Bicycle Parking Rack Selection Background

Bicycle Parking Rack Selection Background
Bicycle Parking Rack Selection
Madison's zoning ordinance regarding bicycle parking [MGO 28.11, see esp. Subsections (3)(e)
and (3)(h)2d] specifies some basic bicycle parking space and rack design criteria. These design
criteria are based on the dimensions of standard adult sized bicycles, and the spacial needs for
accessing each space. This is similar to the City’s car parking lot design requirements. The table
below lists typical bicycle dimensions, and the resultant design criteria included in the ordinance.
Madison Zoning Ordinance
Design Criteria
2 feet
Drop Handlebars (road bike)
15 - 18 inches
Flat Handlebars (mountain bike / hybrid)
20 - 24 inches
Length of Bicycle
16 inches
68 inches
6 feet
Access Aisle
5 feet
Vertical Clearance (adult height)
6 feet
In addition to meeting these spacial requirements, bicycle parking racks must also accommodate
the use of all popular locking devices used by bicyclists. These include U-shaped locks such as
Kryptonite, Citadel, the Bike Club and others that have similar designs. Most bicyclists use a Ulock to lock the front wheel and bicycle frame to something solid. Some bicyclists will lock the
back wheel and frame, and a few will remove the front wheel and lock it along with the back
wheel and frame to something solid.
It should be noted that these design criteria are not unique to Madison. Most other communities
that require bicycle parking as part of their zoning ordinances (and there are many such
communities) have similar design criteria. Despite the commonness of these design criteria, few
manufacturers of bicycle parking racks build racks to meet them. Below is a discussion of (1)
criteria for evaluating bicycle parking racks; (2) a few general rack types and some unique racks
that meet these design criteria; (3) guidelines for installation of these racks; and (4) bicycle
parking rack types to avoid.
Madison’s ordinance also specifies criteria for the location of bicycle parking racks on the
property. “Bicycle parking facilities shall be located in a clearly designated safe and convenient
location. The design and location of such facility shall be harmonious with the surrounding
environment. The facility location shall be at least as convenient as the majority of auto parking
spaces provided.” Further, “All . . . racks shall be securely anchored to the ground or building
structure . . . [and] . . .the surface of such facilities shall be designed and maintained to be mud
and dust free.” [MGO 28.11(3)(I)3 and 28.11(3)(h)2d]
In general, bicycle parking should be located in a visible location, as close to the building entrance
as possible. The area should also be lit at night. Bicycle parking located in areas where many
people pass by decreases the chances that a bike thief will have time to steal a bike. Bike racks
located in remote areas, behind fences or shrubs, or out back by the dumpster, for example, give
bike thieves cover and time to steal bicycles. Poor rack locations will lead to the racks not being
used as bicyclists will have a hard time finding them, or will find something closer the their
destination to lock up to.
Criteria for Evaluating Bicycle Parking Racks
Figure 1
The best racks have the following qualities:
Spaces clearly at least 2 feet wide (2 feet from center of one
space to center of adjacent spaces is another way to
conceptualize this. See figure 1);
Simple design that needs no explanation as to how the rack
works (which direction does the bike go in, how is the lock
attached, every space is useable for any standard bicycle with
typical accessories such as lights and fenders, etc.) and that is
difficult to mis-use, and will not cause problems for others
(either other bicyclists using the rack, or pedestrians).
Each space accommodates all types of user supplied locking mechanisms, including Ushaped locks, with the lock used to lock the bicycle frame and wheel(s) to the rack.
Spaces that are clearly designated for each bicycle (it is obvious to the user where each
space is) whether the rack is designed for single or double sided loading. For example, a
rack designed for double sided loading with four bicycles on each side at two foot
spacings is placed near a wall resulting in single sided use of the rack. Does the user see 8
one foot wide spaces or four two foot wide spaces? This type of confusion can lead to
either fewer spaces being available as bicycles are loaded randomly into the spaces, or
crowding and difficulty getting bicycles out if users try to squeeze more bikes in than the
rack is designed to hold. Note that these problems will occur with this type of rack under
double sided loading conditions as well.
Special Considerations for Double-Sided Rack Design
Racks that are intended for loading bicycles from both sides can park more bicycles in given
width, but require additional length for both the second row of bicycles plus a second access aisle.
Note, however, that the width savings will only occur as long as the handlebars of the bicycles
parked on each side do not overlap. If the handlebars overlap, then the width space savings of
double-sided loading racks is lost. Figures 2 - 4 illustrate this point. (See discussion below of
wave racks and inverted-U racks for examples.)
