-mayor of Bogota, Colombia as just one example…discussing what Enrique Penalosa did to completely change one of the most dangerous cities in the world in a very short time span. David keeps a blog that often revolves around cycling at David Byrne blog
Next up is Neil Peart. You may find this amusing but I really don’t like listening to Rush. I dated a guy in the early 90’s that was infatuated with them. I tried so hard to appreciate the music but it never happened. When my mother-in-law sent me The Masked Rider–Peart’s first cycling book–I just couldn’t get myself to read it. It sat on the shelf for months. Then, my husband read it and informed me that I’d really enjoy it. I picked it up and then, couldn’t put it down. I was so enthralled by not only his cycling adventure but how he viewed the world. He was so honest and real. My new found respect for him didn’t get me to like Rush’s music (although I think he’s an amazing drummer) but it did get me to follow his writing.
Luka Bloom’s song Acoustic Motorbike is one of my all time favorites. His lyrics capture the essence of what riding means to me. Acoustic Motorbike was released in 1992–the year I was going through a dynamic shift in my personal world of cycling. Bloom wrote the song after a concert tour that put him behind the wheel of a car for 5-6 hours a day. He found himself realizing that when in a car, particularly in cities, a bit of a monster came out of him. Shortly after that, he moved outside of Dublin and started becoming more serious about biking (he’s been biking from the age of 8). When asked the question if that’s when he wrote Acoustic Motorbike, his reply was:
“Right. The idea of the acoustic motorbike came about, funnily enough, when I was talking to my managers and one of the guys from the record company about what it is that I do and what it is that makes me different from say, rock and roll, or from folk music. We were talking about how it’s not really one or the other, but it’s something in between. so you have the Harley-Davidson, for example, as a symbol of rock and roll. Well, a mountain bike is a symbol of what I do. And one of my managers said to me, ‘It’s like an acoustic motorbike.’ It’s a motorbike, but the motor is the human power, and that makes it acoustic. I thought it represented a very interesting visual image for what I do. The idea stuck with me. So then when I went on this cycle around the west of Ireland, I decided to write a song, and then decided it was a great idea for an album cover.”
Peter Mulvey, Wisconsin folk hero, has captured my heart with his music and the fact each summer he does his Midwest tour by bike. That’s right, he loads up his guitar and belongings and heads out for weeks on end, playing at venues in big cities and small towns.
Mulvey is a very approachable guy. Each year my husband and I make a pilgrimage to Cafe Carpe in Fort Atkinson to see him play with Jeffrey Foucault, Kris Delmhorst and David Goodrich–collectively known as Redbird. As most folk musicians go, he writes about his surroundings. One of my favorite songs, Road to Mallow, ushers in images of summer rides through farmland. If I remember correctly, last year he said that two-thirds of his Midwest tour had been done on bike trails and paths. I guess this gives him the freedom to compose beautiful lyrics vs. worry about traffic.
Doomtree is this crazy rap collective from Hopkins, Minnesota. They all perform solo and then get together, sometimes just a few at a time, sometimes all of them, and put on three hour, mind blowing performances.
Their lyrics are edgy and since they live in a city where cycling rules, they bike. The best part is they put a video together showing my old stomping grounds in Minneapolis–by bike. Drumsticks video
This post could go on forever. If you’re into how music and cycling go hand-in-hand, I urge you to check out Pleasant Revolution –a tour of musicians that travel by bike. Ride on and may the beat be with you!