The White Bicycle

[Originally published on December 14, 2007]

Today, white bicycles are used to designate the site of a fatal collision between an automobile and a cyclist. For example, the one in the photo to the right identified the place where a hit-and-run driver mowed down Jen Shao, a 65 year-old grandmother, in New York City’s financial district in 2005. Memorials such as these are sadly a common sight in American cities, if not elsewhere. Their colorlessness suggests the grief one feels when the world is drained of a loved one’s flesh and blood and, by disrupting the conventional iconography of the city, they register a protest against the irrationality of our transportation practices. They express outrage, sadness, and loss.

However, the white bike had a very different meaning in the 1960s and 1970s, thanks specifically to the Provos and their anarchist adventurism. At that time, it was a counter-cultural icon that conveyed adventure, defiance, and fun. One can see this in the following three music videos, which also document a curious example of anarchist influence on popular culture.

The psychedelic rock group Tomorrow recorded the following song in 1968 under the inspiration of the Provos:

Nazareth plays their cover of the Tomorrow song:

A snippet of Caterina Caselli’s “Le biciclette bianche” (1967):