Ghost Bikes

Ghost bikes are bikes painted all white and placed at the spot where a bicyclist was killed. I only recently learned that they are controversial.

Some say they send the wrong message. What message are they sending and what message are you receiving? I once spent hours in a workshop engaged in dyads with the simple aim of communication. I learned that communication as our facilitator defined it (one person getting another person’s experience) is rare and a religious or psychedelic experience, not like what we usually think. I learned that there are countless barriers to communication, even when we are consciously working to communicate. I learned that communication requires work from both the speaker and the receiver.

When you talk, is it for the purpose of communicating your experience to another, or is because you like to hear yourself talk? Or because you think you have something important to say and you want the other person to get its (your) importance? Are you even paying attention to what you’re saying?

When you listen, is it for the purpose of getting another’s experience, or to plan your response? Are you actually listening, or do you find that you have to stop what you’re doing when you realize that you just missed something? Do you think you’ve heard it before so you’re tuning out?


I ride past a ghost bike every morning on the way to work. I know its story. It was late at night. The rider was drunk. He was dressed in dark clothing. He was not wearing a helmet. He ran a stop sign. He ended up dead. I know its story, but I don’t know his story. He was a person with a life, presumably with people he loved and who loved him.

I ride past a different ghost bike when I go to visit my daughter. We don’t know the circumstances of his death. We know where it occurred. The only living witness was the driver who killed him. She has a vested interest in the narrative. That bike is redecorated seasonally. If the decorations stopped being renewed, I’d worry about Brendan’s father. The rider would have turned 31 this month.

A third site has no ghost bike. It was the other kind of cyclist – a motorcyclist. His killer was just charged. She said he was riding erratically, as if confused or lost. He cut in front of her and she had no choice but to hit him. The evidence told a different story. The computer in her car said she was going 57 mph five seconds before the crash and 65 mph 1.5 seconds before the crash. The speed limit was 30 mph and she was accelerating when she hit him. A traffic camera showed her running a stop sign just before the crash. It did not show the crash. A witness said the motorcyclist was turning left into the driveway at his workplace when the driver tried to pass him on the left. Since it is the turn he makes every morning, he was not confused. The road is one lane in each direction with a double yellow line. Another witness saw the car go airborne and strike a utility pole, causing a transformer to explode and showering sparks on the scene.

What to make of all this? We have written here before of the penalties for killing a bicyclist with your car (rare and small). Bicyclists and motorcyclists tend not to be believed. There is a public perception of recklessness. The motorist almost always survives to tell their side of the story. The bicyclist or motorcyclist is less likely to be able to tell their side. Thus, the driver gets off.

In these three stories, once the bicyclist was clearly at fault, once we have no one’s word except the motorist, and the third time the motorist’s fiction is contradicted by the evidence. Still, it took 6 months for charges to be filed and we don’t know if she will be convicted or punished.

When I see a ghost bike when on my bike, I remember that I am ultimately responsible for my own life. If I can’t see a driver’s face, they can’t see me. If I see their face but I can’t see their eyes, I know they can see me but I don’t know if they do see me. It reminds me to be extra vigilant.

When I see a ghost bike in my car, it reminds me that bikes are less obviously visible than cars and they need to be in my awareness. It reminds me to make my intentions clear – if I am turning across a bicyclist’s path and they have the right of way, I want to be sure to let them know I see them and am waiting for them to go. It reminds me of their vulnerability relative to mine and that their life has value. It reminds me of the awesome responsibility that comes with driving a two ton vehicle.

The pro-ghost bike articles I have read claim that they honor all bicyclists and remind us all to be careful. The anti-ghost bike article I read claimed that they send the message that bicycling is inherently dangerous and we shouldn’t do it or we’ll wind up dead. Adudeabikes has written about ghost bikes multiple times.

What message does the ghost bike send? What message do you hear?

Author: halffastcyclingclub

We are a group of friends who ride bikes. Some of us are fast, some of us are slow, all of us are half-fast. In 2018, one of us rode coast to coast across the US. It was so much fun, he's doing it again in 2022! If we meet Sal Paradise, we'll let you know.

4 thoughts on “Ghost Bikes”

  1. Excellent post. About listening and about the need to be careful as a cyclist. My father used to say “whether the jug hits the stone or the stone hits the jug, it’s bad for the jug.” Certainly not a reason to stop cycling, just a reason to be watchful.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bicycling can be dangerous and we shouldn’t do it on a busy street without exercising extreme caution or we’ll wind up dead.

    I will not ride my bicycle on a regular city street. One time I was riding to the right on a street. A white car with a lady driving it pulled up to my left and then moved over to make a right turn – and right into me. I popped up over the curb like a slice of bread out of a toaster. She sped off without stopping and I was too dazed to get a plate number.

    Another time I’m riding in a bike lane and suddenly a car pulls out from a parking lane and right in front of me. I went down avoiding the car but my front wheel took damage and so did I. He said I just lost control and went down and he had nothing to do with it. My word against his and nothing ever came of it.

    Or the time I was scared out of my wits when a car rolled up quietly behind me, laid on the horn, and then sped off. I could see and hear the passenger laughing. Happened a couple of times.

    A friend of mine died on Pacific Coast Highway when she was rear-ended by a car in the middle of the day. The driver was never caught. One time I was driving on CA Hwy 126 when I encountered a freshly dead cyclist. Hit by a large pickup truck – who at least stopped. I attempted CPR until the paramedics arrived to no avail. No bike lane and 60 mph traffic. It may have been legal but it was dangerous as all hell.

    A small percentage of auto drivers are a$$holes. A larger percentage are oblivious to their surroundings or in too much of a hurry to care. Nobody wants to accept the responsibility on their insurance. I won’t get into the bad experiences I’ve had riding a motorcycle.

    I don’t ride a non-residential street unless there is a real bike lane and not just a sign indicating a bike route. I don’t like doing even those and feel a great deal of paranoia without a physical barrier. I prefer having a dedicated lane separate from the road. Where I live, there are lots of those and they go to useful places. Most localities aren’t so lucky.

    If you don’t think riding a bike on a busy city street is dangerous, you may be in for a Darwin award. The vulnerability of cyclists is one of the messages of the World Naked Bike Ride.


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