Now that it’s summer and all the cool folk are riding their bikes everywhere, I thought it’d be the ideal time to do a definitive roundup of all the different bike racks and bike parking options in Chambana.

Instead of a hard ranking, I’ve gathered the various hardware into tiers based on their security, accessibility, and general usefulness to the average cyclist.

Let’s get the average ones out of the way first before we dig into the very best and worst.

PRETTY GOOD TIER

The majority of the bike racks you’ll see around town, especially on U of I's campus, are the standard inverted U shape.

Some of these are are mounted directly into the concrete, while others are assembled four or five to a rack and bolted to the ground. I prefer the ones that are seated right into the pavement, they seem to be spaced out better than those built as part of a group. Also, call me paranoid if you must, but I worry that any kleptomaniac with a big enough wrench could just wander by and roll away with whole rack of five bikes.

My main problem with U racks is that many of the older ones were just painted, and now the paint has flaked away and the rust has started to set in. I don’t want to set my beautiful bike against any of these:

So, for me, the best possible U racks are those on the southwest side of the Illini Union. These racks are well spaced out, set in concrete, and made out of nice stainless steel which won’t rust (or at least hasn’t started to rust yet).

Other U racks of note:

Some U racks are more rugged and angular. Who they trying to fool with that macho persona, they’re still just U racks.

And then there are the U racks around Lincoln Square Mall which have cables attached to them to help you secure your bike wheels. Even though the cables aren't in great shape, and I don't ever use them at all, this is still a cool feature. 

The racks just north Burrill Hall are unusually tall. Why? Why are they this tall? Is it so you can lock up a penny-farthing without it tipping over?

Final special shoutout to the single U rack at the Circle K on Green and Lincoln.

I may never need to buy gas, but I sure do need to buy Cool Ranch Doritos, Gatorade, and Skittles to keep me going on long rides.

ARTSY FARTSY TIER

Some bike racks in town have cool shapes and colors to make them extra FUN. All these racks are fine, but their aesthetics don’t actually enhance their functionality in any way. 

In this tier we first have the bike-shaped rack on Race Street in Urbana.

This is a perfectly okay place to park your bike, and the fact that it’s shaped like a bike means nobody will accidentally lock up their chicken there. Can’t say the same for the next artsy racks.

Some of the U racks in the lot where the Urbana Farmers’ Market happens are painted funky colors and have metal shapes in them (carrot, and apple not pictured here).

These seem like they would all work fine, though the rooster will get in the way of your pedals.

Finally, and most controversially, I’ve put the bike racks in downtown Champaign in this tier. I call these “Phi Posts” because they look like the Greek letter Phi. 

They’re made to seem kinda vintage, with a cast metal locking loop that says “CITY OF CHAMPAIGN - LOCK BICYCLE TO POST.” I appreciate the aesthetic, but these are in no way better than a standard U rack, and most of them are pretty scratched up. The best thing about these locks is that they’re dispersed all over downtown so you’re never very far from one.

IF YOU’RE COLD, THEY’RE COLD: THE BRING YOUR BIKES INSIDE TIER

I know I just said the U racks by the Union are the best, but I totally lied, because the best way to take your adequate U rack and make it worlds better is to put a roof over it. Like people, bikes prefer to not get rained on, snowed on or baked by the sun for days at a time. 

These racks at the Hill Street Parking Deck are a prime example of covered bike parking. 

These bikes are protected from most elements, and probably also  protected by the parking lot security cameras. Though I would like to see a partition between the bike parking and the car parking so that a careless commuter or runaway moving van couldn’t muder a bunch of bikes. 

I was also pleasantly surprised to find that The City Center has sheltered bike parking. Well, it’s got two U racks underneath a stairway that probably only blocks out the sun/rain like 65% of the time, but still, I appreciate the effort and it’s a good use for an otherwise useless space. 

I ALREADY WROTE ABOUT THIS TIER

Vigilant readers will remember that last month I wrote about the bike rack in front of Blackbird in Urbana. Quick recap: It’s a good rack except for that portal to nothingness that it stands astride. 

IS IT EVEN A BIKE RACK? TIER

Along Green Street in Campustown there’s a bunch of metal handrails just posted up right by the curb. These rails seem to come in five and ten foot segments and I’m really not sure what their purpose is. If they’re supposed to dissuade people from jaywalking, they’re doing a piss poor job I must say. Most people just seem to use them as bike racks, a duty which they perform fairly well all things considered.

ONLY GOOD ON THE ENDS TIER

This is a below average tier that contains two different types of bike racks that both have similar problems. Conveniently, the Urbana Schnucks has both of these types side-by-side.

