All-White ‘Ghost Bikes’ Memorialize Cyclists Killed on Streets

A mourning ritual and a roadside memorial, a “ghost bike” marks the site where a bicyclist was killed while riding.

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A ghost bike placed at the site where cyclist Billy Martinez died in October 2013 in Sunland. (Credit: Danny Gamboa)

According to ghostbikes.org, a site that chronicles memorials set up in the New York City area and elsewhere, the first ghost bike was created in 2003 in St. Louis.

Now they’re all over the world — including in Southern California.

Last fall, a gallery in East Hollywood showcased art related to ghost bikes in the Los Angeles area.

Painted completely white, the bikes help bring closure to those who lose friends and family on the road, according to members of the cycling community who erect ghost bikes.

Danny Gamboa, who has worked on a 60-minute documentary about ghost bikes, is one of several activists who create the memorials in the Los Angeles area. Gamboa’s website is filled with photos of the memorials.

“We’ve placed ghost bikes for cyclists as young as 6-year-olds and as old at 90-year-olds,” Gamboa said.

The mission is “to make sure that anyone killed on their bike isn’t forgotten and isn’t dying in vain,” according to a Facebook page for Ghost Bikes-LA.

According to federal data, 726 cyclists died in collisions in the U.S. in 2012. As a growing number of Southern California cities seek to add or consider bike lanes and cycling advocates becoming more vocal, such deaths are increasingly in the spotlight locally.

For one Oxnard father whose young son was among those killed while riding, the makeshift memorials serve as a raw reminder of the fragility of life.

“When I lost my son, I walked away for five minutes, and it was in those five minutes my son was taken away from me. And I can never have him back,” father Anthony Martinez said.

One day while visiting the site where his son, 6-year-old Anthony Jr., died, Martinez was stunned to discover a ghost bike dedicated to the boy.

“I was speechless because this individual didn’t know me … didn’t know me or my family,” Martinez said of whoever erected the memorial.

He was so touched, Martinez joined the ghost bike community of volunteers who vow to honor as many victims as they can.

“It’s a way of showing a family that there’s someone out there that cares and feels their pain — that’s the way I look at it,” he said.