Bicycle Built for Two

I heard the song, growing up, and even rode a tandem bicycle a time or two. For some reason, it never even occurred to me to wonder why it popped up in science fiction; I think I just assumed that it was about the strangest, most incongruous little ditty a computer could sing.

You’ve probably seen the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, and if so, you’ll recognize the sad, creepy demise of the on-board computer, HAL 9000, in this scene:

But why that song, of all songs? The song most of us know as “Bicycle Built for Two” is actually called “Daisy Bell,” and was composed by Harry Dacre in 1892.

1957, Max Mathews of Bell Labs wrote a program called MUSIC for the IBM 704. One of the first computer sound-generating programs. 1962, physicist John L. Kelly Jr., also of Bell Labs, used an IBM 704 computer to synthesize speech, recreating the song Daisy Bell with musical accompaniment from Max. Apparently, author Arthur C. Clarke was visiting a friend at Bell Labs and saw a demonstration. He was so impressed that he incorporated it into HAL’s break-down in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I haven’t been able to find anything to indicate why Max Mathews chose “Daisy Bell,” but I suspect it was a nod to Bell Labs.

And that’s today’s epiphany!


Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at For more information on her children's books, please visit
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14 thoughts on “Bicycle Built for Two”

  1. That was a fascinating story! Who knew? I didn’t and it’s fun to pick up such interesting bits of trivia. Saw 2001 back in either ’68 or ’69 in a theatre in Switzerland. Definitely worth watching again! 🙂
    Debbie recently posted…#AtoZChallenge: “B” is for BALBOA PARKMy Profile

    1. I had no idea, myself, until I ran across that tidbit during a little bout of random surfing. And I definitely didn’t understand a bit of that movie when I first saw it – I was just a kid. That scene may have been about the ONLY thing that made any sense to me, at all, at the time! That, and the fact that they had video phones. I don’t think I ever believed “that would never happen.” It was always just a matter of time – after all, if the human mind could conceive of such a thing, surely they could build it.
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…Bicycle Built for TwoMy Profile

  2. Hi! This was a cute little post. And that was a fascinating little bon mot. I love the juxtaposition of music and visuals in a movie. And I’ve actually seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, a wild, if totally odd ride. I have to admit I couldn’t relate. Cheers.
    Dani recently posted…B = BrimstoneMy Profile

    1. I couldn’t relate to MOST of it. Pretty sure it would make much more sense if you were high while watching. But the scene with HAL? That one stuck with me – I remembered that, and the way people exercised like hamsters in a wheel. Interesting that it was made before we had the ISS, or space shuttles, the Hubble telescope, or even (I think) a moon walk.
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  3. 2001 is my hubby’s all-time favorite movie–we’ve watched it many times and I never thought of the significance of this scene. Thanks for this bit of trivia I can now dazzle hubby with !

  4. I was quite young when I saw Space Odyssey but that snippet took me back over 40 years. I particularly remember the colour red.

    I tried riding a tandem with my husband once but he pedals to a different rhythm and was unimpressed when my response was to take me feet off the pedals.

    Ballarat, Australia
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