The urban bike magazine

Public bicycle racks: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

When you are out and about in the city, you want your public officials to take care of you and your bike. As a cyclist, you soon begin to appreciate a dense network of quality bike parking facilities. This is especially true when you go out shopping; I have personally started to prefer to take my business to shops where management has decided to install decent public bike racks just by the front door. More parking space for bikes – more customers coming in.

Markus Seppälä is an invasive species biologist who has lived in Helsinki all his life. He has a burning passion for anything and everything cycling related. He was former project manager and designer for Box Bike Helsinki.
Photo: Philafrenzy / CC-BY-SA-4.0

There are many, many bicycle rack designs out there; the excellent to the fairly good and finally, the downright ugly and non-functional. Let’s find out what separates the good racks from the bad with some samples from my hometown of Helsinki.

The Good – Lock your bike by the frame

Let´s start off with the good ones.

public bike rack Helsinki

Photos © Markus Seppäla

Here is one of the many different versions of a good and elegant-looking public bicycle rack; a simple metal arch, where you can lock your bike by the frame with a u-lock or a wire lock. This design is becoming more and more popular in cities. Perhaps the only downside is that you need to carry a lock with you to be able to use one.

bike rack

Photo © Markus Seppäla

This is another good-looking example of the same principle. These are practically maintenance-free and fit nicely in an urban environment. One rack can accommodate for two adult or four child-sized bikes.

Cyclehoop bike rack, photo by philafrenzy, CC-BY-SA-4.0

Photo © Philafrenzy  (CC-BY-SA-4.0) via Wikimedia Commons

This rack design shows us that you can combine good usability with a powerful statement for better cycling policy in your city or neighborhood. With this rack, you can park 10 bicycles in the space of a single car.

The very Good – lock your bike by the frame and use the chain for integrated framelocks

public bike racks

Photo © Markus Seppäla

I see this design type as an improved version of the former type. These public bike racks provide a chain that is hidden inside the poles. You can pull out the chain and lock it to your integrated frame lock to serve even more types of bicycles.

Photo © Markus Seppäla

Here is another photo of the same design. Notice the “Bicycle parking” -signs on both ends of the racks? That is good service.

public bike racks with chain

Photo © Markus Seppäla

Yet another example that meets the desired requirements, even though the clunky design won´t probably win any beauty contest. No hook on the end of the chains, but again: a bike with framelock doesn’t necessarily need one.

Framelock chain combo

Photo © Markus Seppäla

This is a simpler column version of the same principle. You can use the metal ring to lock your bike by the frame tubes and it also features the chain for bikes with frame locks.

The Bad – insert front wheel only and hope for the best

bad public bike rack

Photo © Markus Seppäla

This design, and all the similar designs that won´t easily permit you to lock your bike by the frame, are in my opinion a bit flawed. With this one you squeeze the front tire between the two metal sides.You can only lock the front wheel to the rack, and hope the front wheel is not the only thing left of your bike when you get back from running your errands. In many cases the two arches have been bent together, which transforms them from inadequate to useless.

The very Bad & the Ugly

bad and ugly bike rack

Photo © Markus Seppäla

The rim twisters. The spoke strechers. The evil menace of the bicycle-loving world. You insert the front wheel on top of the rack between two thin metal arches. Then you watch the rim and the spokes lean and get scratched on either side of those, typically rusted arches. Unfortunately, this model and others like it are still widely sold in hardware stores, at least here in Finland. Therefore, it is up to us rack users to educate businesses and city officials to go for better quality options.

The Weird

weired bike rack

Photo © Markus Seppäla

This is the by far weirdest-looking rack design I discovered on my short survey. Essentially, it belongs to the ´lock it by the frame´ -group, but it has a twist: you can insert the left pedal inside the column, which is probably for keeping the bike from falling over. The thing is, I can not see how using that feature would not damage the good looks of my left crank and pedal by scratching.

The Unofficial

unofficial bicycle parking

Photo © Markus Seppäla

If your city hasn´t yet installed an extensive network of usable public bicycle racks, then people most commonly tend to use the numerous “unofficial“ alternatives; gates, railings, trees and whatever just happens to be there. Maybe, if we are given better quality alternatives to lock our dear bikes securely, most cyclists would perhaps use them instead.

no bicycle parking sign

Photo © Markus Seppäla

In some cases stores and institutions disapprove cyclists using their property for bike-locking purposes. Of course, it will help their agenda if they are able to guide their employees or customers to use an proper rack right around the corner.

Studies have shown that cyclists bring in more money to street level businesses. Therefore cyclists should be a target audience to consider. But of course, the key to profit from this fact is the availability of secure parking space. One vehicular parking space equals around eight parked bicycles – seven satisfied costumers more. The same principle should be tempting also to employers; it is much cheaper to build parking space for bicycles than cars. As a bonus you get employees with better physical and mental health.

Finally: how to lock your bike properly

The golden rule of bicycle locking: always lock the bike to something else, preferably something made out of metal. Now, if you really, really want to avoid getting your bike stolen, follow these instructions:

  • Always carry two locking items with you when you are riding: A quality u-lock (or a heavy-duty chainlock) and a locking wire with a loop in both ends.
  • First, take the wire and guide it through the front wheel.
  • Then you insert one end loop through the other, which in turn you attach to your u-lock.
  • Finally, lock the u-lock through both your seat tube or seat stay and the rear wheel to the bike rack. Using both ways to lock the bike makes it much harder for a thief to steal it, because they would have to carry two different and heavy tools to get through both the lock and the wire.


Markus Seppälä is an invasive species biologist who has lived in Helsinki all his life. He has a burning passion for anything and everything cycling related. He was former project manager and designer for Box Bike Helsinki.
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