Why Cyclists Ignore Bike Racks

New Bicycle Racks in Cambridge Latin School Courtyard
Although there are plenty of complaints about the lack of bicycle parking here, my impression is that the greater Boston area is better than many places in this respect. There are bicycle racks all over shopping districts, outside post offices, libraries and prominent places of business, next to transit stations, throughout college campuses. But I notice that cyclists do not always choose to use the racks, preferring to lock their bicycles to alternative structures instead. There will sometimes be a rack that is almost entirely empty, and nearby there will be some bicycles locked to trees and sign poles. 

His and Hers Phillips Bicycles
The other day I saw a group of cyclists locking up their bikes outside a cafe - each one of them ignoring the racks and going for random other structures. I commented about it, and we had an interesting conversation. Here are some of the reasons they gave for not using the racks provided:

. Transportation bicycles with big tires, fenders and headlights don't fit some types of racks. 

. The "tethering post" types of racks that are installed along sidewalks are often placed too closely to the road, and careless drivers can damage bicycles with their cars when parallel parking. 

. These racks can also stand too closely to pedestrian lines of travel, and people bump into the parked bicycles when walking past them, sometimes knocking them over. 

. Others lock their bicycles too closely to yours, scuffing or scratching it, or even knocking it over in the process. 

. Bicycle racks attract thieves, since that is where they look for bicycles and where it is easy to get multiple bicycles at a time. 

Some of these points reflect my own experiences. There are racks I cannot use, because my bike won't fit except locked to the very edge (a spot that is usually already taken by another bike with the same problem). And while this has not happened to me, I have seen cars hit bicycles locked to those individual racks they place along the edge of sidewalks. Pedestrians brushing against my bike and others' bikes scuffing it is less of a concern, because I don't baby my transportation bikes. And I had not given much thought to the possibility that bike racks could attract thieves. 

While not all of these issues are solvable, they are worth addressing when installing bicycle racks. It's a shame when resources are spent to create racks that cyclists find unusable. 


  1. Around here they are constantly installing those tethering post racks sideways - with the circles lining up perpendicular to one another instead of parallel. It's hilarious in, you know, a totally infuriating way.

  2. Great post. I too often avoid bike racks and I've never thought about it before. I think it might be that it calls attention to congregation of bikes and that its likely to be roughly treated by other cyclists locking up their bikes.

    It might be interesting to design "non bike rack" bike racks, i.e. intentionally create a series of discrete objects that don't look like bike racks per se, but are intended as locations to lock up bikes. Fences, posts, etc.. I'd be curious to see what that might look like.

  3. Where I work, they obtained a bike rack and asked us to use it. It is a flimsy hollow metal rack where you can only fit your wheel in, unless you lock your bike to one of the ends. If you do that, however, your bike can be stolen in about 30 seconds by someone who disassembles the rack with an adjustable wrench (I tried this myself to see how long it would take). It is not attached to the ground in any way, so an even more organized thief with a pick-up truck could steal all of the bikes and the rack in about the same amount of time. The rack is outside unprotected, on the grass, which doesn't work so well in the middle of winter in a foot of snow.

    That's why I ignore the rack and continue to bring my bicycle inside.

  4. Some places provide those 'front wheel' racks that hold your bicycle upright. Unfortunately they're next to useless and I'd never use one as you can only manage to lock your front wheel to the structure itself. 30 seconds with a spanner and a thief has your bike away - minus the front wheel. I've no idea why companies bother with them at all!

  5. "I have seen cars hit bicycles locked to those individual racks they place along the edge of sidewalks."

    Yep, this happend to my Masi (track bike) that was locked on the outside of a bike rack that was just installed too close to the curb. When I came back to it at the end of my work day there was a sizable dent in the downtube where it met the metal bike rack.

    I've heard of people working in bike friendly offices that allow them inside.. can you imagine such a beautiful thing?!

  6. it's human nature to seek more creative and more unique solutions (even in as mundane a task as where to lock a bike) than to simply submit to an institutionally dictated scheme, most of which are embarrassingly not well thought out--your first image speaks volumes on that.

  7. It's a shame when resources are spent to create racks that cyclists find unusable.

    Agreed, and part of the problem is that these things are done by people who lack a cyclist's perspective.

