As more cities and towns are trying to figure out how to deal with traffic problems and to reduce air pollution, many of these places are looking to increase biking as a possible answer those issues. Typically this entails adding or enhancing bike lanes of various types. However, it seems there is one critical bicycling infrastructure item that often gets overlooked or ignored: bike racks and bike parking. If bike parking is not easy to use and readily available, that is one more item a bike rider might add to their list of reasons not to ride their bike to run errands or commute to work.
The best bike rack is one if the simplest: the inverted U bike rack. This plain design looks just like the name implies, an inverted U shaped metal pipe that can be attached to the ground plane via welding to metal plates that are then screwed to the ground. Another installation option is setting the ends of the pipe in sub-grade concrete footers.
Why is this modern classic the best bike rack design for bike users? It provides two stable points of contact to lean their bike; the bike frame can be placed close to the pipe for easy locking and securing (proximity is crucial when using a U-lock bike lock); and you can easily lock two average size/shaped bikes (one on each side) to one U bike rack.
The advantages for a property owner or a municipality who might install a rack is the basic inverted U bike rack is relatively inexpensive, and, unlike consolidated racks (multiple slots for several bikes all connected to one frame) you can install just one, or several racks. Additionally, the inverted U rack is a minimal site furnishing element that can be easily tailored to various building architectural styles.
Variations on the U-rack abound. Usually they work as well as the basic U, but if too many extra pieces are added to it, such as logos or other parts, this can impact the ease of use of the rack, frustrating the users.
Some of the worst bike rack designs are ones where the bike owner can only secure and lock their bike wheel, and the frame of the bike does not get close to the part of the rack where a user can attach a U-lock. This can put torque or force on the wheel which could bend it. It is also not as secure as getting the frame of the bike as close to the rack for locking. Fortunately this design seems to be old and falling out of favor.
Another bad bike rack design is any type for which the bike owner must lift their bike to attach to the rack. Considering some bike users may be a child or an elderly person who may not have the strength to lift the bike up, this kind of rack is not a good option.
And the only thing worse than a frustrating or mediocre bike rack is a non-existent bike rack. Such a situation may lead to the bike owner locking their bike in unwanted areas such as against the trunk of a young street tree, or in a location that might impede pedestrian traffic. Or, it could possibly lead to the bike owner leaving the premises, and going to a different business where there are proper bike racks. If you are a property owner who is considering what site elements and furnishings to include around your property to foster a healthy customer base, I highly recommend that you include bike racks and if possible, make them some form of the inverted U bike rack. Your bike riding customers will be grateful.
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