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I hope you never have to prepare a ghost bike

A behind the scenes explanation of what ghost bikes are, how to make one, and how ghost bike vigils are organized.

On October 28th, I received a text message from my friend, Babs. Babs and I were working on a design project together, so I assumed she was texting about that. When I opened the text, I expected to read something about the logo work, but instead it was a link to a news article. The article was titled, "Bicyclist seriously injured after struck by van in Streeterville". Whenever a cyclist is hit, there is this moment where everyone braces for impact as we try to figure out who was hit. There's an immediate sinking feeling, paired with holding our breath, as we perform a "friend-check" wondering if it was someone we know.

Babs sent two more texts:

"I know him"

"It sounds really bad"

And it was bad. The biking community quickly learned the person who had been hit was Adé Hogue. He was a prominent designer and he raced on the same Half Acre cycling team as Babs. The bike and design communities overlap heavily in Chicago and Adé's crash sent waves through both of these communities. A gofundme was launched to help with Adé's medical bills as well as travel expenses for his out of town family. Over $170,000 donations poured in from all over the world.

Things didn't go the way we had hoped and Babs and I took on the unfortunate role of arranging Adé's ghost bike. A ghost bike is a memorial for people killed while biking. The process involves painting a bicycle white & placing it at the site of the crash. Ghost bikes are a way to honor lives lost and they're paired with a hope that a location will be constructed in a way that will be safe for all. They are a strange, painful, emotional, and exhausting custom. If you're reading this, I hope you never have to make one.


Here are a few behind the scenes details about ghost bikes and vigils that aren't often shared publicly:

  • Not everyone wants a ghost bike created. Sometimes family members prefer not to have one created. Would you want to pass by a loved one’s ghost bike everyday? Adé's friends and family wanted a ghost bike created.

  • Who is going to prepare the ghost bike? Sometimes family and friends prefer to prepare the ghost bike themselves. Sometimes the family and friends prefer for someone else to take care of it.

  • What bike are you going to use? You can't use the bike the person was riding when they were hit. When a person is killed while biking, their bike is held by the police as evidence. Adé had multiple bikes, so could we use one of his other bikes? Nope. Adé's bikes were so high-end that they wouldn't stand a chance chained up on a Chicago street. His bike would have been stolen in a heartbeat. There's nothing more heartbreaking than a stolen ghost bike. (Yes. It really does happen.) The wonderful folks at Working Bikes donated a bike for Adé.

  • How are you going to paint the ghost bike? It's illegal to buy spray paint in Chicago, which makes painting a ghost bike quite an ordeal. Seriously, how twisted is it that in order to paint a ghost bike for someone killed in a car crash, you're forced to track down someone with a car to drive out to the suburbs for spray paint? Aaaannnnnd you better buy enough paint while you're out there, or you're going to need to go back for a second trip. Adé was a designer, which meant we were extra nervous of doing a crappy job painting his ghost bike. Again, I hope you won't need this information, but buy 5 cans of spray paint. Let the paint dry between coats to so it doesn't drip.

  • Where are you going to paint the ghost bike? Where are you going to store the bike as it dries and until it's placed at the crash site? Most people that live in cities live in apartments. Apartments aren't ideal for spray painting. We were lucky enough to be able to spray paint at Working Bikes. They even came in on a Sunday so that we could get the bike painted.

  • Where and how are you going to install the ghost bike? Often times there are conflicting stories of exactly where crashes took place. In Adé's case, we had to stitch together conflicting news stories and police reports. We then compared the details to Google Maps. Since Google Maps isn't always up-to-date, we visited the crash site in-person to determine where and how we might be able to install the ghost bike. We decided the median would be the best location. Then we determined we would need two chains and locks to keep the ghost bike from falling down or being stolen.

  • Will a public memorial be held or will the bike be installed privately? Will the police be present? Will things get out of hand if the police are present? We fully expected to shut down the intersection of Grand and Lower LSD the night of Adé's vigil. We called the alderman's office in advance to give them a heads up. It was a cordial phone call. The staff even thanked us for organizing the vigil. Pay attention to your surroundings at the memorials. For example, when we held a human protected bike lane for 13 year old Issac Martinez, his blood still stained the road. We had to quietly and politely let people know what that stain on the road was and that they shouldn't stand on top of it.

  • When will the memorial be held? For Adé's ghost bike vigil, we worked around the schedules of his out of town family. They told us which day worked for them and the rest was taken care of.

  • Will the media be present? How will the family feel about the media being there? What will you say to them? How are you going to feel if the media edits your interview so that it comes off completely different than what you intended, or worse, helps them fulfill an anti-biking narrative?

  • Will anyone come? Whenever I organize things like this, I'm always worried no one will come and wonder what the family and friends might think. The Chicago biking community was given less than 24 hours of notice for Adé's ghost bike vigil and I was admittedly worried. HUNDREDS of people came.

  • How much time will there be before the next one? The harsh reality is that another person will be killed soon after. In fact, two people in Chicago have been killed within about month of Adé's death. So far this year, 11 people have been killed while biking in Chicago. Streetsblog recently shared this year is an all time high for cyclist deaths in Chicago. So was last year though. The number just keeps going up year over year.

  • What is being done to stop this? We're looking at you city officials. What are you doing to make biking conditions safer?


Photos from Ade Houge's ghost bike vigil:

November 2, 2021


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