THE first bicycles were freed on July 28th, 1965. On the previous night Provo, a Dutch anarchist group, had put up flyers proclaiming that “the asphalt terror of the motorised bourgeoisie has lasted long enough”. A few dozen people had gathered at the bottom of the Spui, in central Amsterdam, along with some reporters. There were also some police; they thought the Provos were troublemakers.
Roel van Duijn and Luud Schimmelpennink started painting three black bicycles white. “The white bicycle is the first free communal transport,” as their flyer put it. Once so transfigured, the bikes would simply be left on the streets; to make them free for all to use, the flyer said, “the white bicycle is never locked.” And that, it turned out, was a problem. After they were let loose on the streets, the white bikes were impounded by the police. A 1928 statute, they pointed out, required bikes to have locks. Ownership was not optional.