Figure 2 Double-sided rack, handlebars do not overlap
the rack. Five bikes can be parked in the width of
three, provided the location has adequate length (20
feet total: 10 feet for bicycles, assuming 1 foot of
overlap, plus two 5-foot access aisles, one behind each
row of bicycles).
Figure 3 Double-sided rack, handlebars overlap rack.
Even though spaces on each side are 2 feet wide, it is
difficult for the user to place/remove bicycle into/from the
rack without having to lift the bike up and over other
bicycles. This design is unacceptable.
Figure 4 Double-sided racks where the handlebars overlap
the rack require a full 2 foot width for each bicycle
regardless of which side the bicycle is loaded from, thus
there is no width saving with this design.
Note also that the height of the rack should be below the
handlebars so that the bicycles do not have to be lifted up
and over the rack.
A single sided rack will save space lengthwise, or a double
sided rack where the handlebars do not overlap the rack
will better utilize the space, accommodating more bicycles.
Acceptable Racks
A. General Rack Types
"Inverted U" racks (figure 6) became popular in the 1980's, and remain one of the most preferred
racks by bicyclists today. Inverted-U racks are a simple design, aesthetically pleasing, and can fit
into limited spaces as well as large installations. They can be individually mounted (preferred) or
ganged together on runners. The inverted-U rack is designed to park two bicycles, facing in
opposite directions, parallel to the rack. Racks in a parallel series need to be 4 feet apart to
provide adequate access to each bicycle (see figure 5). Most manufacturers of these racks will
recommend spacing as little as two feet apart. Spacing them less than 4 feet apart will result in
difficultly loading & removing bikes from racks when bikes are parked adjacent to each other. If
adjacent racks are spaced is less than 4 feet, count each rack as one space, not two.
Figure 5 Adjacent inverted-U racks need to be spaced 4 feet apart in
order to have sufficient room to fully load these racks and to be able to
remove bicycles from the racks. If spaced less than 4 feet apart, then
count each rack as parking only one bicycle, not two.
Note that while adjacent bicycles are parked in alternating directions,
similar to double sided loaading racks, there is no width savings from
using these these racks since the handlebars overlap. Adequate width
must be maintained to easily maneuver bicycles in and out of the spaces.
The major design concern with this type of rack is the length of the rack (the
distance between the two verticals, see figure 6). Most inverted-U racks are
only 18 - 24 inches long. This is too short to effectively park two bicycles due
to the seat and handlebars of the two bikes lining up against each other making
access to the verticals for attaching a U-lock difficult. Inverted-U racks that
are 18 -24 inches long should be considered as accommodating one bicycle,
not two. Acceptable inverted-U racks are a minimum of 30 inches long, with a
36 inch length preferred. At this length, two bicycles parked on opposite sides
facing in opposite directions will not interfere with each other. A nice design Figure 6
addition is a horizontal bar across the inverted-U about 18 inches off the ground. This provides
additional stability, especially for smaller bicycles, as well as additional flexibility in locking a
bicycle to the rack (figure 6). Height of the rack can be of concern as well. An overall height of
about 30-32" works well. A height of 36" or more can cause interference with handlebars,
limiting how bicycles may be parked and locked.
The "post and ring" rack (figure 7) was originally designed as an
attachment to a parking meter for bicycle parking. Now these are used in
a similar fashion as Inverted-U racks. The ring is typically 18 inches in
diameter. The bottom of the ring should be about 12" off the ground. As
with short inverted-U racks, the post and ring rack should be considered a
one bicycle rack, especially when in multiple rack installations.
B. Acceptable Specific/Unique Racks Some specific unique racks (racks that are proprietary to a
specific manufacturer) that meet the above criteria are pictured below. Contact information for
these manufacturers is included at the end.
