Nice Rack, Lady

A common question I get is what I do with my bike at a destination that doesn’t have bike racks. Since this may come up a lot when we go on our Bikespeditions I thought I’d share my work-arounds.

#1—Vote with your wallet! Take your dollars to places with bike parking and TELL THEM that’s why you did it

My closest grocery store (Rosauers on 29th) has a rack so I like going there. When I set a meeting at a coffee shop I choose one with a bike rack whenever possible (and it’s usually possible).

You’ll find racks next to TasteMadeleine’s, the Rocket Bakery on Main, Main Market Co-op, Santé, and Chairs Coffee for starters. Other spots like Rocket Bakery at 1st and Cedar or Rockwood Bakery on 18th have railings that work for bike rack improv.

Building owners/managers might want to look at this issue to make their facilities more attractive in a tough economy for commercial real estate.

The bonus points for awesomesauce go to the Davenport Hotel, where you can check your bike in at the bell desk and they’ll stash it in the side room they use for luggage. Tip the nice bell staff when you leave!

More bonus points for the Steam Plant Grill, a bike-friendly restaurant that has a rack in their covered parking area and that sponsors Spokane Bikes every year by hosting the Bike to Work Week Wrap-up Bike from Work Party.

#2—Improvise

Street signs, trees, hand rails, fences, benches (heavy or attached to the ground), external piping (look at the back of the building), and other fixed items enable you to use your lock. Spokane Transit stops have nice tall poles.

Parking meters are a last resort since you could just lift the bike, lock and all, right off the meter so it’s a defense in name only unless it’s one of those funny meter poles you’ll see in a few spots in downtown Spokane that has a little handle on the side through which you can thread your cable.

Think about a couple of things in choosing your lock-up spot:

  • Will you and others be able to see your bike? “Eyes on the street” provide security, so a spot right in front of an establishment is safer than an out of sight, out of mind spot at the back.
  • Will you block the sidewalk at all with your choice of location? Don’t.

#3—Impose, but Nicely

Sometimes I impose just a tad depending on the destination. This is one of those things I find much easier when I’m wearing a skirt and heels than when I’m all kitted out in Spandex and clicky shoes. People just treat me more nicely when I don’t fit their cyclist stereotypes.

I have taken my bike into a couple of grocery stores and asked someone at the closest courtesy desk or checkstand if I can stash it against the wall near them and if they’ll keep an eye on it, explaining that I have to do this since they don’t have a rack (and generally don’t have any signage on handy tall poles out front). So far no one has ever turned me down.

“Would you mind if I just brought my bike in since you don’t have a rack?” with a sweet smile gets me pretty far at an event facility. Every time I’ve asked, staff have let me put it in a side room, a hallway, near the coat rack or somewhere that doesn’t inconvenience others but gives me more peace of mind that my transportation will be there a couple of hours later when I need it.

The key for me is two sides of the same coin:

  • “Entitlement”–I am a customer and they need to make it possible for me to deal with my transportation the way they did for drivers when they paved all those parking spaces.
  • Lack of “entitlement”–I ask politely if they can help me solve this problem and they always do. I think I’d get different (worse) treatment if I got self-righteous or huffy about it.

I also bear in mind that I am almost never dealing with anyone who made a deliberate decision not to put in a bike rack, and they probably can’t make one appear later either.

It’s like dealing with customer service on the phone: they didn’t design the problem so they don’t really own either problem or solution. They’re just there to make you feel better so you’ll keep bringing them your business.

And you’re there to remind them that if they want to continue getting your business and that of other people on bikes, they might want to suggest to management that a bike rack should be installed.

A version of this post first appeared on my personal blog, Bike to Work Barb, in Dec. 2010: No Rack?! Now What?

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