Frank Ocean’s third single of 2017 finds him ruminating on the act of riding bicycles. As a ubiquitous form of solo transportation in many parts of the world, the subject might seem banal. But Frank, alongside Jay Z and Tyler, the Creator, work their magic to transform two simple wheels into something both sonically and thematically sublime.
Jay Z opens things up with a reminder that the nature of the movement of a bicycle wheel is much like life and history — “what goes around comes around.” Although it’s a simple, age-old adage, I envision a bespectacled Jay at a modern art museum somewhere, cooking up his opening verse in the midst of observing Marcel Duchamp’s "Bicycle Wheel" — one of the Dada artist’s readymade artworks that consists of a bicycle wheel mounted on a stool. 104 years before Jay, Tyler and Frank came together on “Biking,” Duchamp understood how zen looking at a bicycle wheel could be. What goes around comes around.
The act of riding a bicycle is something that arguably most people in the world can experience, unlike driving a "White Ferrari." Learning how to ride a bike is often a significant rite of passage, indicating a certain sense of freedom you may not have experienced before the training wheels came off. Whether you’re commuting to work, doing a “full cab and a back flip” like Nigel Sylvester, or riding around your suburban block alone for the first time, the act of riding a bike often contains a certain degree of naive pleasure; it simply feels good most of the time.
Add a pair of Gucci sneakers on your feet and you’ve just upped the stakes. What’s better than carelessly cruising around in $600 embroidered Italian kicks, like the ones featured in the 57-second teaser video? It’s a particular kind of freedom one can only hope to experience in a lifetime.
Balancing something quotidian with something luxe is arguably one of the biggest flexes, like eating McDonalds on a marble table. Instead of hitting the floor on a Gold BMW E30 with Gucci-glad feet, Frank opts instead for “burnin’ his quads” going uphill on his bike. It could be read as a form of humble restraint — like earlier in the verse when he raps, “I’m fuckin' with Addy, I'm watchin' my dose.”
“Thinkin' maybe someone is not somethin' to own, maybe the government got nothin' to do with it,” Frank ponders as he considers just one of many important life events that have the potential to take away the wholesome freedom, of which a bicycle can be a symbol. Instead of being tied to places or things or people, or merely ticking off all the boxes on the prescribed to do list of life, you can hop on a bike and realize nothing really matters and that's OK.
If, according to Ayesha Siddiqi,"Being alive is just an archive of loss, with an occasionally good song," then "Biking" is one of those rare good songs that can serve as a reminder of our cyclical life archives. With “Biking,” Frank Ocean, Jay Z, and Tyler, the Creator remind us that aimlessly riding a bicycle, while a seemingly conventional act, can lead to some inspiring realizations about life, or at least some dope wheelies.