Thursday, October 02, 2008

Rack Attack

Sometimes things bug me enough that I just have to do something about it. Last night I was linked to the NY City racks design competition finalists. Curiosity got the better of me and I downloaded all of the PDFs to study. I was actually angered by some of them. (take a look at them before reading on)

I lie there awake in bed. Wishing I had known about this contest back in March. Wishing I had registered on the site to post comments... Then it dawned on me. I was going to get up early and BLOG ABOUT THEM!

The contestants:

Andrew Lang and Harry Dobbs

This one looked promising from the renderings, just a variation on the classic U rack, which is pretty decent. They have also branded this one by taking the classic I <3 NY (tm) logo and making it I Rack NY.. Not sure what that means

Baroni Valeriani architetti

This one pissed me off. A classic wheelbender. Vancouver has some Less stylized spiral racks like this, only taller, and made of one continuous steel tube. Their downfall is that the bike is constantly leaning. Needless to say I wasn't optimistic about this design.

Ian Mahaffy and Maarten De Greeve

This one looked okay. Nothing to outstanding, though it looked like it would be made of cast iron, which I liked.

Federico Otero

Immediately I was curious about the anchoring of this design. Why would the two pieces not be joined by a common plate?

Francis Anthony Bitonti (FADArch)

This one bothered me, in that way that most abstract art bothers me. The PDF shows a billion different configurations, all ugly and cumbersome.

Ignacio Ciocchini

This one reminded me of Toronto's ill fated loop racks on parking meters. The ones that can be defeated by a good length wooden 2x4.

Jeff Miller and Andrea Ruggiero

Just looking at the initial JPG of this one, I didn't like it. The 'I Bike NY' logo plate (meant to display advertisements) is actually shown GETTING IN THE WAY OF THE PEDAL

Next Phase Studios

Cable rack? Surely you are joking. The cable lock doesn't get invited to party with the U locks or case hardened chains. Also worth lolling is the render showing a cable lock going through the FRONT WHEEL.

Stephan Jaklitsch Architects PC

For some reason, this one pissed me off the most. Perhaps its because it had the word 'Architects' in the title. Or maybe because the renderings made it look like the aluminum was too thick to get a U lock around properly.

Open Thread Design

Initially I liked this one the best. Sort of. His proposal shows a special sign post, that has a kink in it, and the top part flattened. I thought this was brilliant. Cyclists are already locking to poles, so why not just make the poles better? He also shows a similarly shaped corral to go along with it. Which looked suitable for up to 4 bikes.

On to the competition.

I got up at 6am, slammed back a Bialetti full of Mexico's finest, threw some fresh batteries in my camera and headed south on Broadway towards Astor Place. After a sleepy hoon through Times and Union square, I arrived, ready to lock up my bike.

My criteria was whether or not I could lock my bike to the rack by two U locks at once. I think that is the absolute minimum for anyone who works downtown and wants to keep their bicycle. One U lock goes around the front wheel and frame, and the other goes around the rear wheel and frame. The city's 4700 upside down U racks do this just fine.
Being the weight weenie that I am, I didn't actually bring both U locks with me. I only brought one, and tried locking in both positions without moving the bike.

The results:

Andrew Lang and Harry Dobbs
PASS. Strangely, someone had spilled a bunch of dogfood at the base of this rack. I was able to lock it with 2 ulocks without moving the bike.

Baroni Valeriani architetti.

Fail. What is this, a rack for ants!?

Ian Mahaffy and Maarten De Greeve

I liked this one. Very sturdy, and it looked like they had to dig up a good chunk of concrete to bury the base. It passed the two U lock test.

Federico Otero
Federico Otero is an up and coming designer from Latin America. He gives a new face to design by creating products that update traditional and artisanal techniques, transforming them into unique modern forms. His contributions to design include a wide spectrum that ranges from jewelry, faucets blah blah blah..
I leaned my bike against this rack and noted how flimsy it was. I then pushed on it with one hand and it broke. I decided to throw it in the garbage, so no one would try to lock anything else to it.

Francis Anthony Bitonti (FADArch)
Sadly I couldn't find this one at Astor place. You wouldn't think it would be so hard to miss. I am doubting it would pass my criteria.
Here's a photo from the Gothamist:

I can lock tarckbike?

Ignacio Ciocchini

Tentative Pass. It looks okay and fit both locks. I didn't have a 2x4 handy though.

Jeff Miller and Andrea Ruggiero

Even without the advertising plate, this one failed. The dimensions just didn't work with my bike, and my crank hit the base, preventing me from getting the bike in closer. It was already rusting too.

Next Phase Studios

Fail. I couldn't get two Ulocks on it. I think it may turn yellow over time, there's a lot of space in between the plastic sheath and the actual cable. The good thing was that you cannot work this design loose by rocking it back and forth. The whole thing flexes.

Stephan Jaklitsch Architects PC

DAMMIT. PASS! I can't believe it! The one I was hating on the most last night was GREAT! Its the perfect size, appears to be anchored securely, and even holds the bike on the right angle! Truly a nice rack.

Open Thread Design

Fail. I couldn't get my top tube under the bar here to get my seat tube/wheel secured. Perhaps if there weren't already 2 bikes on it. Though, its probably meant to hold 4. Sadly, they didn't install the Signpost version of this rack. I had such high hopes for this one.