On the left, you have what I call the “Shitty Fence” style rack, and on the right, a classic “Squiggle.”

Shitty Fence racks look kinda like a fence, and most of them are designed so that it’s easy to lock up your front wheel, and hard to lock up anything else. This means they’re a great way to keep your front wheel secure while getting the rest of your bike STOLEN. Of course there are some semi-reasonable ways to park securely at a Shitty Fence rack. You could put your bike parallel to the rack itself like a total asshole. You could do like this fellow above and hoist your front wheel over the top. Though, as this person found out, some Shitty Fence racks are mounted too close to a wall, so you gotta turn your wheel and mess up anyone next to you. I prefer to park my bike at the either end of the rack, but that’s not always an option.

Squiggle racks are not as bad, they’re really just U racks that aren’t spaced out enough.

For both Shitty Fence and Squiggle racks, the real issue arises when there are a bunch of bikes trying to occupy a single rack. If you don’t get a primo spot at one end of the rack, you’ll be kicking other people’s bikes out of your way as you try to insert or extract your own. It is the worst.

Some additional Shitty Fence and Squiggle racks in town:

You’d think the Champaign County Courthouse would have some decent bike parking, but all it has is this ancient trash which is not even tied down.

The largest concentration of Shitty Fences is near Scott Hall on campus which has a collection of them just sitting in some wood chips. One lonely bike was there on the day I took this photo, likely because there are much better parking options just a few feet away.

The Green Street Maize has a small Shitty Fence rack installed right in the middle of their parking lot.

It’s clear they put it there just so people wouldn’t try to drive from one side of their lot to the other. I would not park my bike here given the option. Some taco-crazed heathen in a pickup truck is liable to run your bike over. The one advantage this rack has is you can see it from anywhere inside Maize, so at least you’ll get to witness your bike getting crushed.

West Side Park only has these small Squiggle racks on each corner of the park. Seems like inadequate bike parking considering the big events that happen there. At least they’re far-removed from the busy roads and sidewalks.

MEME TIER

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention in this column that Veoride bikes lock themselves, and thus can be “safely” stored anywhere. Particularly popular parking spots for Veorides include: 

SHOULDA BEEN RETIRED TIER

These old racks with flimsy circular slots for your front wheels are terrible and nobody should use them. The only reason they’re still around is that nobody has wanted to pay the $10 needed to remove them with a reciprocating saw. 

D’S GET DEGREES TIER

For my money, these are the worst bike racks in town, purely because somebody did the ABSOLUTE BARE MINIMUM necessary to provide some form of bike parking, and then they stopped there.

Turns out the bare minimum is a small Shitty Fence rack ordered off the internet, haphazardly chained to something else. Both Hollywood Liquors (plus adjoining businesses) and Jarling’s Custard Cup have this setup. 

The one near Hollywood is the worse of the two. It’s in shitty shape, it’s in the middle of a busy parking lot, and it’s tiny.

At least the Jarling’s one is chained to the famous custard cup, where it’s less likely to get hit by a car. Though the chain holding it in place is actually in worse shape.

GOLD TIER

Alright, now that we’ve gotten all that garbage out of the way, the best bike racks in town are these new “Park-A-Bike” racks popping up on the U of I campus and in Urbana. 

A few features make these racks great. Firstly they’ve got slots to hold your front wheels straight so it’s less likely your bike will roll around and fall over. Also, the side arms have a very lovely plastic/rubber bit that protects your bike frame from metal on metal contact with the rack. AWESOME.

These racks are showing up along Green Street where the MCORE project has been completed. Also near the Union.

Then there’s this group of Park-A-Bikes at 25 O’Clock Brewing:

Plenty of space for up to 16 thirsty cyclists! I also like how there’s a sign that says “bike parking only,” so those dang motorcycle jerks don’t try to elbow their way into this prime spot.

GOLD PLUS ULTRA TIER

How do you make the Gold Tier better? That’s right, you put a roof over it.

The bike parking in front of Common Ground is just great. I wish every big parking lot had bike shelter like this one. Though I do think this one should have some stout pylons on the perimeter to further protect the bikes from wayward automobiles.

Well folks, there are other bike racks in town, but I’m nearly out of words. My main takeaway after exploring town looking for bike racks is that although the downtowns and campus are very well covered, there’s many businesses and spaces in between which lack good racks or designated bicycle parking of any kind. This is a real bummer to me, especially in a city that is generally quite bike-friendly. If you’re have decision-making power in one of these places with substandard bike parking, please think about investing in something from the upper tiers I wrote about above.

See you all next month, and bike safe out there!