    I have found some bike racks to be inappropriate simply because they have sharp edges that can scratch my bike just by leaning gently against it.

    Personally I find the best racks to be the "continuous loop" style, like this:


    No sharp edges, and bikes fit in parallel. They're good for tight spaces. But mostly, I just find a pole or fence and lock my bike to those... Mostly I detest the way some cyclists jam their bikes in a bike rack in a roughshod way, with complete disregard to the bikes surrounding them.

  8. I think much of the problem stems from non-cyclists choosing the locations, procuring the racks, and installing the racks. This is where it pays for cyclists to participate in public meetings about any transportation project and make sure the designers are "educated" about what works for cyclists. My city uses very specific code language developed by cyclists and intended to prevent some of the problems mentioned in the blog comments. Unfortunately, even the most carefully written standards don't work if the installers don't read them.

  9. My old apartment building had a bicycle rack bolted to the floor of our secure, underground garage. Even so, I chose to take my 80's-era Nishiki upstairs with me and keep it on the balcony. Then one day, we were all notified by the landlord that we couldn't keep bicycles on the balconies anymore. (He thought it was unsightly.) So I begrudgingly U-locked my bike to the rack, alongside several other nice bikes. Three days later, we came down to find the entire rack missing. The thieves simply unbolted the rack from the floor and just took the whole thing as a unit. So yeah, I'm a little rack-shy.

  10. Yet more reasons: the moron who locks your bike to the rack, rendering you immobile.

    Love that guy.

    Racks force a bunch of strangers into intimate quarters, like the queue for the loo. People are gross.

  11. Racks

    The security of the bicycle rack should be the last thing about which a cyclist has to worry. Regrettably, the stud-in-the-concrete-with-nut is not secure as evidenced by several comments and my own observations and testing.

    Additionally, both the racks pictured and recommend in the comments do not allow the cyclist to avoid metal-to-metal (or metal-to-carbon/aluminum/bamboo) contact.

    Therefore, I too am a rack avoider.


  12. My favorite is the staple or wooden fence. It helps with a fully loaded tour. I find it stressful to try and keep a fully loaded bike in a rack only by the front tire. I worry it will mess up the rim or spokes.

    It's also harder to pull out a fully loaded bike from the front entry racks when they are full. Your stuff is going to get caught on another bike, or the other bike is going to get caught on you. It's a bother.

  13. Yes, I think the tactile factor is significant. What if racks were metal covered with a softer material such as rubber or wood or something that wouldn't threaten to scratch a bike?

  14. I bet those photos at Rindge and Latin get well used though- I counted 60 bikes locked to the similar style racks at the library next door the other day.

    I like the same kind of rack as Somervillian, except I wish that the "u" shapes were 6" larger. They're just a bit too narrow to fit two bikes per "U"

    I'd say that half the time I go to Trader Joe's their main rack is full, and when I go to request more racks from the manager they suggest that I use the backup rack, which is a) a "wheelbender" type to which I can't lock my bike with basket and fenders, b) not secured to the ground and c) directly in the path of the loading dock where the trucks try to back in. I point out that no one can really use that rack, and that's why they lock to poles, the handicap access ramp and other structures.

  15. I agree with all these comments. I TRY to use bike racks, and regularly applaud our local transit authority, which not only gives them out FREE, but keeps a map of where they are located throughout our area (http://www.cdta.org/schedules_map_bike_rack.php -- does anywhere else have such a resource?). However, too many are of a design that makes it very hard to lock your whole bike. At a local cafe, where the owner has actually bemoaned in the press the fact that no one ever uses the bike rack he installed, the rack is right up against his outside tables -- so I've got to inconvenience other diners and risk getting them with greasy chain, or move the flower boxes that are on the other side of the rack. So I chain up to a nearby fence instead.

  16. " bet those [bike racks] at Rindge and Latin get well used though- I counted 60 bikes locked to the similar style racks at the library next door the other day."

    The racks outside the library are always full, but the ones outside the school itself tend to be empty-ish. I know this because I often take a shortcut through the campus. And when I am there around the time school lets out, I see only a few kids on bikes. Lots of parent in cars lined up down the street though.

