Sorting out the family bike pile problem

The one you want is always hardest to detangle. (Photos: Shannon Johnson/BikePortland)

Family Bike Parking Problem #1: The Bike Pile

Does anyone else have a “bike pile” in the garage? My kids’ bikes, scooters, helmets, tricycles, and whatever else – jackets, nerf guns, jump ropes–always seem to end up in a giant heap, with the desired bicycle perpetually at the bottom of the pile. After months of digging and tripping over bicycles, my husband finally had enough

We needed a better family bike parking setup. Most of the bike parking solutions we’ve seen have involved hanging bikes on various hooks and hangers. We didn’t want any vertical hanging options because we want our kids to be able to access and park their bikes without our help. And I don’t want to have to hang bikes up, or wrestle them down, every time a kid, or all five kids, want to ride. We needed a way to keep the bikes orderly and easily kid-accessible. And my husband wanted to keep costs low. Spending money on a fancy bike rack was not an option.

After a little consideration, my husband found a solution online. It’s a cheap, easy DIY bike rack that the kids can use without help, and it even includes scooter-parking.  My husband made it all with scrap wood and someone’s free leftover paint. As a final touch, he added a few hooks for hanging up helmets. Finally, we have bike parking, instead of a bike pile!

Family Bike Parking Problem #2: No Garage

If we were still living in our previous rental (a two-bedroom duplex with an open parking lot and no garage) I don’t think I would own a bike today.Without bike parking, I wouldn’t be biking.

As we tackled our own bike-pile problem, I began to think more about family bike parking issues. We have a big family, and it just so happens that – for the first time in our lives – we also have a big garage. This makes parking our bikes at home feel easy, weather-proof, and secure. However, we haven’t ever had a garage prior to this. In the past decade, we’ve lived in six different places, and we’ve never had a garage before. In a few spots, I kept a personal bike in a spare room, or even a corner of the kitchen, and in a shed, in a rental unit shared laundry room, and on a covered front porch.

For a single person, it might not be a big deal to store a bike on an apartment wall, or in the living room. But the bike storage dilemma gets bigger if your family size grows (especially when living space doesn’t keep pace). For families living in an apartment, condo, or garage-free house, it’s a real issue to figure out how to store one or two adult bikes, plus two or three kid bikes, a bike trailer, a tag-along, scooters, or — good grief! — a cargo bike. 

In fact, if we were still living in our previous rental (a two-bedroom duplex with an open parking lot and no garage) I don’t think I would own a bike today. I’m certain I would not have purchased a cargo bike, and I wouldn’t even have considered buying a family e-bike. For me to invest the money in a cargo bike, and then an e-cargo-bike, I needed to be able to sleep at night, knowing my investment was safe. I’d want the bike covered and secure, and easy to get in and out. To be clear: without bike parking, I wouldn’t be biking

That realization has set me thinking. Is bike parking a limiting factor for families who might otherwise bike? What options exist for biking families without private garages? And is there something to be done about it? Can we add more bike parking in our city? Is it needed? If so, what should that bike parking look like? How can we better accommodate the unique bike parking needs of families (longer bikes, large box bikes, scooters, pile of kid bikes, bike trailer, tandem bike, bike with tag-along: many of these common family bike scenarios don’t fit easily on a standard bike rack)?

I hate to think that a lack of parking would prevent anyone from riding a bike. Tell me, especially garage-free folks, how do you park your family bike(s)? Has a lack of parking ever prevented you from getting a bike? And if you could make bike parking better for your family, what would a better situation look like?

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ED
ED
17 days ago

Thank you for starting this conversation, which has been on my mind! I have my regular bike, a cargo bike and a kids bike that I have to figure out how to store.

