This Guitar-Playing, Headless Horseman Haunts His Massachusetts Town By Bike

Jessica Coulon
·5 min read
Photo credit: Boston Globe
Photo credit: Boston Globe

From Bicycling

There’s a headless horseman haunting the streets of Concord, Massachusetts. And if that alone isn’t strange enough, his noble steed is a black beach cruiser, which he glides around on no-handed—because he’s also playing the slide guitar.

This local performance art is the work of Matthew Dunkle, 38, who goes by the name Slam Dunkle, the musical cyclist. Several hours once or twice a week, Dunkle dresses up as the headless horseman, mounts his black beach cruiser with guitar in hand, and bikes the streets of downtown Concord. It’s possibly the most odd, yet endearing portrayal of the headless horseman ever—and it’s ridiculously amazing.

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Since starting his foray into musical cycling, especially in character, Dunkle has become a different kind of local legend, though one that’s less scary and very much real.

The whole thing started five years ago and originally involved a trumpet and a speedo. Since then, Dunkle has gone through costume—and instrument—changes, but he’s always ridden his beach cruiser.

“I started really enjoying taking people by surprise, like the shock and awe factor,” Dunkle told Bicycling. “I consider myself a flash mob of one.”

As to how he got started in the first place, Dunkle said he picked up his unorthodox hobby after going through a rough patch in his life. Then in his mid-30s, Dunkle was reeling from both a divorce and a death in his family.

“I was looking for some sort of distraction,” he said.

He began riding his bike after work, his favorite route being the three miles to Walden Pond, the former stomping ground of the famous author and transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau.

“The whole movement of transcendentalism and embracing life and declaring sort of personal mastery over your own situation” really resonated with him, Dunkle said. “I was inspired to kind of rewrite everything.”

Dunkle began bringing his trumpet with him on rides, which progressed to him practicing riding and playing it at the same time, which then turned into the performance art that residents of Concord haphazardly witness today. (Dunkle says he doesn’t schedule his rides.)

So, why the headless horseman?

“The headless horseman thing... I purchased the costume to wear for Halloween last year. I got cold feet, I thought it was dangerous,” Dunkle explained. “It was a really cheap costume. I’m not trying to look like some Tim Burton movie. The idea is that it’s kind of hokey, it’s kind of cheesy.”

Dunkle worked up the courage to wear the costume while out riding this past April. He noticed less cars were out on the road due to the pandemic-induced shutdown, and because of this he felt more at ease trying out his new look while riding around town.

“We were all so disoriented over the shutdown, and I thought it kind of fit in that we were all kind of missing something—and I was missing my head as the headless horseman.” he said.

Photo credit: Boston Globe
Photo credit: Boston Globe

Dunkle’s ride is a Raleigh Retroglide beach cruiser, a discontinued model that he bought from a local bike shop after his old Cannondale road bike was stolen. He ended up painting it black to match a Batman costume that he had also worn on the bike.

Riding a bike without hands is no easy feat, let alone playing guitar at the same time. Dunkle credits his balance and coordination skills to riding a BMX bike as a kid. Still, it took some practice for him to make it look as effortless as it does now.

“Now, I can basically ride without using any bars at all. I can go up hills, I can go over bumps,” he said. “Part of it is the simplicity of the beach cruiser… and there’s a lot of weight to the body of the beach cruiser… and the wider tires. There’s a spring in the seat that kind of cushions the ride.”

As for the musical component of his stunt, Dunkle has a long history as a musician and performing artist. He graduated from Berklee College of Music in 2013, and he’s even performed once with renowned musician and producer Quincy Jones and several times with Jazz bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding.

“The guitar is not my primary instrument. And this guitar, I found it in a garbage can. It was in two pieces, I had to glue it back together. I painted it black,” Dunkle said. “The action is really high on the frets, so I started playing slide.”

Dunkle said he never expected to receive the kind of attention that he has, especially now that his headless horseman act has gone viral.

“I’m just really flattered and overwhelmed by all the positive responses, and I’m glad that I could share some lighthearted fun during this time,” Dunkle said.

And for those out there who are currently going through a difficult time of their own, pandemic related or not, Dunkle had this to say: “If you’re going through tough times right now, know that you’re not alone. It does get better.”

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