Figure 9: “Bike” bike rack
from Dero Racks
Figure 10: UW rack
Figure 8: Lightning Bolt
rack from Creative Pipe
Figure 11: Campus Rack
from Dero Racks
Figure 12: One and Two Post Key
racks (aesthetic inverted-U’s) from
Marginal Racks
Racks with moving parts were popular during the 1970's bike boom. Typically, these enclosed
the bicycle frame and wheels in some fashion with the user locking the rack, but not necessarily
the bicycle. Generally speaking, the more complicated the rack, the more problems there are
likely to be both in terms of maintenance (especially in Madison's climate) and in terms of the rack
not fitting certain bicycles or bicycles with different accessories. If you are interested in a bicycle
parking rack with moving parts, first check that the spaces are 2 feet wide (2 feet apart center to
center), then make sure that the bicycle and its wheel(s) can be locked to the rack with a U-lock,
not just the rack being locked to itself. Also test the rack with different types of bicycles
equipped with different common accessories (water bottles, pump, fenders, lights, etc.) To make
sure that the rack is suitable for all common bicycle designs and that there is no interference with
Angled continuous loop racks. These racks area intended to be
essentially attractive ganged together inverted-U racks.
Unfortunately, there are two general problems with these racks.
First, the spacing of the inverted-U sections is too narrow for
double sided loading (both in terms of the length of the individual
U's, less than 30 - 36 inches; and the distance between U's, less
than four feet). Secondly, users are often confused as to how to
use them, particularly which angle to load from. This can
Figure 13
drastically reduce the number of spaces actually available for use.
For these reasons, these racks are not generally recommended. If the use of this type of rack is
desired, there must be at least two feet between adjacent inverted-U sections, and the number of
spaces provided shall be determined as one space per inverted-U section.
Racks That Are Unacceptable
The "fence" or "grid" style rack depicted in Figure 14. is one of
the most commonly seen racks. These racks are unacceptable due
to typically narrow spaces, 16 - 18 inches wide, and due to the fact
that U-locks cannot be used effectively without mis-using the rack.
Thus, this rack type is unacceptable even if the spaces are 24
inches wide. Bicyclists given no other option will often use these
racks by lifting the front wheel over the rack in order to use a Ulock. This can damage the bicycle frame and fork. Another
Figure 14
common mis-use of this rack is for a bicycle to be parked parallel
to the rack, instead of perpendicular, turning it into a one bike rack. This style of rack is also
known for a tendency to bend wheels when a bicycle falls over or is forcefully knocked over.
The "wheel holder" depicted in Figure 15 is another common unacceptable rack type. This rack
has many of the shortcomings of the fence style racks: typically
narrow spacing and an inability to use U-locks. Some people will
use this rack backwards in order to use a U-lock, but this will not
work with some fatter mountain bike tires, or if the bicycle has
fenders or if the rack is located in an area where it is accessible
from only one side. This rack can also bend wheels when a bicycle
falls or is knocked over.
Figure 15
"Wave" or "loop" racks (Figure 16) are just pretty fence racks,
although bent wheels are no longer a problem. Wave racks are
designed for double sided loading (loading bicycle from both
sides), and a manufacturer's advertised number of spaces is based
on double sided loading. Most wave racks have spaces 18 - 20
inches wide (verticals 9-10 inches apart), a few have 24 inch wide
spaces (verticals 12 inches apart) based on double sided loading
and spaces staggered on opposite sides. U-locks can be used for
bicycles parked in the open top spaces, but not in the closed top
spaces. If the rack is against a wall, fewer spaces will be
available (see comments above on evaluating racks). Even in an
open area, these racks are difficult to fill to capacity. The
Figure 16
handlebars of each bicycle in the open top spaces are on the other
side of the rack from the rest of the bicycle, exasperating the narrow space problem and making it
difficult to load a bicycle next to it from the opposite side. Bicyclists can, and will, park parallel
to this rack, as with the fence style rack. Note that manufacturer's advertised number of spaces is
almost always exaggerated. At most, count one bicycle per vertical. An even more realistic count
of spaces is one per open top space plus one on each outside end. The number of spaces is a
moot point, however, since this rack style is not recommended.
"Pedestal" style racks were developed in the 1970's during the bike boom that coincided with
gasoline shortages. These designs support the bicycle below its center of gravity, making bicycles
prone to falling over. Many of these allow the rack to be locked, but not the bicycle. They may
have holes large enough to fit a U-lock through, but the bicycle wheel and frame often cannot be
locked directly to the rack with the U-lock.
Also unacceptable is any rack that does not have spaces clearly 2 feet wide for each bicycle, or
any rack for which each space does not allow the frame and wheel(s) to be locked directly to the
rack with a U-shaped lock.
A list of bicycle parking rack manufacturers and their models which meet the City of Madison’s
design guidelines is currently under develpment. If you know of manufacturers with racks that
you think meet the City of Madison's design guidelines, please contact Arthur Ross, PedestrianBicycle Coordinator (608/266-6225 or for rack evaluation for inclusion
in this list.
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