Louisa Pearson: 'It's the weekend and you want to relax and enjoy yourself?'

TODAY we're off to the pub. Now hold on just a minute. Stop salivating at the thought of lasagne and chips with half a pint on the side. By pub, I mean Public Use Bicycle systems. What do you mean, it's the weekend and you want to forget about worthy initiatives and relax and enjoy yourself ? Here at Eco HQ, the only side order you'll be getting served today is hard-hitting truths in a basket.

Besides, this is a nice one – a feel-good project that admittedly might struggle to survive in a dog-eat-dog world, but which has its heart in the right place.

Let's start at the beginning. The White Bicycle Plan proposes to create bicycles for public use that cannot be locked. Ha, ha, ha, you laugh, imagining a gang of ne'er-do-wells taking these unsecured bikes on a nightmarish joy ride.

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"The white bicycle symbolises simplicity and healthy living, as opposed to the gaudiness and filth of the authoritarian automobile." Ye gods, that sounds like fighting talk.

These words were taken from the Provo manifesto, outlining the anarchic free transport programme that came out of the Dutch counter culture movement of the 1960s – 50 free white bicycles were let loose in Amsterdam as a way of "sticking it to the man", before the bikes finally fell prey to theft and vandalism.

Nice history lesson, you're thinking, but what vague relevance might it have to me and my people carrier? Well, from this germ of an idea the Pub model grew, developing in 45 cities worldwide.

And over the next few weeks, NVA (www.nva.org.uk) will be staging a re-enactment of the White Bike Plan as part of the Glasgow International Festival of Art. With official bike-drop depots and a universal combination lock code, there are rules this time around, but festival-goers will be able to pedal between venues to their hearts' content, or at least until the end of the festival, when the bikes will be donated for public use around Glasgow.

Bookmakers may or may not be taking bets as to how many of the bikes will remain by the finish date. I'm wondering if one might end up on top of the Duke of Wellington statue instead of the traditional traffic cone.

Cynicism aside, this art project is the tip of the iceberg in terms of interesting bike projects happening around Scotland. In Aberdeen, the BeCycle project (www.becycle.wordpress.com) works to "gather orphaned bikes, fix them up and bring them back to life". The community-based, volunteer-run workshop offers opportunities to learn about bike maintenance, and the revamped bikes are loaned out for free (with a deposit of 40-70 payable).

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In Edinburgh, the Bike Station (www.thebikestation.org.uk) repairs unwanted bikes and gets them back on the road, selling for around 75 each, and the charity provides cycle training and maintenance classes and organises events.

With 18,000 bikes already put back into circulation by workers at the charity, there's clearly a demand. And with an average bike weighing 15kg (excluding tyres), the Bike Station has kept 270 tonnes of waste out of landfill.

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The International Bicycle Fund (www.ibike.org) has lots of information about how to set up self-service cycling schemes.

In Toronto, for example, bikes are signed out using a library-type card. In Copenhagen, they use the coin-release system found on supermarket trolleys, while advertising on the bikes funds running costs.

One day, perhaps, the White Bicycle Plan will be transformed into a permanent feature in Scotland. Meanwhile, let's hope this interlude has banished all thoughts of chips and beer from your mind and fired you up into getting on your bike.

• This article was first published in The Scotland on Sunday, April 18, 2010