Sunday, August 17, 2008

Byrne, Bike Racks, and Design

David Byrne is the paragon of the hip urban cyclist. If you don't believe me, look here. He's been doing bicycle activism in New York City, for which he is to be commended. When asked to be a judge in a bike rack design content, he instead turned in some (in my opinion) cutesy designs (that are, admittedly, very NYC-savvy) and expects to sell them as objets d'art later. I'm certain he'll find a willing market for this. (The finalists in the NYC bike rack design contest are here.)

If I had not recently been charged with doing bike-rack research for our office, perhaps I would be more impressed. But there has been a lot of really creative design work going into bike racks, design that often goes deeper than simple croquis imagery. Consider the Byrne coffee mug rack in fabrication (below right) vs. the custom Dero coffee mug rack (below left), several years old:

Let's start by asking the question, "What does a bike rack need to do?" I would submit that a bike rack should fulfill some or all of the following functional requirements:
  • It should be identifiable as a place to park bicycles;
  • It should allow bike parking at a reasonable density, while still keeping bikes from getting scratched or dinged up;
  • It should allow secure locking of bikes (a very good design would make it hard to lock your bike incorrectly);
  • It should accommodate all kinds of bicycles.
There are no doubt other requirements relating to budget, etc., and of course your mileage may vary, but for now, let's assume all other things equal and let the above requirements stand.

So, when researching a bike parking facility at our office, I did a fair amount of online research. There are many repetitions in the land of bike rack design, and where there are duplicates, I make an attempt to present the original designer (such as "Ribbon Racks" below, the originator as far as I know, of the undulating ribbon design). I was looking for group bike parking in the 6 to 12 bike range. Here in no particular order are the racks I found. Consider the following a survey of bicycle rack design in the current day. Although there are other designs to be sure, most all of them will be a variant of one of the following designs:

The Bike Rib, series 3: Available from Function First, Inc: This is a nice, clean design that is formed from simple round steel tubing and appears to be nicely optimized for bike density. I like the use of angles for functionality here. The design at right holds 8 bikes, two for each vertical loop. It looks like it would be sturdy.

Vintage Bike Rack: Available from Cycle Safe, Inc: This is a standard "inverted loop" design, but with decorative inlays. This would be very useful, I think, if you're an urban planner doing street-scape work in a historical district. There are 11 different designs, of which I show 4 at right. They seem to have taken some pains to make sure that the decor does not decrease the locking function.

Campus Racks: Available from Peak Racks: This is an alternating-height rack with a separate locking bar. Looks to be very high density, and moderate security (certainly good for campuses and other controlled environments, probably not sturdy enough for hard-core or overnight urban settings.) This is a difficult design to photograph, but it looks like it has lots of applications, particularly on (as the name suggests) campuses.

Cora Expo:
Available from Cora: This looks like it would work in a setting where high security was not required. Those "coat hangers", while allowing good density, don't make it obvious how to lock up the bike and frankly, they look a little lightweight. I'm afraid a pair of bolt-cutters would go through them.

Wallrack: Available from Cycle Safe, Inc: This looks like a sturdy alternative to the ubiquitous wall hook, with the advantage that the angled brace provides a lock point, although it's not clear that this brace will work with any standard U-lock unless you have a cable. These are staggered on the wall (see photo) to allow handlebar clearance with standard 16" stud spacing. Unlike most of the other designs, which tend to be embedded in pavement, these would require a sturdy attachment to the supporting wall to prevent a thief from just ripping the whole thing away.

Grid Style Bike Rack: Available from Saris: This is the familiar, mass-market style of bike rack that you've seen on a hundred college campuses. Not terribly convenient, but no doubt economical. You can usually find a way to securely lock your bike if you don't get one of the coveted end spots, but you have to work at it.

Bikeeper: Available from Bikeeper: This Dutch company is easily my personal pick for the best new design I've seen in this area (even if they do have a Flash website.. ugh). It's not surprising that the Dutch, who are bicycle-oriented in the extreme, would come up with a simple and clever design such as this. You roll your bike into the trough, and the trough pivots to present obvious locking tangs to hook your U-lock into. (See the animation at their website.) Gosh, I love good design ideas. The only fault I can find with this design is, it may interfere with (or, rather, be obstructed by) down-tube bottle cages. Or if you have a bike (like a Montague) that doesn't have a down-tube. (I'd take my down-tube cage off if we had one of these at work.)

Commuter Bike Rack: Available from Huntco: This is a high-security "clamshell" design. Very safe, difficult to make dense, probably has a learning curve to use well. No nonsense aesthetics. Although Huntco has some more highly-designed stuff similar to Dero and Ribbon Rack (below), this particular model seems to be unique to them. This is what I'd want in the inner city (along with a Kryptonite New York City lock.)

Ribbon Rack: Available from RibbonRack: This is the classic design that has been widely copied, perhaps because the designers didn't pursue appropriate protections, or perhaps because they wanted to design and not spend their time in court. Or maybe, just maybe, they've been successful in protecting it and this is what everyone sells. (I hope so, but I somehow doubt it.) In any case, this brilliant design came out in (I think) the late '70s or the early '80s. Simple, beautiful, economical, classic.

Dero "Bike" Bike Rack: Available from Dero: It seems to me that Dero has been doing for years what many of the New York City designers have just started, and that is, iconic bike racks. They are in my opinion the leaders in commercial bike-rack design and execution. If you look at the NYC designers stuff (including Byrne) above, and then go look at the Dero site, you'll see a lot of similarities, and where there are duplicate themes, the Dero design is usually better. (Dero has the advantage of having done this for years and subjected their designs to a manufacturing discipline, so it's natural that they would be convincing when it comes to quality.) Dero has many different designs on their site (including an intriguing "stag" design) but I especially like the Bike Bike Rack. It can park up to 4 bikes and simply, iconically, announces what it is.

BikeTree: Available from BikeTree: On rare occasions, you come across something that is so stunningly over- engineered while being under- considered, it just takes your breath away. The BikeTree is one such item, a fantastic example of a solution hunting for a problem. Neither "bike parking" nor fully-realized "integrated bike sharing sytem", the BikeTree is an over-the top design exercise for parking bikes that employs Wi-Fi, Smart Cards, solar panels, lithium ion batteries, and lots and lots of polycarbonate plastic, all in the service of solving the awful problem of (wait for it).. having to carry a bike lock. Yes! Freedom from bike locks! Except, er, if you go on your bike to the grocery or hardware store, you'll have to carry a lock anyway. Nevermind. On their website, it says, "Bike Tree products emphasize simplicity, efficiency and convenience." I don't know what they're smoking over there at BikeTree, but I want some.


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vineshkumar said...

This was amazing and great inspiration. I really like the work.
website design nyc

Bike Locks said...

The BikeTree is one such item, a fantastic example of a solution hunting for a problem. I really apreciate your work.

jatmiko yo jatkomik said...

I like the coffee mug-rack, thats good impression for the form follow meaning, and great idea for cultivating the spot, thanks :)