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  • Photography and words by Mr Sam Polcer

A CONVERSATION WITH MR DAVID BYRNE, MUSICIAN, AUTHOR, ARTIST AND CYCLING ADVOCATE

Mr Byrne rides a Jamis Commuter with custom Halo
retro-reflective coating. Photographed in Manhattan,
heading home from work

Do you remember when you first fell in love with riding bikes?
It was on the Lower East Side during the bad old days, or whatever, and I think I was going to an art opening, and a club, and a bar, and grabbing something to eat - all in one evening. I realised I had just done four things in one evening in an area where it used to be hard to get a cab, and I thought, "Somebody else would've been lucky to go to two." It felt good, and it was very efficient.
So you're a fan of night riding.
Yeah. But you have to be a little careful when riding home after a few drinks. I've had an accident. It wasn't tragic. I was riding with a friend. I lost track of her, and I kind of turned around and went into a pothole.
Those holes will get you.
Yeah, I went into a pothole, and I was down. I wasn't going fast, but I broke a couple of ribs. Luckily, I was OK otherwise. I was riding through the meat market area, and these cops came over, and I was lying in the middle of the street. One looked down at me and asked, "Have you been drinking?"
Does it ever baffle you that more people don't feel as strongly about the benefits of cycling?
Yes. It's baffling that it's not more popular. It's certainly gaining a lot of popularity here, but in other places you go, you think, "Why is there nobody on a bike? Why is everybody stuck in traffic?" In some places, I think it's a status thing. To be seen on a bike means you can't afford a car. So it's viewed as being pathetic. But that view does change.
It's beneficial on so many levels.
But people don't do things because they're good for them - they eat healthy food when it tastes good. There are all kinds of other reasons to ride a bike... climate change, economics, everything else, but the first reason is because it feels good.
So you think cycling advocacy can come on a little strong.
Sometimes it comes across as a little too strident, yes: "Get out of the way because the bikes are coming through." No, let people come around to it on their own and then they'll feel like it's their idea, and they'll be with you instead of feeling as if they've been dragged along and beaten up.

New York Bike Style is published by Prestel
and is out now. Follow Mr Polcer's blog,
Preferred Mode: preferredmode.com

Do you believe there's a connection between cycling and creativity? In the introduction to your book Bicycle Diaries, you write that cycling "facilitates a state of mind that allows some but not too much of the unconscious to bubble up".
It's kind of like peeling potatoes or doing the dishes, where you're doing something routine that occupies a certain part of your mind. The floodgates come open and other things can occur to you because you're not exerting the force of reason as a gatekeeper. Sometimes, if I'm trying to come up with lyrics for a song, I'll put one of those little recorders in my pocket and I'll grab it with one hand while I'm riding.
A lot of the people I've stopped on the street and photographed for this book [New York Bike Style] have turned out to be photographers, writers, film-makers, musicians and the like.
I think in certain places, maybe the early adopters are going to be part of the creative class because they will naturally try something that is a little bit out of the mainstream. But I would hope that it doesn't stay with those people, because that's a pretty small group.
Have you taken any style cues from other cyclists?
The mayor of Vancouver came to one of our shows when we were touring there and asked if I wanted to go for a ride around the city. He shows up and says, "It rains here. Here, put these on." They were these rain pants, like waders. They belonged to his wife or something, but they fit. It's the geekiest look you could imagine, but if it starts to rain, I'll occasionally break those out.
Do you think that bike culture might one day resemble the car culture that we have here in the US? Will there be calendars of women posing on new bikes?
I did a bike calendar! With my clothes on, of course. I don't know. There'll be one segment that might go for that. But cars are a little more about testosterone. It comes with the beast. Bikes are, by nature - except for some of them - a little more genteel. It's about saying hi to people as you go by, instead of stepping on the gas.