Discussion with Rosie Swash
'The physical sensation is exhilarating,' says the cycling enthusiast and musician.
I cycled when I was at high school, then reconnected with bikes in New York in the late 70s. It was a good way of getting around the clubs and galleries of the Lower East Side and Soho. At that time almost no one else was riding, but I didn't care what people thought.
There's a certain amount of freedom involved in cycling: you're self-propelled and decide exactly where to go. If you see something that catches your eye to the left, you can veer off there, which isn't so easy in a car, and you can't cover as much ground walking.
The physical sensation of gliding with the wind in your face is exhilarating. That automatic activity of pedalling when you have to be awake but not think too much, allows you to let subconscious thoughts bubble up and things seem to just sort themselves out. And the adrenaline wakes you up if you weren't properly alert. If I'm commuting to work by bike, I'm fully awake by the time I get there, having dealt with a little bit of New York traffic en route.
I had an accident once when I had been out at an art opening and had too much to drink. I lost sight of my girlfriend and was turning around trying to see where she had got to, then slipped and broke two ribs, which I realised the next day and woke up in incredible pain. But that's nothing compared to some collisions bikers have, although it's definitely getting better. There are more secure bike lanes and drivers are beginning to have a better awareness of cyclists.
What usually takes me to other places is business, and when I get time off I'll always set a destination to visit. In Berlin recently, I decided to go to the Stasi headquarters, which was out of the centre and a bit of a ride. It was a great thing to see, but it's as much about the landscape along the way.
I've got lost plenty of times. We were touring on the border of Switzerland and France and I was going down various paths on my bike when I ended up in the other country. I had cut through some vacant lots, under an express way, through a fence, then suddenly spotted the border crossing. Luckily I had my passport on me.
It's difficult to have conversations biking, although quite a few of us on the tour have bikes and we try to ride together. Cycling can be lonely, but in a good way. It gives you a moment to breathe and think, and get away from what you're working on.
• David Byrne's chronicle of his adventures on two wheels, The Bicycle Diaries, is out now on Faber & Faber. The folding bike featured in the book is being auctioned to raise funds for the London Campaign for Cycling at davidbyrne.com/bikeauction.