  17. How interesting! Since there are only 2-3 bike racks in my town, none of which are near places I shop, I find myself wishing for more. I had no idea that they caused so much frustration! We have to get creative here, and carry multiple locking options if we're going someplace new since you never know what you may have to lock up to.

  18. I agree that a big issue is that the folks who decide what type of rack to get and where to put it often don't bike.

    I work in an architecture firm. When I started out, I took the bus to work and would always make sure the entrances were located near bus stops, that overhangs for waiting under were provided, etc.

    After I switched to biking I have gotten much better at locating bike facilities and providing enough room for maneuvering in front of lockers.

    Meanwhile, since I don't drive, parking garages I design meet building code but probably cause lots of dings and scratches.

  19. The racks outside the library are always full, but the ones outside the school itself tend to be empty-ish.

    My teenage niece attends Rindge and Latin, and according to her, high-schoolers see cycling to school as "un-cool", so that may explain the lack of bikes outside. Just like cycler, I too see very few bikes locked up immediately outside the entrances to the school, but I see the racks in front of the library (which is just 100 feet away) are always full. I know this because I cut through that path between the school and library on my commute home.

    Carl: does anywhere else have such a resource?.

    I don't know if my city maintains a map of all municipal bike racks, but they do have a program for businesses which essentially amounts to free bike racks for the asking. I don't know any details of the program, but a few conditions have to be met, such as having adequate sidewalk space in front of your business to host a rack without violating pedestrian code.

    Also, my city just started installing "on-street" racks. They've installed two thus far, both in front of popular cafes. These racks take up the space of one public parking spot, but can fit over a dozen bikes. The racks are only open to the sidewalk, protecting cyclists and their bikes from street traffic. Smart move.

  20. Near the whole foods closest to me there is one of those big continous loop racks. It could conceivably hold six bikes, easy. Except they installed it more or less right up against a wall. Since you can't pull bikes through the loops, people park parallel on it and you can get two bikes on it. Or maybe just the one if the person parking it is a jerk. I often end up parking my bike about a block away where there is all this short iron fencing surrounding these flower boxes.

    On the subject of bike parking on non-rack random structures, next to our public library is a big flag pole with the US and state flag flying on it. and often I'll see someone has locked their bike to it. Does this seem disrespectful to anyone else? Especially seeing as while the racks are often full, there are tons of nearby parking meters, similarly sized light poles, yards and yards of iron fence, etc. Just a little further away.

  21. City departments are often responsible for installation of racks. My guess is the maintenance workers who actually perform the bike rack placement are not cyclists themselves and are unaware of how we use them. That, or there are specific regulations required that only our government knows. If you're lucky, your town has a bike/pedestrian coordinator that can answer questions.

  22. I have been doing a lot of research to help the bike rack situation here at Vanderbilt, in Nashville, where I work. Here are some of the designs that I heard the best results about when looking into it:
    1 - The Lightning Bolt, designed and used at Stanford where they have 13,000 bicycle spaces.
    2 - The Peak Bike Rack, used at UCSB, UT Austin and others bike friendly campuses:

    These racks allow easy in/easy out, as they "tell" you where to park your bike and are well spaced, unlike the "wave racks" that usually do not fill up because people do not know where to put their bikes in them (see the link in Somervillain's post). Staples are generally good, but put the two bikes too close and they have to be facing opposite directions. Wheel benders are horrible because.... because they bend wheels!
    All racks need to be firmly bolted down, of course!

  23. The Museum School has an awful set-up for bike parking but the racks are still full. One is a row of "artsy" spirals has been hacked through but still up - though anyone could slide the rest of the bikes through. There was a sign warning people not to park. The parking is also in a dark corner away from the courtyard. Years ago it was in the courtyard with the pretense of the entrance guard watching over the area.
    As for what type - I've had my bike scratched one the bike on the other side the reverse U style used a newer Kryptonite u-lock with a silver collar. The collar rubbed against the top tube of my bike and left a nice scratch. I tried contacting Kryptonite about this design flaw but they never followed up with me - I even sent pictures on request.
    Anyway, like a car in Boston, I just expect my bikes to have dings from being used daily.

  24. I will try and see if I can make some pictures of the bike parking at my metro station tomorrow morning. You will find every single type of parking mode mentioned above.
    From racks, to poles to handicapped ramps.

    They also have these racks:
    Which I love.

