Racks to the Future: How Bike Parking Can Make or Break Small Businesses


bike parking on mountain

Small businesses need any advantage they can get in this world of big box stores, online shopping, and chain restaurants. One often undervalued asset for local retailers and service providers is a sturdy, secure bike rack located near the establishment’s entrance. It might not seem like good bicycle parking would make any difference to a business’s bottom line, but studies show that it can have a notable positive effect.

Advantages of having bike parking

Safe routes to and from a business are important, but secure bicycle parking near the entrance to an office, shop, restaurant or cafe can also make bicyclists feel more welcomed and comfortable. Bicyclists tend to purchase less per visit than a motorist because they simply can’t carry as much. But studies show they make more frequent visits than motorists, with the total spent often equalling, or even exceeding, expenditures by motorists.

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Bicyclists also take up less parking space than motorists, enabling more customers access to a business, especially if there is limited parking available overall. Though most cars can hold at least 4 or 5 people, more often than not each vehicle is occupied by only one person at a time. So when a car takes up a parking space, it has provided space for about 1 – 4 people to patronize a business. Bicycle parking takes up much less space, thereby allowing more people to park. In the examples above, there are at least 15 bicycles in the very top photo (taken during New West Fest when parking is at a premium) and 10 in the second image (taken at the same rack, but on an average week day). These examples show just how many more customers can reach an area when there is sufficient bicycle parking.

Bicycle parking can easily double, triple, or quadruple the number of people who can reach a shopping area.

Safe and Secure

Not only is the bike parking in this shopping center old and broken, but it also provides no way for a bicyclist to securely lock the frame of their bicycle.

Not only is the bike parking in this shopping center old and broken, but it also provides no way for a bicyclist to securely lock the frame of their bicycle.

Simply having a bike rack doesn’t mean that bicyclists will feel comfortable. The rack should be tall enough that the cyclist can securely lock up their frame and not just the front tire. The rack should be embedded in or bolted to the pavement in some way so that it can’t be moved. A bike rack should not only protect against theft, but against damage as well. If a pedestrian or another cyclist can accidentally bump the bike, and the resulting fall bends spokes, wheels, or other parts of the vehicle, then the rack is inadequate.

If bike parking is inadequate, the shopper may feel like they need to dash in, grab the items they need, and dash back out again. But when a bicyclist feels like their vehicle is safe and secure, they’re more likely to take their time, browse a little, perhaps pick up a few impulse items.

It’s not necessarily up to the City to provide parking

Just as the City of Fort Collins doesn’t provide all of the car parking in town, so too the City doesn’t provide all of the bicycle racks in town. The City only puts racks in the public right-of-way. So for restaurants, cafes, shops, and offices that are located in privately owned strip malls, shopping centers, or other large developments, it is up to the owner of the property to provide adequate parking for both cars and bikes.

Tenants located in properties without bicycle parking may want to start a conversation with the owners. When a tenant business does well, then the owner of the property will also do well. Since bicycle racks can increase patronage to a shop or restaurant, it’s in the owner’s best interests to make sure bike parking is up to snuff and accessible, just as they’d spend the time and money to have a parking lot sealed or have snow plowed off of it in winter.

These bike racks are located outside of a multi-family dwelling thanks to requirements in our current City building code.

These bike racks are located outside of a multi-family dwelling thanks to requirements in our current City building code.

The development review process does require a certain amount of parking for all new developments within the city. But older buildings and shopping centers, many of which were built during the height of the automobile age when expansive parking lots were king, often lack any bicycle parking at all. And those that do have bike parking have antiquated racks that may secure a tire, but they don’t do much to protect a bicycle from theft or damage. Owners of these properties are used to caring for car parking. They may just need a nudge to add bicycle parking as well.

The City does have a non-profit bike rack program that helps non-profit organizations get a rack through a grant system. The grant doesn’t cover the cost of installation, but it is a helpful and huge first step for many non-profit organizations that might not otherwise be able to afford to add bike parking.

Other reasons to add bike parking

Some bicycle parking really stands out.

Some bicycle parking really stands out.

In addition to the economic benefits mentioned above, adding bike parking is also a great way to promote sustainability and support the City’s Climate Action Plan.

Some shop owners have installed custom made bike racks that further market their product or brand identity. And others have chosen whimsical bike racks that add a sense of delight to the shopping experience.

Whether rugged or whimsical, a secure bike rack can be an inviting point of arrival for our local bicycling community.