Freddie wrote in strange keys. Most guitar bands play in A or E, and probably D and G, but beyond that there's not much. Most of our stuff, particularly Freddie's songs, was in oddball keys that his fingers naturally seemed to go to: E-flat, F, A-Flat. They're the last things you want to be playing on a guitar, so as a guitarist you're forced to find new chords. Freddie's songs were so rich in chord-structures, you always found yourself making strange shapes with your fingers. Songs like Bicycle Race have a billion chords in them.
It's Freddie's idea, actually, I mean, the Tour de France was coming by our hotel in Switzerland, and he was absolutely fascinated by it and he just said, “I've got this odd idea, dear: I'm thinking for the song, to call it Bicycle Race, in the middle there'll be bicycle bells.” It's got a great middle-eight, actually.
Freddie became quite worked up about Tour de France. We couldn't understand why, and then he came back with this delightful creation.
Did you ever read Moby Dick? I always remember the first words were “Call me Ishmael”. But of course Herman Melville wasn't Ishmael. As with a novel, just because a song is written in the first person doesn't mean it's in any way autobiographical. As I remember, Freddie liked Star Wars a lot, and he actually wasn't very keen on riding his bicycle (if he even had one!) - he preferred being driven in a Rolls Royce! But he created a character in the song, and this character can say what he wants, and he can ride his bicycle where he likes!
I think the Tour de France came cycling by one day and Fred was gazing at it with absolute amazement, I think, and it's a fairly big deal, the Tour the France, you know, and I think it just triggered something in his imagination.