    Room for two bikes, but still possible to lock them securely through the frame.

  25. Ever try to dig your bike out of a full rack?

    That experience is enough to make any cyclist park elsewhere !

  26. Oh, is that what those white things are?
    Really though, I often come up to a rack and wonder...so how does this facilitate me locking up...
    It seems that the shapes are made to look artsy, or are easy to manufacture first, then they are functional racks.

  27. Weird about CRLS. I asked the librarian, and she implied that it was school kids parking there (she also seemed pretty jazzed about it, actually!) Could there be some other reason that they're not parking at those closer racks? I also see a fair number of highschool aged kids (generally 1-2 a day) biking down Trowbridge every morning, in what I assume is their route to CRLS-I turn off before I get there.
    Interestingly in Cambridge, I know that one of the bike coordinators goes out to help install bike racks. I don't know if he attends every install, but I've talked to him a couple of times when he's just getting back from an install.
    Cambridge has a city "standard" which I know governs the rack type, and I suspect governs the placement, although I'm not 100% sure.
    I also think that they have a cooperative program with private businesses where they'll provide the "right" kind of rack with guidelines to businesses. I don't know the particulars, but I when I was trying to get the racks at the MIT Star fixed, the city said that they were "owned" by Star, even though they're the old standard that say "City of Cambridge" on the ring.

  28. yup.

    I keep meaning to take a picture of the stupidest bike rack placement ever. It's basically right at the bus stop, exactly where the bus doors open.

    I rarely use bike racks. My bikes never fit and yes- they are always right int he door zone of the sidewalk and I really don't want an angry or clueless person to damage my bike. Although today I did use one. It was not next to a parking spot and it was at the corner next to a bench with plenty of room for people to pass. Otherwise I like railings. I'll walk a short distance to lock it away from traffic...

  29. rosecampion said...
    Especially seeing as while the racks are often full, there are tons of nearby parking meters, similarly sized light poles, yards and yards of iron fence, etc. Just a little further away.

    In many places it's illegal to lock your bike to a parking meter. Street signs yes, parking meters, no.

  30. The City of Cambridge has a nice brochure on the placement and nature of acceptable racks:


  31. At my local whole foods, I always lock my bike up to the bars around the walk ramp in front of the building (on the outer part, so as to not be in the way of baby carriages, wheelchairs, etc.). There are some racks on the side of the building, but the lack of security cameras, windows, and lights are what keep me (and others) from locking up in the sanctioned area.

  32. One situation that hasn't been touched upon yet is the "artistic" bike rack. This is when a business or city decides they want to have a special bike rack with some flair to it, and pay someone $$ to design and fabricate something unique. Maybe it's themed to correspond to the business, like this example in Portland's Hollywood District:

    Or this very literal example of a "bike rack" at the Salt Lake City Public Library:

    The former at least is based on a traditional wave rack, so it's somewhat functional. The latter, not so much, as you can see by how people have locked to it.

    I understand the desire for people to have a "Look at me!" type of bike rack, but I'd rather have function over form. Give me a staple rack any day.

  33. "My teenage niece attends Rindge and Latin, and according to her, high-schoolers see cycling to school as "un-cool", so that may explain the lack of bikes outside"

    Interesting that being picked up and dropped off by a parent is less uncool. I remember that being very embarrassing when I was in high school.

  34. This thread has me thinking about the amount of space allotted for bike parking via bike racks. I'd say generally, the expectation is that bikes be crammed into a tiny (unrealistic) amount of space on any given rack and so that's what cyclists try to do.

    I think this is like trying to fit 10 cars into a space that may only comfortably fit three, but its what we've always done. We've become accustomed to this arrangement so we don't question it.

    Its fun to imagine what comfortable bike parking might look like..

  35. In London, I've noticed a few of these cropping up http://www.cyclehoop.com/products/category/cyclehoops/

    I like the idea of bike racks that can be fitted onto existing lamp-posts and railings, and it's good that they've thought out being able to securely lock up the frame and wheels.

    On the whole, I tend to look for the normal Sheffield (upside down u shape) racks, though, as it's easier to lock through the rear wheel and dropouts if you don't have a top tube to lock to the rack. I hate those ones that are designed to put your wheel in though - they're just not thief proof!