I currently live in a small apartment (no room to park bikes in the apartment, not even a “bike nook” if you remember that idea!) but it includes a bike room in the basement. While great to have, two main problems are recurring theft (despite locks and location, it has been broken into at least twice in the past year) and limited bike configurations (only hanging hooks for adult bikes, nothing sized for kids bikes or cargo bikes or those not able to lift their bikes). We’ve made it work and gotten lucky the past two years but it could be more awesome and usable.

I’m about to move to a small townhouse and wrestling with the bike problem again. I will have a one-car garage but it barely fits my Honda Civic, which I don’t want to leave parked on the street for long periods of time, e.g. all the days that I’m biking. It doesn’t look very feasible to fit my bikes into the garage in some way that would allow me to easily access them without moving the car out. I’ve toyed around with buying some room dividers to create a section of the living room for indoor bike parking near the front door but would prefer not to. I might be able to fit the kids bike and scooter into the coat closet to at least make those easy to get out. There’s no outdoor space like a shed or porch where I can securely lock up the bikes. It’s almost enough to make me wish for the subpar bike room!

(Ed: I also realize I’m privileged to have the bikes, the car and a place to live. I guess I could give up my car if car share ever got better? Or resign myself to parking on the street if I really valued my bikes over my car?)

Pockets the Coyote
Pockets the Coyote
17 days ago
Reply to  ED

I’ve found that the pedal hook wall mounts are a great low profile option, perhaps you would be able to get both bikes a spot above the hood of the car with one of those? Getting them out may still be a challenge without moving the car, but the low profile of the design may free up enough space to make it easier.

dachines
dachines
17 days ago

I think that you will find that your rack works even better if you put the rear wheel of the bikes into the rack, as opposed to the front wheel.

Nice job on the build!

Matt
Matt
17 days ago
Reply to  dachines

Alternating front/rear/front/rear will alleviate the handlebar overlap problem.

amy vegan
amy vegan
16 days ago

i live downtown in a high rise w/underground car parking. we have bike holders on our parking space walls. we also have a bike room which has been full without one spot to lock my bikes in the 2.5 years i’ve lived here. we have break ins all the time even though our garage is “secure.” thieves piggyback cars into the gated garage at night. we lost 3 bikes this week. i have 3 bikes in my living room. one broken from an accident (see jonathan’s article on tree roots) and 2 i ride. my living room is my bike storage. not pretty.at all.

RC
RC
16 days ago
Reply to  amy vegan

I get it. My son and his girlfriend both had their bikes stolen from the (supposedly) secure, indoor bike parking area of their apartment, even though the bikes were locked.

Ricky
Ricky
16 days ago

I live in a two bedroom apartment with my wife and one infant. without a garage or basement to store bikes, we currently park our two bikes in the corner of our living room. We are car-free and would like to get a cargo bike now that we have a baby but there really isn’t a great place to store it. Residents do have spots in an outdoor parking lot but there is no way I would trust a cargo bike would be safe there, assuming I would be “allowed” to use my spot for a bike. I may compromise and get an ebike with a rack that can accommodate a child seat / basket which would be pretty heavy to lug up the stairs but could fit inside.
Anyway, bike storage is an impediment for families without garages. How do the Dutch manage?

Alex Reedin
Alex Reedin
16 days ago
Reply to  Ricky

Each post-1950 home in the Netherlands (except 2003-2013 build years) has been required by law to have a private bicycle storage facility.

My perception from abroad if the most common fulfillment of this requirement, though I am not 100% sure that it is required like this in all cases, is for a separate small storage room for each housing unit. Which would, it seems to me, be more secure (and be more clear about who is entitled to what space) than a shared “bike room” as is so common in Portland apartment buildings.

https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2013/07/11/parking-your-bike-at-home/

Watts
Watts
16 days ago
Reply to  Ricky

Many Dutch apartment dwellers lock their bikes outside and rely on the “mine is crappier than all the others” strategy to deter theft. And there is a lot of theft.

