top of page

Why Regular Racks Do Not Work Well Enough

Updated: May 23, 2023

The premise for this are bicycle racks semi-permanently or permanently mounted onto the ground without any security mechanism built in. They are meant for people to bring their own locks and keys to lock up their bike. The rack provides a structure to help hold the bike upright and something sturdy to lock to. The racks are typically installed outside or in shelters where they can be publicly accessible. While there are other factors that contribute to how effective racks may be in terms of lighting, nearby pedestrian traffic, and ease of finding, we will focus primarily on the type of parking facility in a theft-prevalent area like most, if not all, metropolitan areas in North America.

For many organizations that already provide bike parking, a typical scenario is to look for inexpensive, essentially no maintenance bike parking that helps bikes stay neatly parked. Thankfully, racks that are unintuitive like wave racks and insecure racks that only grip one wheel with a high risk for bending a wheel are not purchased frequently and are not recommended in bike parking standards and ordinances. Racks like U-racks, two-tier racks, vertical racks with locking bars, and lightning-bolt or docker style racks are a significant improvement from older racks and are part of requirements and ordinances for many cities like San Francisco and Oakland.

However, they may still face their own issues in sustaining traffic due to the gap between how people park their bikes at the racks and the theft risk level of the area, especially in metropolitan areas. From observations of bikes parked on streets, at BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) stations, and other indoor/outdoor racks in the San Francisco Bay Area, the vast majority of people only use one lock for their bikes. This makes sense, especially when starting out riding for transportation. People also like to use cable locks, which are relatively lightweight and inexpensive compared to other bike locks on the market. They are also the most flexible and easy to move around to lock a bike to different styles of racks, poles, bars, fencing, etc. However, cable locks can be easily cut in under 20 seconds by wire cutters which is doable for even opportunistic thieves in areas where bike theft is prevalent. In a May 2014 study by BART, over 80% of 53 bikes stolen were locked by just a cable lock. Also, one lock is not enough to be able to lock both wheels and the frame of a bicycle, the three most valuable parts, unless it is an unusually long or custom chain lock. From observations of the same bikes parked, there were many bikes with missing parts, most notably and visually apparent are the frame and/or a wheel or both wheels missing.

There are also many ways for natural human error to affect this as well. Even with a strong u-lock or two, some people may only wrap a lock around their handlebars to a rack...

or lock the frame of their bike to a short pole with an open top.

Someone may use two U-locks, but that does not ensure that their wheels are safe.

These photos are not to meant to make fun of the folks who locked their bikes those ways, but to recognize that it is not intuitive and there is a lot of room for error. I started out only locking my bike's frame to a rack using a cable lock. Fortunately, that was when I was in an area where bike theft and theft in general were not prevalent.

In another area of human error, people sometimes forget to bring their locks and/or keys by accident or not thinking that they would need them. The stronger and more expensive the lock, the heavier it tends to be, which is the opposite of what people pay more for in bikes - less weight in the same category of bike for additional speed. Unlike a modern car, a bicycle does not require locks and keys to operate, making them extra items to carry. Some people find carrying locks so much of a hassle they keep locks at places they typically park at.

In short, there are many ways for people to fail at the intended objective for them to lock their bikes at racks in a certain way that is not intuitive nor convenient.

What about bike cages and rooms? Those should be quite secure, right? Let’s save the details on that for another blog article. As a quick summary though, human error, design choices, and similar challenges with racks face people there as well.

Let's take a look at the short-term and long-term impacts of bike theft that ends up happening from the gap of how well people can sustainably secure their bikes and the theft risk level. In the short term are the easily recognizable issues:

  1. Your day is rudely disrupted and new plans for getting around need to be made while also making any plans to try to recover their bike.

  2. Someone may be so distraught that they give up on recovery and leave the remains of their bike abandoned. It can be awkward, embarrassing, and a hassle to only bring the remains of your bicycle back home.

  3. #2 leads to whoever is in charge of operating bicycle parking to need to tag a warning for leaving the bike there for too long, arrange for any locks to be cut, find space for the bike to be stored in, store the bike for a set amount of time to allow the owner the opportunity to recover it, and arrange for the bike’s disposal, typically by auction.

  4. People tell their friends about their bikes getting stolen.

  5. Thieves often leave bikes fallen over or a potentially hazardous position to others when they either fail to steal a bike or steal certain part(s).

