What kind of bike rack is right for you? If you’re an avid cyclist, then you likely get outdoors as often as you can. Riding a bike gives you a breeze in your face, freedom of movement, and constantly changing scenery. If you’re truly passionate about cycling, then you might even have more than one bike in your collection, including a gravel bike that gives you the best of both worlds in terms of combining road biking with mountain biking. In any case, you might want to make things simple by installing an outdoor bike rack at home. That way, you can just grab your bike and go. When you get home, you can simply put your bike back in the rack, and not have to worry about cleaning off tires and shoes before going inside. When under some kind of tarp or overhang, an outdoor bike rack is a convenient place to keep your ride until you’re ready to go again.
The first thing that you should look for in an outdoor bike rack is organization. An organized rack will keep any bikes standing upright. There should even be some slight separations between them so they do not fall down to the ground or scrape up against each other. I personally know this is a huge concern to me whenever I put my bike into a rack that someone else installed, because let’s face it, not all outdoor bike racks are created equally, are they? When a good rack prevents slipping or falling, then the bike footprint is controlled by the rack. This kind of organized separation can fit more bikes into a small space, which helps you minimize your footprint if you are short on space at home, or just allows you to accommodate more customers if you are running a business or planning a park or something. A good dock will offset handlebars and keep wheels right in place.
The next thing to look for is what I call ‘bicycle friendliness’. If your bike could talk to you, what would it likely say it wants? The first answer would likely be a cushioned seat cover. However, you’ve likely already got that. The second-most likely item is to never leave it at a low-security rack. A chaotic rack can mean it falls down to the ground, and even if you turn your back, you will cringe at any cosmetic damage you expect to see when you turn back around after hearing metal scrape against metal. Find racks that feature protective coatings that prevent this. Racks compatible with U-locks are even better.
Going a bit back to the point of organization, if you anticipate future growth in your bike storage needs, look for high-density options that have flexibility in their layout potential. This might not be such a big thing for home users, unless you have a lot of kids, but in government, nonprofit, and commercial applications, you might need to move up from a 4-rack up to an 8-rack, or even more. Cycling is growing in popularity, so be ready for more and more cyclists needing spaces, depending on your application.
Security is a huge concern. If you’re truly worried about it, you have little choice but to park your bike in your home all the times. However, sometimes, that simply isn’t possible, especially if you’re responsible for coming up with a bike storage solution that isn’t going on a residential property. It’s always going to be true that a determined criminal can steal anything. However, most thieves don’t usually take bikes from a rack which presents them with difficulty. Avoid round hollow tubing, but do look for something strong, such as steel. Also, a secure rack will allow a rider’s U-lock to wrap all the way around a wheel, rack, and bike frame at the same time.
Value is always another constant concern, and that’s not just true for bike parking projects. You can’t really pick the most optimal rack if you don’t account for the value you get for what you pay. Features and functions alike matter in finding the ideal balance between quality and price.
In terms of specific styles, I would advise against grid-style racks. These let one of the two tires to be inserted in between a pair of thinly welded bars so that a wheel can get locked onto the rack. Most cyclists know these as ‘wheel benders’ for their low level of security. Without any way of locking a wheel and the frame, bikes vanish a lot, leaving behind a bent wheel.
I also like to avoid wave racks. Landscape architects love them, given the price tag and the attractive curves. The serpentine shapes makes for U-tubed slots to park bikes. However, they’re really hard to appropriately lock bikes into.
Ornamental and pole racks are better, and they have many different prices, sizes, and shapes. They can even be customized with logos, themes, or styles. However flashy they look though, they lack in security, density, and organization. In fact, they look best when empty.
Inverted-u racks are a little better in terms of security, but they do risk bikes scraping up on each other, along with slides and falls.
I personally love bike docks. Either tire, front or back, can be contained inside a wheel trough, which means the tire and frame can be locked into one locking loop using a U-lock.
The wheel troughs stabilize the wheel with three different points of contact, partially through the locking loop and a U-lock. The locking loops are typically high-security and case-hardened, making them really hard to cut. Bikes stay upright without handlebar conflicts thanks to even spaces between the wings with offset wheel pockets. Metal on metal contact is prevented thanks to gel-coated bumper guards. This is hands-down the way to go for commercial or public bike rack options, although your needs at home might vary.
What you specifically need from an outdoor bike rack will vary with your situation and application, but I hope all this information helps you find the one that you need.