Thursday, April 1, 2010

And now Mike climbs walls too!

I didn't make it to the Critical Mass ride... I started putting up posters for the Festival and when I finally got to Confederation Park it was ten after six. Ah well. Next time.

But I was due to be meeting some friends for dinner at 8:00, so I decided to spend the intervening time sitting with a beer on a patio in the Market, because it was a beautiful afternoon.

And heading through the Market I came across this vertical bike rack, on Clarence I believe it was. It must be new - at least, I don't remember ever having seen it before. And it was in use, which gives it points. Okay, so it's not automated, or lever-activated, and it doesn't suck your bike up into the depths of a creepy bike mushroom, but still, I had to stop and check it out: and as it was right across the street from the Heart & Crown (which has a patio), I also got to try it out. That's Mike in the picture, the dark blue one. Just hanging out.

This spring, I've noticed extra bike racks popping up all over town. Instead of the single ring-and-post racks that have always lined the downtown streets - which are picturesque enough, and don't inconvenience pedestrian traffic or look 'cluttered,' but which really can only handle one bike each, if that - these new racks are full parking stations, with multiple spaces for at least a dozen bikes each. And there they are, taking up sidewalk space. Go to the corner of Bank and Somerset outside the Hartman's for a great example. They're not 'beautifying,' they're functional, and thank God for that. 'Beautiful' bike racks so often have very little to do with cycling, and much more to do with someone's idea that bikes are somehow quaint and/or hip.

Huzzah, I say. It's encouraging to see useful bike space proliferating downtown. And then I come across this rack. Also more functional than attractive. And displaying a certain amount of nice, simple, outside-the-box thinking. The idea, with these, is to maximize bike space and keep parked bikes out of the way. I've seen lots of variations: this particular one is pretty simple. There's a metal shelf for the back tire, and a peg that hooks through the front tire (you then push around a little curved bar to secure the whole thing.) You thread your lock around the main metal strut, or there's a little hinge that you are intended, I guess, to run a chain through. The whole thing's versatile enough that you could use a U-lock or a chain with it, equally. It was also a lot easier to figure out at first glance than the Rack-and-Roll racks on the buses, although that might also have something to do with not feeling like you're holding up a city bus and everyone on it while you try to figure out the levers and bars.

The only problem I have with it is that to use it you have to upend your bike, tip it up onto its back wheel, and then lift it about a foot or so to hook the peg through the front tire, then nest the back tire into the base. That took a little doing for me, and I can easily imagine someone not being able to lift their bike and control it like that. The front wheel can flop around even when you're, like me, used to tipping the bike to get it on crowded elevators. No, it wasn't a huge trial for me to get Mike into the rack - it was actually pretty easy - but it's still easier to roll him up to a light standard, or telephone pole, or parking sign, and lock him to that. And if I had panniers on the back rack, which I didn't today, that would have come into consideration.

But, it was still cool to try it out, and it was nice to know that in some tiny way, by using this rack, I was encouraging whoever installed it. Letting them know that yes, there is a need for practical, usable bike parking in the downtown core, and 'if you install it, they will park.' I don't know if the novelty will keep me using this rack when there are so many street signs and iron rails. But when I think about it... maybe it will.

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