The Humble Bike Rack: Good, Bad and Ugly found in Chicago’s North Side Neighborhoods

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Warning: some sign posts are designed to be easily removed and so are NOT SECURE places to lock your bike.  Always check the base.

The Humble Bike Rack: this under-appreciated piece of urban street furniture popped onto our radar again when Rogers Park announced its contest finalist for a new neighborhood bike rack design.  The winners are all arguably nice graphic signposts for the neighborhood and its features but … our reaction in the office was a resounding,

“You can hardly lock your bike to that.”

In fact, that problem was mentioned in the first of the comments on DNAinfo’s article on the four finalists by John Greenfield of Streetsblog, and followed up by every subsequent commenter.  Lets see if you agree …

Who Are We To Comment?

For our most expert opinions on bike racks, we turn to moss team members Lety and Emily, who both use their bikes for a lot more getting around errands and DO regularly lock their bikes up outside.

Lety always looks first for an official rack, with a secure city signpost as a second option.  She double checks those posts to make sure they can’t be unbolted – an easy access point for bike thieves.

Emily focuses on the most publicly visible and sturdy option (first) and considers whether it is a rack or not (second.)  Her personal pet peve is racks so crowded that she fears “accidentally locking to someone else and will prevent them from getting home.”

I rarely use racks of any description because I have ruthlessly abandoned my old beater Trek in favor of Divvy for daily use, commuting and errand runs – no bike lock necessary.  Chris has nearly the opposite reaason, he uses his bike primarily for long distance commuting between just two points (home and work) and brings it inside with him on both ends of the trip.  (We have a nice bike area inside our office).

bike rack_sign post

We’re not alone in our skepticism about locking to official racks.  

Bike blogger Lovely Bicycle tried to answer the question of why cyclists ignore official bike racks and lock their bikes to near by fences, posts and other structures.  She tells the story of watching a group on bikes pull up in front of a cafe with a bike rack out front and all go out of their way to find other alternative lock spots.  Intrigued, she approached them and asked why, to hear their thoughts.  Their reasons resonated with hers … and also with my own:

Racks often don’t fit the bike (see the new Roger’s Park design)

There may not be enough racks /  the rack is too crowded … which leads to:

Too many bikes jammed together can damage each other

Someone may lock your bike in place with their lock (or vice versa)

Racks are mis-placed, blocking traffic or dangerously close to passing cars

There ARE great some racks out there in the world and, perhaps not surprisingly, some of the best are the simplest.

Here’s a rundown of some racks you’ll encounter in Chicago’s North Side:

bike racks_ring  bike racks_serpentine  bike racks_bike

Roger’s Park is simply following suit with the Neighborhood Themed Bike Rack.  Several other North Side neighborhoods have already designed their own with greater or less practical success.  The bright orange Lake View east racks work pretty well.  Ravenswood’s new hitching post themed racks are obnoxiously difficult to lock a bike to.  Keep your eyes open for these:

bike racks_lakeviewbike racks_ravenswoodbike racks_visitclark

What do YOU think?  What’s your favorite design for a bike rack?  What’s the worst?  What types did we overlook?  Let us know in the comments?

  • Arlene Bader

    I love the bike rack outside of the Traker Joe’s on Lincoln and Cornelia. It is the only one like it that I have seen.

    Many of the serpentine racks are too big around to slide my lock onto them.