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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Wrath of the Sucky Bike Rack

My readers who live outside of the city limits of Portland, Or-Uh-Gun (all five of you!) probably have a rosy picture of how Portland is bike heaven and we pave our bike lines with gold, we drink free beer with the mayor at City Hall,* blah blah blah.  Maybe you got that impression through our weekly New York Times write-ups.  Or maybe from a friend that visited once.  And yeah, we got it better than a lot of other places in the U.S. of A.  Heck, sometimes we don't even feel like we're in the US, enough so that some Canadians would even consider moving here if they had to move to an American city.**

But then the reality hits ya square in the face.  We are still indeed in "Merika."  And there is no more American institution than the United States Postal Service.  And since it is a federal agency, it's not affected by Portland's "Bikes? Sure!" policies.

I've used the East Portland Station Post Office located at SE 7th Ave and SE Taylor St ever since I've lived in Portland.***  For the past 8 or so years it's hosted my lovely Post Office Box.  I've moved umpteen times in those intervening 8 years, but still have had the same mailing address.  It's a great post office for a P.O. Box due to its central location and 24 hour lobby.

But...its bike parking sucks.  Behold: the wheel eating bike rack.

I have a feeling the bike rack got put here in 1974, right after the first Arab Oil Crisis.  This was the one second that even a conservative federal agency like the USPS would even consider doing something like this, as a way to deal with the crisis.  It looks 1974 vintage, in its wheel eating glory.  I don't know how this type of rack was ever practical, except during some quaint old era when people didn't actually lock their bikes.

During the modern era, however, when we're expected to lock our bikes to something permanently mounted to the ground, this type of rack creates...problems.  The only way you can U-lock to the rack is through the front wheel, meaning the frame can get stolen.  And even if you go through the trouble of cabling through everything else, the bike can easily fall over, which leads to the "wheel eating" name.  So while this rack looks like it should accommodate eight bicycles, in reality, the most you'll ever see is two, parked on the far ends, as evidenced above.  Once in awhile, someone will park sideways in the rack, but most folks will look for another street sign or something rather than take their chances with this piece of shit.

If only there was a better bike rack to lock to.  But the sad thing is, there was.

Just to the left of the wheel eater was a standard staple rack.  Besides offering a better way to lock a bike, it was a fascinating glimpse into the Portland underground culture of the 90's and 00's, as it was covered in layer upon layer of band/zine/anarcho/bike/what-have-you stickers.**** And it was heavily used!  In fact, most people would lock their bikes to the staple first, and only use the wheel eater when the staple rack was full.

Then one day a few years back, without warning or explanation, the staple rack was gone, never to be replaced.  All that's left is the bolts in the pavement.
Not that great of a shot, but gives you an idea.

The close-up.

I'm wondering if one day the USPS will be gracious enough and throw us bicyclists a scrap by replacing the current abomination of a bicycle rack with something more functional. Heck, a wave rack would do.  

But with the imminent government shutdown, I'm not holding my breath.

*Actually, that one is totally true.  I have gotten wasted goodly inebriated at City Hall.
**Also true! I get told that like every time I visit Vancouver.
***10 years in April!
****Including a few of mine.


  1. That's funny, that's the kind of bike rack we have all around town here and I hate them. I don't know why I thought I was alone in my despisal of them. Especially with my mixte that doesn't have a kickstand, it's impossible to park the bike in one of those slits. I always need that corner stop to lean it against something. I hope you get better bike racks soon! I'm sure it will happen there before it happens where I live! S.

  2. Yeah, the wheel eater rack seems to be the scourge of college towns.

    I think the main problem with bad bike racks that they are put there by non-cyclists who either have good intentions in mind or are required to provide bike parking. A rack is a rack is a rack to them. And I'm guessing the wheel eaters are cheap and easy to find. So then they put in the crappy bike rack, no one uses it, and they go "See, there's no one biking!" or "We provided them a rack! What are they complaining about?"

    The only thing as bad as no bike rack is a bad bike rack.

    And other post offices in town have better options--both the Main one at Broadway and NW Hoyt and even dinky Midway station have wave racks. They ain't perfect, but they are a hell of a lot better than wheel eaters.

  3. Be glad there's anything to lock to! I went for a ride not long ago, and stopped by the hardware store. Rode in circles around the place before finally locking the bike down the street at another store. The worst is when you have to "improvise" a locking spot, and then unlock the bike and go to leave and... there's the rack, just on the other side of the door or something.

  4. I have to laugh at that rack because it's the same rack that my company purchased, except it's smaller. In defiance I don't use it and a few of us park our bikes inside the gymnasium. I plan to inform our co. VP that it is a joke (I can do that w/o getting fired). And that they must not take cycling and commuting seriously to display such an ugly bicycle rack. I hate it so much as it seems to poke fun at cycling rather than displaying cycling as a viable commuting option.

  5. I would have loved to see a pic with a bike sideways on the rack, would have been perfect! :)

    Well, it looks like I better not be moving to Portland anytime soon, the dream is blown!


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