“Provo realises that it will lose in the end, but it cannot pass up the chance to make at least one more heartfelt attempt to provoke society.”
–from the Provo Manifesto
Free bike programs are notorious. Both practical transportation ideas and naive grabs for anticapitalistic utopia, they have roamed the streets of Portland, OR, Madison, WI, Copenhagen, and La Rochelle, France.
The latest act of karmic cyclery is part of the Glasgow International Art Festival. But these festival bikes are no ordinary bikes– they are white bikes. They are tribute bikes. Tributes, that is, to the original 50 bikes released onto the streets of Amsterdam by the Dutch Provo movement in 1966.
One of a series of “White Plans,” (including white housing, white kids, white wives/contraception and white chimneys), the White Bikes program sought to alleviate transportation issues in Amsterdam by flooding the streets with free public bikes. Basically, it was the grandaddy of all free bike programs. It was the idea of a gentleman named Luud Schimmelpennink, but enacted by gangs of “Provos.”
Provos left the original 50 white bikes unlocked on the streets of Amsterdam. After they were impounded for lack of lockage, the activists outfitted the bikes with combination locks. Each bike wore its combination like a tattoo.
The Glasgow white bikes are similarly outfitted with locks, but their combination, 2010, is publicly known. The locks are just to deter lazy bike-stealing jackasses. Everyone else can ride and share, high off of 1966 revolutionary utopian sustainability glory. A similar, city-wide bike program exists in Portland, ME.
The original Amsterdam White Bike program may not have lasted, but Provo actions and tensions between protestors and police did eventually force the mayor and police cheif to resign. Schimmelpennink was later elected to Amsterdam city council multiple times and now works as an industrial designer. His projects include modern bike and car-sharing programs. In the works: a free bike program in Amsterdam regulated by computers. Maybe the revolution has just been waiting to get digitized.