Best Practices in Rack Design

Bicycle racks should have a simple and obvious function. If the rack’s purpose cannot be understood by potential users then it is not very useful. The following are best practices for all installed bike parking.
  • provide two points of contact between the bicycle and the rack to provide stability and security
  • allow for the locking of the frame and one or both wheels
  • compatible with standard locking devices — particularly the standard u-lock
  • secured with tamper proof bolts
  • optimized for ease of access and functionality
  • attractive and complement the surroundings


Usability and Functionality

Securing a bike to a rack must be easy.

Choose racks that:

  • have two points of contact between the rack and the bicycle and that supports the frame as well as the wheel
  • prevents the bicycle from falling over while parked and permits the user to easily lock and unlock the bicycle to remove cargo
  • allows for the use of a proper u-style lock (or two u-locks to allow for the locking of both wheels)
  • are intuitive to use


Avoid racks that have:

  • only one point of contact between the rack and the bicycle especially those that only hold the wheel of the bike
  • these racks can damage a bike’s wheel, are almost impossible to lock to securely, and may cause the bike to fall over while parked
  • sharp edges or rough finishes that can damage the bicycle
  • a bar across the top of the rack that conflicts with handlebars
  • artistic designs that make locking difficult or unintuitive

Accessibility and Convenience

Parking is usually located in an open area that is accessible to the public and must be:

  • as close as functionally reasonable to the destination
  • if parking is too far away bikes will likely be locked to other street furniture or the rails of accessibility ramps
  • in plain view, but out of the way of pedestrians and motor vehicles
  • away from street furniture, walls, and trees that might impede its use


Space Guidelines
When planning the layout of racks, it is important to consider both the ‘macro’ and the ‘micro’ aspects of the site.


Consider the following criteria that will make your parking useful, convenient, and secure.

When trying to identify an appropriate site for short-term bike parking, be sure that it is:

  • in a convenient location relative to the cyclist’s destination
  • as close as functionally reasonable
  • within 50’ from the door and closer if possible
  • the distance may vary depending on location
  • for example in front of an apartment building the rack would be expected to be outside the front door
  • a rack for a coffee shop may be okay slightly further away
  • if the racks are too far away cyclists will alternatively lock to anything else that is available such as benches, trees, or the rails of accessibly ramps, etc.
  • visible from the destination
  • this helps to reassure cyclists about the security of the rack and allows cyclists to keep an eye on their bikes while shopping, eating, etc.
  • located in a high traffic and well lit area to improve safety and security
  • the more eyes on the street the better and safer, particularly if the rack can be located in front of a window
  • when choosing locations consider both the safety of users locking their bikes and the security of the bikes while they are parked
  • weather protected
  • take advantage of overhangs, awnings or sheltered spaces to help encourage year-round cycling and keep bikes out of the elements.
  • If no shelter exists consider installing a free standing structure when possible
  • in a well-lit area


Once you have identified an appropriate location, the next step is to plan the actual orientation of the racks. Each site is unique, and it is important to identify the challenges and opportunities of your site before finalizing the layout and installing the racks. Make sure that you:

  • read the manufacturers’ specifications
  • then consider whether they are appropriate to your site.
  • some manufacturers claim higher capacities on their racks than what is realistic from a users perspective.
  • avoid handlebar, rack, basket conflicts.
  • can be accomplished through proper spacing or through vertical staggering of racks.
  • designs placing adjacent, parallel bikes too close together will not get used to full capacity as cyclists will not accept the struggle to insert and remove their bike combined with the likelihood of their bike being damaged. This will result in bikes parked where you don’t want them, and resources wasted on the purchase and installation.
  • allow for 3’ of clearance around the rack for user access to lock the bicycle from the side
  • ensure adequate end and side clearance fo
  • ensure adequate clearance from walls and other fixed objects; no less than 18”, ideally more.
  • look for fire connections, hydrants, annunciator panels or other emergency access hardware that should not have its access impeded
  • consider wheelchair access, pedestrian desire lines, and the location of other street furniture


A well designed parking area with fewer spaces is better than a poorly designed site.


