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ghost bike or ghost cycle

noun [countable]

a bicycle which is painted white and left in a particular place in memory of a cyclist who has been killed

‘A ghost bike graces the side of the road at Maungatapere, near where cyclist and road safety campaigner Fred Ogle was fatally hit last month … A ghost bike or ghost cycle is a bike set up in place where a cyclist has been hurt or killed, as a memorial to the rider and as a reminder to passing motorists to share the road with cyclists.’

Northern Advocate, New Zealand6th September 2008

We’re now familiar with the practice of leaving flowers and small tributes at the roadside in the location of a fatal accident. A more recent development on this theme is the emerging trend of the ghost bike, a memorial to a cyclist who has been killed as a result of a collision on the road.

unlike other roadside memorials … ghost bikes aim to make a wider statement beyond individual loss

A ghost bike, also often referred to as a ghost cycle, is a bicycle, usually old and stripped-down, which is painted completely white and locked to a street sign, fence, or other fixed object located near a crash site. It is often accompanied by some sort of small plaque in memory of the victim. A ghost bike is therefore intended to serve as a striking and poignant reminder of a tragedy that occurred in a location which would otherwise have been anonymous for the majority of passers-by.

However, unlike other roadside memorials which are usually purely personal, ghost bikes aim to make a wider statement beyond individual loss. As well as creating a memorial where victims can be remembered by loved ones, ghost bikes are also intended to raise awareness among other road users. Often erected by pro-cycling organisations, they are sometimes placed at accident blackspots to deter motorists from speeding and inspire changes that will make cyclists safer on the streets.

The practice of installing ghostbikes began in the US, but has now spread to over 60 cities worldwide. In the UK, ghost bikes have been placed in a number of locations, including London, Manchester, York, Oxford and Brighton. If you’d like to find out more, check out the dedicated website ghostbikes.org.

Background – ghost bike

The first ghost bike appeared in the United States in October 2003, in St Louis, Missouri. After witnessing an accident where a motorist hit a cyclist in a cycle lane, Patrick Van Der Tuin placed a white-painted bike at the crash site, with a handwritten sign saying “Cyclist Struck Here”. Noticing the effect that this had on motorists in the area, Van Der Tuin then enlisted the help of friends to place 15 more ghost bikes at prominent accident spots around St. Louis. Similar projects began in other US cities in subsequent years, including Pittsburgh, New York, and Chicago. The first ghost bikes in the UK appeared in London in 2005.

The word ghost originates from old English gāst meaning ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’, which in turn has Germanic origins (Dutch geest and German Geist). The gh- spelling is thought to have been introduced in the fifteenth century by English printer William Caxton, who was probably influenced by the Flemish equivalent gheest.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 21st October 2008.

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