There are no plaques on the pink and white bikes parked all over town. Ornamented with lawn flamingos and peace signs and bells that tell you to ring for peace, these bikes seem to grow out of the urban landscape like a children’s cartoon come to life. They have a creator, of course: William Pearson, or, as he’s known about town, Dr. Nik.
“I like my anonymity,” Dr. Nik says. “But I guess I can’t expect to keep it.”
It’s hard not to notice Dr. Nik.
With his white mustache that spills across his chest, he’s at the downtown Sarasota Farmers Market every Saturday putting on a puppet show that he hauls on—what else?—the back of a bike.
Dr. Nik was born in Warwick, New York, about 60 miles north of New York City along the New Jersey border. He attended the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, where he studied photography, sculpting and painting. Since 2007, Dr. Nik says he’s been the “fashion conscious caretaker” (in other words, the handyman, doing electric, plumbing, carpentry, whatever is asked of him) at Florida Studio Theatre.
Dr. Nik has loved bikes since his father bought him a tricycle at age 6 and he painted it yellow. But it was in 2007, when he was building a set for The Lieutenant of Inishmore, that he was inspired to create bike art, or as he calls it, “transportational two-wheeled sculptures.” The play called for a bike that would be thrown across the stage. Dr. Nik found a little blue Schwinn and painted it pink. At the end of the play’s run, he found the bike in the dumpster. “I fished the bike out. I’m a pack rat,” Dr. Nik says.
He fixed it up and turned it into his work bike to carry his tools from job to job. Soon the bike had 44 lawn flamingos on it and he rode it around regularly. Eventually he had a collection of bikes. His ex-wife never liked his hoarding, he says, often telling him, “‘This place looks like a junkyard! You gotta clean this.’” (The flamingos, he says, helped make the case that the bikes were possessions, not trash.) “I’m better now,” he insists. “I’m not letting so much stuff in my front yard. Probably got 10 bikes at the moment.”
When he locked his first bike up in the theater courtyard all those years ago, patrons took so many pictures of themselves before the plays started that they’d be late walking in. He moved the bike across the street. “One day, I watched this couple play with the bike for about five minutes,” he says. “I thought, ‘Wow, look at the joy they’re getting from that. That’s something.’”
Ten years and 36 bikes later, Dr. Nik tends to his flock locked up around town. Over the years people have stolen them, damaged them, stabbed the tires. Every Sunday morning, when it’s nice and quiet, he bikes around and checks on his creations to make sure they’re in OK shape. If one is hurt, he takes it home and fixes it up before he puts it back out on display. “I create weird shit,” he says. “That’s what I do.”