The action started on June 8, when 400 orange bicycles branded with the inscription "Vilnius City Municipality" turned up at special orange stands at different locations around the center of Vilnius. Anyone interested was welcome to pedal to wherever he was going free of charge.
After their journeys, riders were asked to leave the bikes at the nearest orange stand. It is planned that another 600 bikes will be let loose on the streets soon.
It was hoped that the scheme could continue until the winter and then resume next summer. On June 8, virtually the entire population of Vilnius between 10 and 14 years of age descended on the bikes and rode most of them around for hours. By the end of the weekend, 300 bikes had disappeared and 25 were broken.
Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas' idea was a pleasant one: to make cycling the main means of transport in the center of Vilnius. Bike use was supposed to be limited to between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m., and only within the set zones in the downtown area of the Old Town and its neighboring quarters.
By using "The Bike's Invented - Ride Orange!" slogan, the Vilnius municipality hoped to urge the residents of the city to take up a healthier lifestyle.
According to Zuokas, modern urban areas are unthinkable without environmentally friendly means of transport. The scheme was expected to promote one of the cleanest - the bike.
This is also viewed as a way to solve Vilnius' increasing traffic congestion and parking problems in the city center, where a bicycle can travel much faster than a car.
The city of Vilnius has invested in the construction of cycling paths and the installation of bicycle stands, while private sponsors - Rubikon Apskaitos Sistemos, Utenos Alus, Baltic Vairas, Lietuvos Draudimas, Pieno Zvaigzdes and other firms - bought the bikes.
The 1,000 orange bikes planned for Vilnius this summer, which were made by the Siauliai-based company Baltic Vairas, cost 270,000 litas ($67,500).
Special racks were prepared for the bicycles to be parked in. Ninety of them have been installed all over the city center, providing 500 separate places.
On the eve of the scheme, Zuokas said he was aware of the possibility that some of the bikes could be stolen. But, he added, he was not afraid of thieves. "This will be a test of morality for the people of Vilnius. They can control themselves," Zuokas said confidently.
Understandably, after the sudden disappearance of most of the bicycles, most people in Vilnius are rather skeptical about the future of the bikes-for-free campaign.
However, Zuokas remains optimistic and believes the scheme will continue. A similar scheme was put into action in Amsterdam, which had the same sad results at the beginning, but later, said Zuokas, the bikes became very popular there.
Whatever the end of the experiment may be, Vilnius has won something. Twelve kilometers of new bicycle paths have been completed, covering a total distance of 30 kilometers in the Lithuanian capital.