Mysterious white bikes in northeast Portland are work of artist and peace activist

(Background photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland. Inset: Sarasota Magazine)

“I’m going to keep doing this until I make a difference. And every time I lock up another bike I make a difference.”

– Dr. Nik

The mystery of the white bikes popping up all over inner northeast Portland has been solved.

Turns out they’re the work of an artist who moved to Portland just a few months ago and is eager to make his mark on our city. His name is Dr. Nik (a.k.a. William Pearson) — a 67-year old former union carpenter who moved to an apartment in the Boise Neighborhood near North Mississippi Avenue back in September. The white bikes he’s been chaining up to racks this winter are part of an anti-violence campaign he calls The Spectacle For Peace.

Dr. Nik reached out via email after reading our story about the bikes published earlier this month. He explained what he’s doing in a phone call with me today.

“Yes they’ve got the ghost bike mentality,” he acknowledged, “but that’s not why I did it.” “If you think about it, peace is dying,” Dr. Nik continued. Several times during our chat Dr. Nik expressed his anger and frustration about gun violence in America.

“There’s too much violence, too much hatred. My belief is what-you-see-is-what-you-get. If you see peaceful and calming things, that’s what you’re going to be,” he said. “I grew up in the 1960s and I never thought someone would go into schools and kill kids. I felt helpless, but I’m a doer. And I felt like this is what I can do. This is my little way of doing something.”

I snapped these photos as a tourist in Sarasota in 2015. The bikes were designed and installed by Dr. Nik.

When I learned Dr. Nik was behind these bikes and did a bit of Googling, I quickly found an article about him in Sarasota Magazine. That reminded me of some photos I took during a visit to Sarasota with my family in 2015. I searched my photos and there they were: Brightly painted bikes with flamingos attached to them. Yes, bikes I photographed in 2015 were the work of this same Dr. Nik!

Dr. Nik worked in the theater business in Sarasota. He would build and fix things for local productions. His love art bikes began by accident in 2007 when a theater company he worked for discarded a pink mini-bike he had made for a show. “When it was over it ended up in a dumpster,” he recalled. “And I thought, what am I going to do with a pink bike?”

Dr. Nik says his wife was nagging him to clean up their yard (“I’m not a pack rat,” he told me, “I’m a collector of possessions”), so onto the street it went. And he’s never looked back. It turned into dozens of art bikes all over Sarasota that were ultimately compiled into a self-published book titled Art Bykes of Sarasota. He estimates one of his bikes still locked up in front of Bayfront Park in downtown Sarasota has been photographed “thousands and thousands” of times.

This colorful character is retired now, and he’s on a mission to place at least 55 bikes around Portland as part of his Spectacle for Peace project.

” know some people associate this with ghost bikes… I’m an artist. Don’t tell me how to paint my pictures.”

– Dr. Nik

When I shared my concern that bikes painted all white trigger thoughts of fear and sadness for many people who associate them with ghost bikes (often erected where bicycle riders are killed in collisions), Dr. Nik said he’ll take that into consideration. “I know some people associate this with ghost bikes,” Dr. Nik shared. “Rainbows are associated with gay people, but it’s still a rainbow. Come on now. Everybody’s got an idea about something. I’m an artist. Don’t tell me how to paint my pictures.”

“They’ve got peace signs and doves on them. If you think that’s a ghost bike, that’s fine,” he added.

While he continues to place bikes around northeast Portland, Dr. Nik is just biding time until warmer and dryer days of spring and summer. He’s a puppeteer and has a collection of handmade marionettes he hopes to perform with around town this year (from a stage he’s built on the side of his box truck). His dream is to buy an electric trike and build a small puppet stage on the back of it so he can do outdoor shows for audiences citywide. He loves riding bikes but doesn’t do it as much as he used to because he was seriously hurt when a driver hit him while biking in Sarasota in 2019. “Everything stopped for me. I can’t even walk far anymore,” he shared.

Pain nor cold is likely to keep Dr. Nik from making his mark on Portland. He said he loves it here so far and he can’t wait for summer to start doing his thing. Until then, expect to see a lot more of these white bikes popping up. “I’m going to keep doing this until I make a difference,” he said. “And every time I lock up another bike I make a difference.”

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wendibro
wendibro
9 days ago

I understand not wanting to compromise one’s artistic vision, but come on, ghost bikes have an established meaning in local culture and planting them everywhere is not going to meet his alleged goals.
The colorful ones are fine, nice even, why can’t he just stick with those?

rainbike
rainbike
9 days ago
Reply to  wendibro

my comment was apparently not approved, but @wendibro said it better – and more politely…

OGB
OGB
9 days ago
Reply to  wendibro

Yeah, some of his installations are other colors. If he would just avoid using white, it would not cause confusion and dilute the effectiveness of the Ghost Bikes movement.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
9 days ago

Why not just pick a different color?! These bikes are severely triggering for some people. I appreciate the art, and the message, but it’s really in bad taste and his attitude seems a bit dismissive of what he is doing to people. Not only that but the city is going to start taking down other real ghost bike memorials if he starts putting these up over town. These don’t say peace to me at all they say trauma, death and vehicular violence.

Lm
Lm
9 days ago

This is taking meaning away from peoples deaths. And also taking up valuable bike parking spots. Check your ego dr nik.