Short Term Bike Parking - well designed spaces



Staple Racks / Inverted ‘U’


The Inverted ‘U’ can park two bicycles per rack and can vary in design offering cylindrical, diamond, and asymmetrical shapes. Inverted U racks offer flexibility in providing multiple bike parking spaces in a variety of layouts.


Pros Cons
provides two points of contact between the bicycle and the rack may require longer installation time than other rack designs
allows for the frame and both wheels to be locked with a U-lock requires a rack for every two bikes
cost effective solution per bike parked must be installed in cement
lots of space and configuration flexibility, can be installed almost anywhere  
can be surface mounted or embedded  



Short Term Bike Parking - Staple Rack



Hanger Racks

The Hanger Rack can park between 4 to 10 bikes depending on the configuration. It is important to ensure that there is sufficient space between the loops to prevent conflicts between parked bicycles. Racks with square hangers offer improved bike stability and locking functionality.


Pros Cons
provides two points of contact between the bicycle and the rack k thinner tubing may be vulnerable to cutting
allows for the frame and one wheel to be locked with a U-lock cross-bar may interfere with handlebars or locking
adequate space between loops allows for multiple bikes to be parked requires relatively large area for installation



Bike Parking Guide - Hangar Racks



Bike Corrals

Bicycle Corrals (also known as on-street bicycle parking) consist of bicycle racks grouped together in a common area within a street traditionally used for automobile parking.


Pros Cons
provide a relatively inexpensive solution to providing high-volume bicycle parking requires maintenance and cleaning. some jurisdictions have contracts with local business owners who sweep out the racks
each motor vehicle space can be replaced with 10 to 12 bicycle parking spaces corrals move bikes off sidewalks, leaving more space for pedestrians, sidewalk cafe tables, etc



Bike Parking Guide - Bike Corral






Wave Racks


Bike Parking Guide - Designs to Avoid: wave racks

(PHOTO: Grafix Avenger


These racks:

  • have only one point of contact between the rack and the bicycle reducing stability
  • have narrow spacing between loops increasing handlebar conflicts and reducing capacity
  • encourage bikes to be parked parallel to the loops, therefore limiting capacity
  • are not always easily identified as a bicycle rack



Spiral Racks


Bike Parking Guide - Racks to avoid: Spiral Racks

(Photo: Theen Moy)


These racks:

  • do not allow for both wheels to be locked with bike upright and may not allow for both wheel and frame to be secured with a u-lock
  • only have one point of contact between the rack and the bicycle reducing stability and holding the bike at an angle
  • suffer from handlebar conflicts due to spacing issues
  • are susceptible to theft as one cut allows access to all of the bicycles



Toaster/Comb Racks


Bike Parking Guide - Designs to avoid: Toaster/Comb Racks
(PHOTO: Steven Vance)


These racks:

  • do not easily allow for a bicycle to be secured using a U-Lock. Only have one point of contact between the rack and the bicycle reducing stability
  • hold only the wheel, allowing the bikes to fall over when parked
  • can cause damage to wheels from lateral torqueing
  • have parking spaces that are located too close together, reducing the efficiency and resulting in handlebar conflicts
  • are inappropriate for mountain bikes and cruisers due to the narrow spacing
  • are susceptible to theft as thin tubing can be easily cut



Wheel Bender Racks


Bike Parking Guide - Designs to avoid: Wheel Bender Racks

(PHOTO: Embraceable Hue Photography)


The wheel bender or wheel well rack is often made by either providing slots on a concrete slab or through metal tubing.


These racks:

  • hold only the front wheel
  • can cause damage to wheels from lateral torqueing
  • significant wheel damage can result if the bike falls while parked
  • are susceptible to theft as they do not allow the bicycle frame to be secured with any lock
  • cannot be anchored
  • are a trip hazard for pedestrians.



