by Our Bicycle Lives
Cycle parking is a messy business. It starts with two different names I use indiscriminately, ‘bike racks’ and ‘cycle stands’, which flusters the librarian in me. In addition, they are known by aliases such as Sheffield stands, cycle sheds and lockers, and are occasionally called lampposts, street signs or trees. A row of cycle racks looks messy too, with its jumble of metal and plastic and its bits of bikes sticking out. It is unsightly, which is perhaps why there are none on this vast expanse of space that is The Mall: it would spoil the view. Even empty, a bike rack looks functional and ugly. The cycling equivalent of the car park, it inhabits the same world as that ‘prophylactic against the redistribution of wealth’, to use BikeReader’s definition of locks, and is what TfL adverts don’t show you, the logistics of cycling, the underside. It is hard to make glamorous and fun what is a necessity.
Parking makes cycling look clumsy. It’s a faff! It involves so much pulling, pushing, squeezing, stretching and reaching that I spend an inordinate amount of time locking my bike just because it’s better to be safe than sorry. The main difficulty is that purpose-built facilities tend to be positioned close to each other, with little room for manoeuvre, and are two-sided. Like siblings sleeping two to a bed, head to toe, it is not easy to fit around one another: my neighbour’s handlebars are in the way, my pedal is catching their gear cable, and their chain is threatening to leave a grease mark on my trousers. When Matthew Wright was describing cycling as ‘life’s cleanest pleasure’, he probably wasn’t thinking of bike racks. Not to mention that in poorly lit areas, it is hard to see what one is doing. Of course, there are always railings and street furniture but they are less suitable to the two-lock technique and my bike feels more secure in company.
Bike racks are convenient and not convenient at the same time. I use them daily and I am glad to find them by shops, pubs and cinemas, but I daily resent the poor facilities, or complete lack thereof, as a bitter reminder that cycling is not entirely taken seriously in London. Cue the Olympic Park facilities last summer, where I was not even able to lock my bike’s frame, only the front wheel, and where, despite assurances to the contrary, the formidable ladies guarding the entrance had altogether vanished by the time the day’s events finished in the evening. It is as if they were an afterthought on which engineers and transport planners didn’t have enough time to spend. My main grumble is their positioning, which can leave a lot to be desired, too close to a wall or stuck against a hedge, thus making one side unusable.
Cycle racks, being this sort of no man’s land where abandoned bikes live and the place where I relinquish my bicycle and put it in the city’s care, or rather a CCTV camera’s care, that is to say no-one’s, make me uneasy. My treasured bike, its movement stalled, is temporarily immobilised, vulnerable, exposed in what is the equivalent of a bike thieves’ supermarket, where they can shop around and take their pick. Anything can happen there and that’s unsettling. In short, they don’t inspire confidence. The rusty, litter-strewn cycle shed of an inner London organisation I visited recently felt so unsafe (probably for no good reason) that I secured my bike elsewhere, outside the premises. And what’s worse, no-one cares whether they do feel or are safe, because what choice do cyclists have? It’s not like we can go to the competition.
What we need is a bit of creativity. The colourful and attractive Cyclehoops turned a predicament into a design coup. They certainly do not try to blend in and I remember my excitement when one turned up in my street. And I love the visual impact and concept behind the pink One Car = Ten Bikes design. On an arts and crafts note, a brilliant alternative to sensible knitting is guerilla knitting which brightens up grey bike stands with colourful fitted covers. They’ve been sighted in Cambridge and also in Streatham where ninja knitters operate. But my favourite parking spot is indoors, be it in a bike-friendly office or in a friend’s house, protected from the weather, safe and not far from sight. And best of all, my own private one, my bedroom that I share with my orange bike and where I can gaze ad infinitum at this permanent presence in my life.