  36. Its interesting that the bike racks in front of Earth Fare in my city only accommodate bikes with 26-inch wheels. Fortuntely they have a lot of vertical metal railing in front of the patio and I tether my bike there. The racks in front of one Sonic fits any tire size but is spaced very close together. I understand our city is interested in making art bike racks. Not sure that would go over well. I can see a cyclist standing there trying to figure out how to secure the bike.

  37. I usually don't use them as they rarely provide enough space to park my bike without contact with another bike. It's like sardines in a can.

    Also, the space that some business owners want to allocate for bike parking is often very undesireable, out of the way, can't see your bike from a window, etc. I quit frequenting a local coffee shop when the owner decided to put a bike rack in an awful spot on the edge of his property next to a storm drain. This is the same owner that "authorized" some employees to move two bikes (mine and a friend's) to another location since we were taking up a parking spot with bikes. My bike ended up with a scratch on the top tube. Needless to say, they got an ear full with this move and I now take my business elsewhere.

  38. Add "the bike racks are placed too far away from the person's intended destination".
    http://www.simplebikeparking.com explains the "50 feet rule".

  39. I use the bike racks, but my bike has been damaged in them. My main commuter is sitting on my back porch right now, waiting for a new tire after someone scraped a hole in the side of the wall.

  40. I'll add my observations that I see few bike racks that were placed by bicyclists. 2 libraries have bike racks around the side of the building (i.e. out of sight and exposed to weather). A few adults use it, but most of the kids don't.

    The one I've seen at a shopping center is parallel to a barrier 2 ft away. I may start using it soon. By placing the bike between the rack and the barrier, it may protect my bike from shopping carts and cars. As a wheelbender, it will never hold 6 bicycles, but it may work for 1

    Poorly secured racks can have occasional advantages. An number of years ago in Philadelphia, I found my bike across campus locked to a single bike rack bolted to the concrete. The rack was easily removed with a wrench. I called the campus police, who not only removed the rack but drove the (still locked) bike home for me when it started raining.


  41. One solution to the scratching problem, which was mentioned in a reply above, is Yarnbombing, a colourful, creative art form, though maybe not weatherproof in the longer term ...

  42. Most available bike racks suck. They are of the front-wheely type.
    I have a parallel step through (not swan-like) and most racks in here do not allow me to attach both frame and front wheel in one lock. I have to carry two locks.

    Then, we REALLY have a lot of cyclists in this city so in strategic neibourhoods, racks are always full. Mind you, this dilutes the chances of having your wheels stolen IMO.

    Then some people will always try to squeeze they bikes even when it is obvious there is no more space. They'll even lock their bikes to yours hoping to be back before you, thus nailing your ass there until they're back!

    And yes, people do knock your stuff out, and that's a PITA when you have rear-view mirrors or baskets.
    And what about the street cleaning and snow removal units who could not care less about your wheels?

  43. rosecampion said...
    Especially seeing as while the racks are often full, there are tons of nearby parking meters, similarly sized light poles, yards and yards of iron fence, etc. Just a little further away.

    In many places it's illegal to lock your bike to a parking meter. Street signs yes, parking meters, no.


    In my town, not only is it not illegal to lock to parking meters, many parking meters have these attached metal loops that state quite clearly 'lock bike here'. These meters I am talking about have the metal loop things, therefore are designated bike parking,

  44. This is an interesting topic and, to be honest, I haven't given it a lot of thought except for those few times when I've tried to lock the bike somewhere and the rack was full.

    I guess Minneapolis is pretty decent about bike parking. The city has a bike rack cost share program, whereby they'll split the cost 50/50 for a bike rack with the business. A lot of businesses have used the opportunity to fashion some pretty unusual bike racks, often in artistic shapes or in some way representing the business. I kind of like these racks because they're fun and creative but (usually) also functional. Here are a few examples:




    Another popular one is the somewhat ironic bike shaped bike rack which crops up around here pretty frequently.

  45. We have a mix of bike racks here in south Florida when you can find them:

    In West Palm Beach, there's like 2 downtown areas: CityPlace and the main downtown around Clematis Street. On Clematis, the DDA put in bike racks in the outline of coffee mugs to commemorate their cyclist friend who was killed by a car. I didnt realize they were supposed to be mugs with steam (I always wondered what the squiggles were sticking up) The rest of the racks are loops and they're wonderful and they're all over the waterfront. CityPlace has some catching up to do with only 3 places where there are racks within like 5 block radius.