David Hampsten
16 days ago
Reply to  Ricky

I’m single with a 2 bed rented 2-story townhome. The front half of my apartment living room is my “garage”, which I vacuum periodically; I’ve learned to hang up most of my 5 bikes, but I keep the bike of the day on the floor, on top of Finish Line® 3’x5′ repair mats so the street gunk and chain oil doesn’t stain the carpet too much. I’m too weak to lift a 75 lb electric bike over the door ledge into my apartment, so I have yet to buy one, and the angle of my doorway entry prevents me from having a long cargo bike. Jackets, helmets, and whatnot are hung on hooks by the doorway, shoes and parts in bins on shelves nearby. I’ve been in my apartment for over 6 years now and have yet to deal with any burglaries, but on the other hand I don’t store anything outside. In the part of town I live in, apparently you have to leave your bike outside and unlocked for two weeks before anyone will steal it – they do however steal cars, contents within cars, mopeds, and so on.

Tina Ricks (Guest Author)
Tina in the Burbs
16 days ago

I’ve thought about this a lot. I live in a house in the burbs and I have a garage. But, one of my kids is a non-driver, and thinking about moving out with friends in the next year or two. Safety says that women should not live in ground-floor apartments–it’s too easy for someone creepy to climb in a window on a warm summer night. So, second floor or above, then where do you put a bike? Will my non-driving daughter be continually hauling a bike (or an e-bike) up a flight of stairs? I’d love to see cities or counties actually tackle this, and in addition to the copious included parking in a large apartment complex, mandate that apartments offer some secure ground-level bike parking like the products offered by Oonee (https://www.oonee.us/product). Almost every large suburban apartment complex has included parking for each apartment, most of it mandated by local building codes and parking regulations.

Watts
Watts
16 days ago

I agree with you: every unit should have secure bike storage, and in new buildings with elevators, these should be attached to the unit, but not inside it (kind of like a closet accessible both from the hallway and inside the unit, good for bikes and also other sporting equipment). The response you’ll hear in Portland is “too expensive for developers”, “will raise the cost of housing”, and “housing for people, not for property”.

EP
EP
16 days ago

Seems like there’s a business opportunity here for parking space sized bike garages. Just rent the space from the apt management, then have the “bike parking pod” dropped off. Maybe it’s a big steel shipping container with a roll up door? Sad it’s come to this, but would possibly help with security issues. Of course the apt. management probably wouldn’t allow it and would point to their sub-par garage facilities or the staple rack out front and say “we have bike parking”. This would work better at someone’s house, if they at least have a driveway or large enough space in the backyard.

Tina Ricks (Guest Author)
Tina in the Burbs
16 days ago
Reply to  EP

A lot of apartment complexes won’t allow anything in parking spaces except cars, even if you don’t own a car. There are some great parking space sized bike storage containers on the market. (https://www.oonee.us/product). But they’re not cheap.

Todd Boulanger
Todd Boulanger
16 days ago

Tina, You got it! I spent 6 years working through various design refinements and cost reductions for Bikestation’s modular public bike room…its tough to bring the cost down to what most building owners (and cities) want to pay upfront without making it not secure or visually an eyesore.
Bikestation Oceanside Lot 27 [our cheapest]
https://goo.gl/maps/9qC88xX8iH8nZ4Q39

Bikestation Sabre Springs Transit Center [high concept v1]
https://goo.gl/maps/S8QnXWoy3LDNjXN57

BIkestation Santa Barbara Lot 3 [most expensive due to heritage district review]
https://goo.gl/maps/u5aTua9uQ4Qv2qBH6

David Hampsten
16 days ago
Reply to  EP

A friend of mine visits the small French alpine town of Apt every year and there are several local super-secure storage businesses that have such storage facilities – small bike-sized garages for your bike and your clothes, temperature and dust-controlled, designed for the annual tourist crowd in mind. Store your expensive bike, accessories, and clothes, go home thousands of miles away, then return the next summer or whenever pandemic restrictions are lifted. I think the monthly rent was 25-50 Euros.