Pete
Pete
9 days ago

His miss-use of our community’s tradition to honor our dead… smh. I sure hope he can see past his cognitive dissonance soon. In the meanwhile, would some helpful soul please get your spray paint out and fix his “art?” Just the white ones. Thanks

Pete
Pete
9 days ago

Someone please just spray paint the white ones a different color.

Pete
Pete
9 days ago

Is there a list of locations where one might be able to view this artist’s white bikes?

Zack
Zack
9 days ago
Reply to  Pete

The white one with doves is outside the Florida Room

EP
EP
9 days ago

I’m an artist. Don’t tell me what color to repaint these white bikes!

MetroPaint is cheap, recycled, and comes in 11 colors that aren’t white!
Colors and product information | Metro (oregonmetro.gov)

Fred
Fred
9 days ago
Reply to  EP

Funniest comment of the week.

ghost bikes matter
ghost bikes matter
9 days ago

Thanks for finding out what this is. I don’t think it’s ok to use white bikes. AFAIK that’s the only color of bikes that has a meaning, and it’s so serious and precise. Each bike is located at a location where someone is killed. It’s not something to be taken lightly. I understand that he’s an artist but he could pick any other color or any combination of colors to avoid this conflict in meaning. It’s not “some people think they are ghost bikes” no it’s a global movement to bring awareness to traffic violence. Dr Nik, please use a different color for your bikes.

Pablo Ruta
Pablo Ruta
9 days ago

“Everybody’s got an idea about something. I’m an artist. Don’t tell me how to paint my pictures.”

I LOVE this!! Really stretches those with rigid views and intolerance about “OUR” bike culture and challenges whether one is of a liberal mind and accepting of new ideas in Portland. Thank you Dr Nik, our newest resident hailing from Sarasota, FL!

HJ
HJ
9 days ago
Reply to  Pablo Ruta

The ghost bike movement is not contained to Portland. It’s global. This is not a matter of rigidity in Portland bike culture. It’s a matter of respecting other movements requesting safety and peace. Both messages are important, but if you appropriate the methods used by one for another it dilutes the impact of both.

Roberta
Roberta
9 days ago

At first I thought everybody has a right to put up a ghost bike alter to serve and remember. But this is not that. Our city is not a canvas and yes we can tell you what to paint and what colors for our city. This is PDX not destination artist anarchy.

On the other hand for those of you with a visceral response to ghost bikes. I’m there with you, but we all own our own responses. We can choose a different response. If I had a ghost bike for me I would want those looking on with joy as I died doing what I loved, riding a bike.

I’m looking forward to the puppet mobile trike, that’s sounds like a good time.

HJ
HJ
9 days ago

As someone who has had to erect a real ghost bike for a deceased family member this honestly hurts. I support his overall message of peace, but it rings hollow due to the appropriation and seemingly uncaring attitude towards those trying to raise awareness about another form of deadly violence.
Dr. Nik if you read this please pick any other color. I appreciate your message but this really is not ok.
Sincerely,
Daughter of a traffic violence victim

joan
9 days ago

“Don’t tell me what to do” is a man who says he’s driven by anti-violence?

I suspect compassionate artists who understand their communities and context and shift their work to better communicate their message are more likely to reach their intended audience.

Granpa
Granpa
9 days ago

“Florida man” appropriates memorial iconography and leaves community members bewildered and saddened. Disheartened survivors of traffic violence say “don’t tell me how I should be feeling “

Frank Perillo
Frank Perillo
9 days ago

How does “Dr.Nik” feel about funding foreign wars?

Kernel Moses
Kernel Moses
9 days ago

***comment deleted by moderator. Please find a different way to express yourself. Thanks. -Jonathan ***

Pamplemousse
Pamplemousse
9 days ago

I don’t care about his art history. He’s taking something with meaning here and perverting it, all the while claiming he has artistic domain to it. I wonder how he’d feel if he walked into his living room to find the corpses of his parents and grandparents dressed and sitting around his home as part of someone’s art project? To me, that’s exactly what he’s doing with his white bikes.

Johnny Bye Carter
Johnny Bye Carter
9 days ago

“Don’t tell me how to paint my pictures.”

Sure, artistic freedom and whatnot. But you’d get the same response if you made reproduction Van Gogh paintings, added a flamingo, and tried to convince people it was art. Or if you made fake tombstones and put them in the cemetery.

I see you’ve chosen to fight the large community of cyclists rather than work with them to create your art.

It’s ok to create art that evokes anger, but it’s not supposed to make people angry at the artist.

Instead of creating a feeling of peace you’ve created anger and resentment. Art fail.

So although it feels like we’re telling you what to paint, we’re really telling you to be original *** Moderator: deleted last phrase. ***

Roth Arman
Roth Arman
9 days ago

“if you made reproduction Van Gogh paintings, added a flamingo…”
Jeff Koons?

Fred
Fred
9 days ago

Putting aside for a moment the issue of symbolism of the white color, I am wondering if an artist should be allowed to put art just anywhere – esp in the public domain where we need to lock up our bikes. What if Dr Nik decided to paint old cars and parked them in the middle of I-5? How long would people tolerate his “art” in that location??

Johnny Bye Carter
Johnny Bye Carter
9 days ago
Reply to  Fred

What if we decided to start parking ghost cars everywhere a driver died? I think people would get tired of them very fast and request their removal. The only reason ghost bikes are allowed to stay is because they’re not really in the way.