What is a Ghost Bike?

Mary McMahon

A ghost bike is a junker bicycle which is used as a memorial to mark the site of a location where a cyclist has been struck and killed. Traditionally, ghost bikes are painted white, to enhance the ethereal look and to make them more clearly visible. Ghost bikes are used to mark the passing of beloved cyclists while also highlighting the issue of road safety for cyclists, and they can be found all over the world, especially in major cities, where cycling accidents are unfortunately common.

Man with a backpack
Man with a backpack

The first known ghost bike was installed in Saint Louis in 2003, by someone who watched a cyclist get hit by a motorist. The witness realized that the event would be erased from the landscape of the city once the victim and bicycle were removed, and that thousands of passerby would travel through the area without realizing that anything had happened. With the goal of creating some sort of lasting memorial, the first ghost bike was created, and it proved to be effective enough for the trend to spread to other cities.

Typically, a ghost bike is stripped down to its barest components, so it is more like a shadowy outline of a bike. After a ghost bike is painted white, the effect is quite stark, and often very moving. After the bike is installed, a placard is attached to the bike with information about the accident. Some placards include only the statement “cyclist struck here,” while others list details, or provide a web address where people can go for more information. In some cities, a ghost bike database is maintained by a cycling safety organization, which also keeps statistics on accidents to highlight dangerous areas of the road.

As a general rule, ghost bikes are quickly removed by transportation officials, since they are usually installed on city property. Ghost bikes are not removed out of spite, but out of a concern that they could threaten public safety, including the safety of cyclists, and because moldering bicycles could become an eyesore if they were left in place. In some regions, city officials have an unspoken policy to leave ghost bikes up for a set period of time before removing them or asking cyclist advocacy organizations to take them away.

A ghostcycle, as ghost bikes are sometimes known, can be a compelling sight, especially for cyclists who knew the victim. For motorists, the ghost bike is designed to send a stark reminder that sharing the road is important, and that motorists need to watch out for cyclists, especially on busy roadways.

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