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.”
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.
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.”