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Art or Vandalism? The Painted Bikes of Amsterdam

words and photography by Rolling Spoke

Aerosol cans are not just used for covering walls in graffiti. In a phenomenon unique to Amsterdam, bicycles have become a blank canvas for a personalized touch of stripes and polka dots.

At first glance, these colorful bikes appear to be a spontaneous act of creativity (or perhaps madness) likely inspired after several drinks at the local bar. In other instances, they look as if they were ravaged by vandals. But how does one separate the work of a Van Gogh wannabe to that of a hooligan? The answer may be that it depends, so I came up with checklist.

Criteria for Art

  • There is any consistency in proportionally spaced out patterns of dots and stripes.
  • More than one color used.
  • An effort to use complementary colors.
  • Blending paints to make a gradient.
  • It has personality and looks half decent.

Criteria for Vandalism

  • It looks like a rush job.
  • The paint breaches the frame and starts to cover other components like rims, handlebar and saddle.
  • It’s a new bike that doesn’t need a paint job.
  • One colour is used (in most cases.)
  • It looks like the bike was sprayed on the spot.

Why spray paint a bicycle?

One reason is to simply put an artistic flare on a beater bike. Another reason has to do with Dutch practicality, making it easy to find if when one forgets where they parked it. Petty thieves will also find them less desirable since a yellow bike with red polka dots is pretty easy to spot. Anyone who wants the stolen ride will also have to take the time to paint it.

According to one opinion, some bikes that look like they were maliciously attacked by an aerosol can have been in fact intentionally spray-painted city officials. They are unclaimed bikes which are tagged and then sold at auction. At this time, this is only hearsay.

Whether vandalized or customized, the painted bicycles of Amsterdam will continue to add some funk to city full of personality.

 

 

Rolling Spoke 

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