Technical Considerations

Even when a rack meets the basic criteria of supporting two points of the bicycle and allowing for the user to secure a typical size U-lock around the frame and one wheel, it must still be securely anchored. When the rack can be easily removed or cut, thieves may transport the entire rack to an area where they can use power tools to remove the bikes.

Typically racks are vulnerable to removal when they can be easily unfastened, when the pipe diameter is small or when secured to pavers that can be dislodged with the rack. Rusting can weaken parts of the rack — particularly along a weld line allowing it to be easily broken.

Often a bike thief will use tools including bolt cutters, hand saws, abrasive cutting cables, and pipe cutters. Thieves are less likely to risk using power tools given the noise they generate. In general no cost-effective bicycle parking solution can withstand power tools and most bicycle parking guidelines do not require that level of security. A well placed rack will ensure that there is little opportunity given to would be thieves who consider use of power tools to remove bikes.


Rack Construction and Installation


Surface Base Anchoring Method
Concrete Embedded leg Bore hole, support rack
Surface flange or base rail Wedge anchor bolt, tamper proof spike
Unpaved Embedded leg Embed by digging a deep hole and filling with cement
Surface flange e Epoxy based anchoring solutions exist. However, they can be quite costly and do not provide same level of strength as concrete
Base rail Landscape nails
Unpaved Embedded leg Provide a concrete footing, proceed as above
Surface flange Provide a concrete footing, proceed as above
Base rail Landscape nails
  • installation is key determinant of security as poorly anchored fixtures can be easily removed by thieves
  • embedded racks are very secure and suitable for new concrete pours
  • they are permanent and very difficult to remove
  • if you ever have to remove racks for events or seasonal changes this is not the installation technique to use
  • surface-mounted concrete is the most common installation technique and is suitable for new or existing concrete pads
  • surface-mounted racks are easy to replace when damaged and allow for easy removal for special events or changes to the street scape
  • when working with asphalt, racks should generally not be anchored unless on a base rail
  • in most cases they should be embedded using a concrete footing
  • the same is true for anchoring directly into the earth
  • always have your racks installed by professionals and make sure you are aware of what underground services or cables might be present
  • call the utilities agency or have the area scanned before you dig or drill
  • if you are installing on post-tensioned concrete do not drill into it



Materials and Finish

In order to make your rack as secure as possible without driving up the costs it is best to use larger diameter tubing and ensure that the pipe is of appropriate thickness. The thickness of a pipe is called its ‘schedule’ and it is preferable to use ‘schedule 40’ tubing or above. If your budget allows for the use of more costly stainless steel, this is preferable as it is a very hard material that is more resistant to cutting. Stainless is also more resistant to corrosion while providing a very high quality, aesthetically pleasing look.



Finish Types Pros Cons
Stainless Steel Most durable Most expenive
Hot Dipped Galvanized Steel Very durable & cost effective rack may not appear finished copared to stainless steel or powder
Powder Coated Very cost effective Durability highly affected by the environment



  • type of finish will have implications for future maintenance activities
  • powder coated racks can become worn out and will need to be repainted
  • stainless steel has a polished, dignified finish but can cost close to double the price
  • galvanized racks will provide a better return on investment in terms of the capacity per dollar spent




Bike racks generally require very little maintenance but should be checked periodically for damage.

It is important to inspect:

  • the anchor
    • this is the weakest part of the rack
    • replace bolts as necessary by removing the old anchor head and pounding a new bolt over top the old one to push it into the ground
  • the rack itself
    • damage is rare but some thieves will partially cut the rack so that they can break through it entirely with a hammer when they want to steal a bike
  • the rack finish
    • racks with PVC jackets and powder coat finishes require ongoing maintenance
    • racks are subject to frequent use which weakens the surface at a much faster rate than is normal for other street furniture
    • touch up the finish of the rack as required to prevent deterioration



    References & Resources

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1. Why Bike Parking?

3. Long Term Bike Parking

4. Beyond Bike Parking

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