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MEC Advertising Ghost Bikes—No, Not Those Ghost Bikes

New campaign promotes a brand of bikes called Ghost, but also inadvertently evokes ghost bike memorials.

Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/martinreis/6884429097/in/pool-89872566@N00"}Martin Reis{/a} from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

A few eyebrows shot up in Toronto recently, when passersby noticed the above ad at Mountain Equipment Co-op’s King Street location. It’s not, as you might think at first glance, a public awareness campaign about the perils of cycling, a way of picking up on the theme of the memorial ghost bike installations that appear in Toronto from time to time. This, instead, is an ad for a brand of bikes called Ghost—and the confusion is causing consternation among some cyclists.

Most often, the words “ghost bike,” when uttered in Toronto, refer to a certain kind of memorial: bicycles painted white and installed in remembrance of cyclists who have been killed while riding. Often, they are installed at the site of the fatalities. There was one outside City Hall in June 2010, in memory of Darcy Allan Sheppard. Most recently, one was temporarily put in at Dundas at Sterling, in memory of Jenna Morrison.

But Ghost is also, coincidentally, the name of a German high-performance brand of mountain bike, one that MEC recently announced it would be selling. The deal is exclusive and MEC is, according to their press release on the subject, the first North American retailer to sell Ghost bikes—which also means it’s a brand name many local cyclists aren’t familiar with.

MEC hadn’t returned our call as of press time, but here is the full text of a reply a MEC customer service representative sent to Toronto cyclist Martin Reis in response to the concerns he expressed about the ad campaign:

GHOST brand bicycles originated in Germany in 1993, a decade before bike memorials appeared in North America. The introduction of Ghost bike memorials in the UK and Europe has not been denigrated by the previous existence of the GHOST brand bikes in those countries; just as the co-existence of the memorials and the GHOST brand in Canada should not devalue the memorials here.

Apart from the name, moreover, GHOST bicycles bear no resemblance to bike memorials: were you to place one next to the other, the two would stand in sharp contrast. In short, GHOST bicycles are a performance-oriented product geared to meet the demands of cross-country, single-track and free-ride mountain biking.

I would also emphasize that MEC continues to support safe cycling. In addition to providing members with clothing and gear that makes them more visible and better protected, MEC also provides financial support for cycling advocacy and infrastructure. By working with cycling organizations and municipal planning authorities, our aim is to provide tangible changes that can reduce cycling accidents and fatalities.

The introduction of these bikes is squarely in line with MEC’s support of members’ cycling needs, and there was never an intention to devalue cycling memorials.

We spoke with Rick Conroy, who has previously helped organize ghost bike memorials in Toronto; his reaction is that the situation is both unfortunate and confusing. It’s not a matter of condemning MEC, which he said is clearly interested in bike advocacy, but his worry is that this will dilute the message ghost bike memorials are trying to convey. “I don’t like the idea and I think that MEC has such a strong presence in the cycling community that I’m a little surprised that they are not being more receptive to our concerns,” he said. “On the other hand,” he went on, “I’m not sure what MEC can do.” The manufacturer is hardly likely to let MEC rebrand their bikes, he pointed out, so there are a limited number of options available.

Conroy told us that ghost bike memorials date at least to the mid-’90s, but he couldn’t say whether they predated the creation of the Ghost bike brand. No matter the history, given that is the brand name, it seems MEC is in a bit of a bind. Short of deciding not to sell the bikes entirely, the store is bound to call the bike by its name—associations and all.

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