Well.. That concludes my early morning rack attack. Which basically proves you cannot judge a rack by its render.. or some other joke involving the word 'rack'.

The full flickr set is HERE. Now I've just got to mail my findings to David Byrne and I can get on with my day.


((lyledriver)) said...

This just in:

Hi Lyle,
Thanks so much for sending me the blog and the images. It's a shame that happened. I realized before I sent it that the bottom joint should be structured in a different way in order to be more sturdy. It's a prototype and if there are more built in the future those issues will be resolved.

gabrielamadeus said...

Awesome post! I almost feel sorry for mr otero, sorta how I feel sorry for Palin talking to Couric. And jesus, that one that looks like it is from the abyss, WTF?!?! My only questions is why is this needed. The standard Staple "U" rack seems to work great. There have been lots of studies and whatnot surrounding it.

I learned quite a lot about bike rack design and city red tape through the new zoobomb rack design process. It is a nightmare, but that doesn't give half these an excuse.

The zoobomb rack, though is a whole new monster with an entirely different set of challenges.

shawnerama said...

Nice post, lyle. In the quest for the perfect bike rack, it seems that many of the artists with ideas don't actually ride bikes. Good jorb showin' 'em what's what.

On another note, while I understand that 2 u-lock security is necessary in NYC, I'd like to see bike racks that can accommodate 4 bikes easily. It seems that portland has problems finding enough space for all its bikes. That said, if people just learned how to do it right, they could lock 4 bikes to each staple rack, but new innovations are fun, too.

adri said...

only david byrne should be allowed to design bike racks

Prolly said...

The Gothamist pic is of Joey Krillz, messenger. Don't let him see you called his bike a tarck bike. He KILLS people over that!


Good write up man.

mander said...

Whats wrong with tarck?

The university of edinburgh has a new outdoor bike shed with space for over 100 bikes. They have installed good old dependable square staple racks inside instead of something "conceptual". So that's nice, except that the shed itself looks like a great privacy screen for bike thieves. At some point it will get a swipecard entry but for now i'm locking my bike at the business school, where they have some shelter, a square staple rack and a window that looks directly into a security office.

Andrew said...

Just a thought about the designers not riding bikes... There is a HUGE leap from riding a bike to designing a bike rack and another HUGE leap from designing to prototyping. And another HUGE leap from prototyping to production.

While I love your blog and your intentions, it may be useful to think about how the basic designs may be adjusted slightly to work better. That is, judge the prototype execution but ALSO judge the basic concept.

blink said...

I agree with Andrew. The people that submitted designs are product design specialists with years of experience developing products for different industries, not artists. They responded to a design brief given by the city. The role of bikers is to express constructive critisicm that can be incorporated into the designs to improve them.
- Adding up groceries does not turn anyone into a mathematician.

olga said...

ill fated loop racks on parking meters!!! The structure and materials of the Ciocchini rack have nothing to do with those racks. The loop racks connected to existing round galvanized tubes with just two screws, a completely different situation. Also, I was easily able to fit two locks on my bike using the extremes of the ring and locking the frame plus the two wheels. Some of your comments on the other racks are also innacurate and unfair.

((lyledriver)) said...

Thanks for all your comments.

I realize this was an inflammatory post when I put it up. but bike theft is an inflammatory topic to me.

As someone with a bit of design experience and a background in manufacturing, I realize the difficulties present when going from a 'concept' to a production ready piece. It is my understanding that the winning prototype WILL be revised before they go into production.

I'm not sure which of my comments were inaccurate and unfair. The first part of the post contained my opinions based upon seeing a 2 page PDF, and the latter part came after doing some real life testing.

For the record, my frame is a 57cm TT, 74° ST tight clearance track frame with 700c wheels. I use Onguard Bulldog Mini Ulocks. Whether the racks worked for MY PARTICULAR bike and lock combination was my test criteria.

I would lock to any of the racks I gave a passing grade to. These include:
-Andrew Lang and Harry Dobbs
-Ian Mahaffy and Maarten De Greeve
-Ignacio Ciocchini
-Stephan Jaklitsch Architects PC

For the sake of NY cyclists, I can only hope the jurors agree.

morgman said...

The problem with criticism that defends unfinished designs is that these racks are on the streets already. Good design process no doubt involves making adjustments along the way, but a product that goes public should address the problems inherent in the specific design project.

What was the problem being addressed by this design project? As far as I can tell, it was to design bike racks, the use of which is to lock bikes to.

The Project B definition of a good bike rack: that we are willing to lock to it. There is no excuse for bad bike racks, especially if "designers" are involved. I use quotes there because some of these racks are merely street art.

The intended users of these products - the uninformed public - do not know the difference between a good and a bad place to park a bike. For that reason, racks that are not safe to lock a bike to should not make it past the prototyping office.

mosh said...

The Y design is cool but the problem with it is that the top of it is completely worn off -- skaters are clearly using it as a ramp. I think the idea that people can sit on it, too, is dicey. I don't want someone sitting on my rack when I'm locking/ unlocking.

3boyzmom said...

I love your assessment. I just completed working on project to put 40ish artistic bike racks in Downtown Oklahoma City. It is a huge challenge to work through city permitting, design review committees, plus art is subjective. All you want to do is provide great racks that are completely functional. Wish you were here to lock your bike up on one. I'd buy your lunch and listen to your thoughts.

alex said...

you are welcome, we even talk about jeans sometimes