In the 1960s, Amsterdam had much lower cycle rates. To try and reduce pollution and congestion in the city centre, one anarchist group launched a scheme to promote mass bicycle use. It involved giving out free white bicycles and leaving them unlocked in strategic locations around Amsterdam. Unfortunately, the scheme was not a success, some bikes got stolen, and in Amsterdam it is illegal to leave bikes unlocked in the streets. The bikes were confiscated by the police. Although, when they were returned to the Anarchist group – they equipped them with combination locks and painted the combination on the bicycle. Alas, the great ideals of anarchist utopianism didn’t quite work out as good old human nature intervened to leave most of the bikes stolen.
The main inspiration behind this idea was the splendidly named Luud Schimmelpennink. A couple of years later he was elected to Amsterdam city council, and on election he proposed to roll out 20,000 free white bicycles to make Amsterdam a bicyclist paradise. The council didn’t vote for 20,000 free bicycles. But, the idea of mass bicycle use was imprinted strongly in the minds of people. Over the next few years, bike use in Amsterdam did radically increases (as mentioned in this video – how Amsterdam got its bicycle lanes).
This idea of city-wide rental bikes inspired other schemes, which (with the help of modern technology and credit cards) has become quite successful in some major European cities.
Perhaps in deference to the original idea of the Provos, recently Amsterdam got its own white bike rental bike scheme.
[The Provo Anarchists seemed to have a bit of fun during their short lived political activity. They would try get arrested for smoking pot - ring up the police and say some hippies were smoking pot in a cafe, but when the police turned up they would actually only be drinking herbal teas. The police got embarrassed and stopped harassing the hippies. Dope later got legalised]
Not a herbal tea drinking anarchist in sight.
So next time, you ride a ‘Boris bike’ sponsored by Barclays Bank riding through the City of London – just remember the small inspiration of Luud Schimmelpennink and the herbal tea drinking, hippy, anarchists from Amsterdam.