Rack ’Em Up

The evolution of bike racks on campus

Just as improvements have been made to bicycles, advancements have significantly changed bike parking over the last 50 years. Thanks to new materials and design innovations, bike racks now do a lot more than early models that just held a wheel in place. Good cycling infrastructure can better guard against theft, help prevent damage, keep parking areas more organized and be an important part of city planning. At UC Davis, bike parking is more than an afterthought of urban design. Our racks need to hold the estimated 20,000 bikes that come to campus every day. “UC Davis has been the test case,” Bicycle Program Coordinator Tim Bustos said. “Everything that’s ever been tried has been tried here.” And new innovations are on the way. Here’s a look back at some varieties that have been seen on campus.

Concrete pods

1960s and earlier

These so-called “wheel benders” don’t provide a way to secure the frame — so what if the rest of the bike could be easily stolen? They earned their nickname any time a passerby bumped into a bike, sending its owner to the campus bike shop.

Illustration: grid rack

Grid racks

1960s and earlier

These “playground” or “comb” racks focus on holding the wheel and claim better organization. But locking a bike’s frame to one is nearly impossible, so a rogue cyclist sometimes takes up an entire rack by parking sideways in an attempt to get a more secure hold.

Illustration: inverted U rack

Inverted U


This design allows two bikes to share a single rack and secure their frames, but doesn’t do anything to keep bikes from falling over. A few were ordered as an “experiment” in the late ’80s and still sit
in a corner of campus.

Illustration: coat hanger-style bike rack

Coat hanger


The side profile of these racks — which inspired their name — shares the angle of most bicycle frames, making it possible for frames and wheels to be locked simultaneously. Still, bikes can easily topple over, turning the whole area into a mess of wheels and handlebars.

Illustration: lightning bolt bike rack

Lightning Bolt

1997 to present

These racks provide a way to lock a bike’s frame and front wheel simultaneously and keep the front tire stable so bikes don’t topple over. They can be quickly installed in bulk — say, when a building becomes a temporary lecture hall.

Illustration: varsity bike dock

Varsity Bike Dock

2008 to present

These racks allow more bikes to fit into a parking area by staggering them and include rubberized loops to prevent metal-on-metal contact. They’re installed individually, which makes replacement cheaper if one is damaged.

. . . and in the future

Planners continue to seek new ways to solve issues that come with a growing population: preventing theft and finding more places to park bikes. At UC Davis, a parking garage now houses a secure cage where cyclists pay a fee for more peace of mind. And other universities are experimenting with double-decker bike racks (the top level swings down to make the lifting easier), which are expensive but provide for higher-density parking.