    There's Publix (our supermarket in FL) who put in the horrid bike rack which my dutch bike can't ever fit into. In addition to not fitting into it, the racks are always obscured by shopping carts and those stupid half mini car for kids crap half shopping cart which all get slammed up against that rack. No thank you. The store is on a corner so the car parking is in the back where the racks and shopping cart mayhem is. There are two nice poles on the street corner on the other side of the store that everyone uses instead since the exit of the store on that side has stairs so no shopping carts.

  46. How odd!

    Here in Seattle one rarely sees empty racks like that.
    Where I bike everyone mostly uses racks. There's one rack that's always totally jammed, but right next to it is a signpost in concrete that would be perfect for locking up. But no one ever uses it... except me.

    They don't honk in traffic here either... everyone's too politically correct.


  47. The comment about high schools having so few bikes outside...when my step daughter was living here last year she refused to ride her bike! The school actually had 2 sets of the well designed bike racks, and one was under cover. She would rather get up super early, barely have time to eat and get ready to catch the school bus which would get her at school too early. It's a 15 minute bike ride into town and to us it was the best thing ever-we were trusting her, giving her freedom to come and go when she needed rather than being stuck on the bus. A few kids bike, but not many which is such a shame. But the kids and teens are shuttled everywhere, and they don't seem to be bothered by being seen as coddled.
    Ah bike racks, who designs them, and who decides where to put them? In a rural area, bike racks are rare so we tend to go for pillars, posts, trees etc.. and find places under cover. Most racks are so ill designed that the bike is likely to slide over and fall unless placed just so...and add some more bikes in the mix and it can be chaotic. There are some cool brand new bike racks in town at the new 'west coast' design bakery/bank that I should take photos of. they only hold one or two bikes, have the fake wood plastic on the post where it will come into contact with the bike.
    In Vancouver there are quite a few bike racks that have been yarn bombed and definitely should be encouraged.
    And worst of all, is the local grocery store having a bike rack against a wall in a corner, next to the staff picnic table where they have smoke breaks! I avoid it at all costs.

  48. You have racks?!!! You don't know how lucky you are to even have the option! At my local grocery, the only place to lock my bike is a mailbox. At the Whole Foods, who you think would try harder, there's nothing but the shopping cart corral to lock to. The train station just installed 3 of the "comb" racks with the skinny little front-wheel-only slots. Since nobody can actually use the 30 slots, the result is parking for 6 bikes - one on each end of the 3 racks. People fight over those spots...

  49. Having not made it all the way to the bottom of the comments... forgive my repetitiveness. I am surprise that "inconvenient location, far from the entrance of where I want to go" didn't make the top of the list. If I see a sign pole 10 feet from the door, and the bike racks are half a block away, I use the pole.

  50. This cycle parking, which I read about just the other day, has to be the worst of the "pretty but unusable" category:


  51. http://www.apbp.org/resource/resmgr/publications/bicycle_parking_guidelines.pdf

    The first edition of APBP's bike parking guidelines is free! Also, there is a handy little page with a diagram showing how much space is required for access, clearance, etc. We provided this diagram to the facilities department and they began to install bike racks properly (engineers and planners love diagrams and schematics) -- they just didn't know how to do it before (because they don't bike). Also, because the LAB Bike Friendly awards ask specifically if bike parking is follows APBP guidelines, businesses/universities/communities have a good reason to follow these guidelines. So, if you see a poorly installed bike rack, share the diagram with the public works / facilities dept / business owner /etc

  52. I love the Peak Racks. They are all over our town. The city buys them, as well as the university. I've seen them everywhere on the Santa Barbara campus, too. They really are well designed and easy to use. The website shows that they even offer angled racks now. Brilliant! Why didn't somebody think of that sooner?

  53. Another issue I haven't seen in these comments: covered bike parking. If it is snowy or rainy I'll always park in a covered area if it's available, whether there is a bike rack or not. The main building of the community college here has a 15-foot overhang. The bike rack is just outside that overhang. Guess where I park?


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