GHOST RIDERS: A SERIES of spectral memorials are beginning to haunt the byways of Britain.
By SHARON HENDRY
Published: 04 Feb 2009
At a distance they are unremarkable - simple bike frames bolted to lampposts,
gates or railings. But up close, their ghostly white hue hints at a
Dubbed Ghost Bikes, they aim to warn motorists approaching dangerous bends to
look out for cyclists and, in many cases, have been left where riders were
The phenomenon started in St Louis, Missouri, in 2003, spread throughout the
States and is now gathering pace in the UK.
More than 100 old bicycles painted white have sprung up at "danger spots" in
the past year.
The UK campaign is the brainchild of Steve Allen, 38. He began it after his
friend, James Foster, was killed in a north London street.
Well-known and loved among cyclists in the capital, Tasmanian James, 37, was
hit in July 2003 by a speeding drink driver outside the bike shop where
Sabrina Harman, 24, was sentenced to 21 months' jail and banned from driving
for three years.
Angry at what he believed to be a lenient sentence, Steve began to research
He discovered 23 activists in Seattle had spent three months collecting online
submissions of cycling accidents - not necessarily deaths - and had mapped
them on a website.
In August 2005, the Seattle group placed 40 ghost bikes at the worst
locations, each with a notice saying: "A cyclist was struck here."
James Danson-Hatcher ... his death brought fresh calls from cyclists for speed limits to be reduced
They refused to reveal their identities, saying they wanted to keep the focus
from individuals and on road safety. Steve, who teamed up with Ghost Bikes
on a trip to America, said: "Something had to be done. James was a great
mate, a young man in the prime of his life.
"Cycle deaths on UK roads go largely unreported and I wanted to put
something tangible out there to document the tragedies and warn drivers to
look out for cyclists."
When he got home, Steve established a UK branch of Ghost Bikes. He picked up
the bikes for a pittance from dumps and scrap merchants and painted them
white in his back garden.
The website developer has since placed more than 100 of the bikes on the
roadside in London, Oxfordshire, Manchester and Brighton - although local
councils have removed many of them.
Many ghost bikes are left by family, such as the one in North Wales that Peter
Cawley set up to commemorate his brother Barry, 37, killed by a speeding car
Some are installed under cover of darkness, others with a small ceremony, such
as when Greenwich cyclists in London held a minute's silence for Lennard
Woods, killed in Greenwich Park in June 2007.
Another white bike was put on a junction in Hackney, north London after the
death last April of cyclist Antony Smith, 37, who was crushed by a lorry.
Attached to the frame is a laminated order of service, bearing the touching
message: "You hold your child's hand for a while, but you hold his heart for
On the front wheel is a photo. You learn that Antony came from Clitheroe,
Lancs, and had a nice smile. Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart was
played at his funeral.
Another ghost bike marked the spot on a Brighton road where James
Danson-Hatcher, 23, was killed by a car driving close to the 60mph limit in
April 2007. The driver was not prosecuted.
James's father Mark told The Sun: "James's bike was the first ghost bike in
Britain. It looks very lonely on that road.
"Cycling was his real pleasure, it seems cruel it was the way he died."
James's grieving sister Alison Swann said: "I am glad a ghost bike has been
put at the spot. Anything that helps raise awareness of road safety is a
"James was a bit of an activist. He was into green issues and a very
"My mum, sister and I all agree he would have thought it was a brilliant
"Car drivers fundamentally believe they own the roads. If ghost bikes can help
make people more conscious of sharing the roads, they must be good."
In April last year a white bike was left on a street in Manchester after
55-year-old Stephen Wills was killed by a hit-and-run driver.
In 2007, 3,000 people, including 500 children, were killed on UK roads. More
than 130 were cyclists.
The ghost bike movement began when Patrick Van der Tuin saw a vehicle hit a
woman in a cycle lane in St Louis. He later placed a white bike there with a
notice saying: "Cyclist struck here."
Passing it each day, Van der Tuin was impressed that drivers took note and
So he and fellow cyclists chose 15 intersections where bikes had been hit and
put bicycles at them.
The idea of the white bike as a haunting symbol was already in the air: In
April 2002, San Francisco-based artist Jo Slota had begun painting abandoned
bikes he found on the streets, documenting the results on his Ghost Bike
From 2002 to 2005, Slota painted 23 broken bikes - sometimes a complete frame,
sometimes a lone wheel left pathetically propped in a rack. "I see them as
'dead bikes'," he said, "and paint their remains to emphasise their
Ghost Bikes now operates in 43 countries and 75 cities worldwide. It has had a
huge impact in New York.
There, Visual Resistance, a group which specialises in politically engaged
street art, began creating ghost bikes to mark the 20 deaths, on average, a
year in the city.
Their campaign was aided by tolerant city authorities and 45 ghost bikes are
still in place in New York's five boroughs. They are now the responsibility
of the Street Memorial Project, a group that also campaigns for pedestrians.
Spokesman Wiley Norvell says: "The instinct has been to treat these crashes as
something we can never change. Ghost bikes defy that convention. They make
people aware of the individual who died and work as visual, artistic traffic
The New York bikes have become a powerful symbol. They are visited daily,
flowers are put on them and they are regularly repainted.
They have also become a poignant focus for campaigning. On the first Sunday in
January, cyclists organise a memorial ride taking in all of them and
installing new ones to mark deaths in the preceding year.
Ghost bikes have helped make roads safer in New York, and if they do the
same in Britain, that can only be a good thing.
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