However, in the long-term, the following effects occur:

  1. People reconsider how they approach transportation - the two common ones would be:

    1. Switch to driving for transportation for the short-term or long-term, increasing car parking demand and expense for both the individual and the organization.

    2. Get another bike which will likely not look as nice or clean and park wherever they feel is safe, without regard for policy or safety of others. They become more selective and limit where they go by bike, which can be very challenging for organizations located in areas with increasing housing costs and employees and students moving further away.

    3. Some combination of both, and the organization would still need to provide additional car parking.

  2. Others who did not get their bikes stolen, but see it or hear about it may do the following:

    1. If they ride their bicycle, they also will avoid parking where they saw/heard about bikes getting stolen and be more picky about where they leave their bicycle, regardless of policy.

    2. If they do not ride a bicycle, it can reinforce their thinking that bicycles are not for transportation and encourage others to drive.

There are a few ways to address these issues and help ensure that most people park their bikes neatly and do not switch to solo driving and demanding expensive car parking:

1) Additional education programs and campaigns - to an extent

Likely, you already have a web page with resources on bike registration and security. Issues can be that people are not viewing it and/or not following the advice provided. If you do not have a web page with great content yet, consider linking to or taking inspiration from our blog articles on active bike security and passive security as well as Bike East Bay’s page on theft prevention to create your own awesome resource page for your organization.

  1. High effort - plan a series of bicycle security workshops or training videos when batches of new team members or new students go through onboarding or orientation. Follow up with people to make sure they are able to lock their bikes properly during the workshop or after a virtual training. Ask people to share photos about how they lock their bikes and cheer on good behavior you see, however small, and recommend 1-2 improvements, if any, to help make sure their valued bikes stay safe.

  2. For added convenience, ensure high security locks are sold on site or given to participants of bike security workshops. Also organize challenges or campaigns to continually reinforce good behavior as the tendency to want to do less can lead folks to lock their bikes in a less than effective manner closer to the results above.

  3. To help make single-locking feasible, a good amount of research needs to be done to install passive security on a bicycle. You can read more about that here.

  4. Install signs for people to see where to use bike parking and a photo or diagram image of a well-locked bicycle (see below). Additional signs should be made for recommended locks and avoid using cable locks alone.

2) Provide multiple layers of security for bicyclists individually.

As a welcome gift for new employees or students who ride bikes for transportation, include at least 1 lock and a voucher for a security skewer set and a Hexlox set or service to keep seatposts and saddles secure at your onsite or local bike shop. You can give the condition that people must learn and show proof of good parking and locking behavior and/or avoid driving to your organization for the next two months or another appropriate time period. By providing locks and forms of passive security, you help reduce the risk of people using ineffective locks.

3) Other bicycle parking options with security built-in - invest more up front and pay less later and generate a higher return on effort.

"But what about maintenance? These options are costly and can take a lot of effort to maintain," you may ask.

While they may require some maintenance, it is a lot less than maintaining a car parking lot. The maintenance is usually minimal and predictable - usually occasional cleaning, any battery replacements, and key management (physical or digital), which is a lot more manageable than reigning in unpredictable bicycle parking behavior. They also help reduce the learning needed to keep their bikes safe significantly.

Currently, there are lockers on the market in keyed or digital forms as well as companies that help design indoor bike rooms with badge, id, or card access. Some organizations may even be able to staff a security guard to look after entrances and be ready to act if they spot shady or inappropriate behavior.

If those options do not work well for your organization, we are developing smart racks to bridge the gap between what people can easily and sustainably do to lock their bikes and the risk of theft. They can secure both wheels and the frame of a bicycle to help keep it neatly parked in a horizontal or vertical position. No manual keys to manage, either, as it can be accessed using a mobile app or card, so people are not restricted to just using one or two locations like lockers or cages with physical keys.

A rendering to give an idea of how it may end up looking. It is subject to change.

The mobile app would help facilitate good parking behavior and remind people to not leave their bikes parked overnight or for too long to avoid needing to impound any abandoned bikes. It is still in development and we would love to learn more about your specific issues and challenges. They may even shape some of the improvements we make! You can send us a message at or fill either form at the bottom of our main page.

Hope this helps you and your organization in efforts to sustainably reduce solo driving and car parking demand and increase bicycling. 🙂

If you found it valuable, please share it with others who may find it helpful!


bottom of page