The best place to lock your bike is city-provided bike racks, bike corrals, or covered bike areas. However, in places where these structures are not available, you will have to find other sturdy places to lock your bike.
If no public bike racks or corrals are available, some communities will let you lock your bike to a lamppost, as long as it’s not blocking vehicle or pedestrian traffic or interfering with the function or service of the pole. Check your local regulations or call your police precinct to find out your local rules.
Lampposts are generally tall enough that thieves can’t lift a bike over, they are anchored to the ground, and they can’t be cut through or dismantled. For these reasons, many cyclists choose them as safe locking places when racks or corals aren’t available.
Should I Lock my Bike to a Streetlamp?
If no racks are available, a lamppost is a good option, provided the city doesn’t have rules against it.
Use common sense to make sure your bike is out of the way:
Don’t park your bike in bus stops (whether locked to a lamppost or sign pole).
And don’t lock to a lamppost that might be under repair or need service, as your bike could be removed by the maintenance personnel.
Make sure your bike’s wheels are out of the street so that they don’t interfere with traffic (or get run over by garbage trucks or street sweepers).
As with any place you are locking your bike, try not to do any damage to the post (or to your bike). Only lock if your type of lock can safely fit around the post.
Where Else Can I Lock My Bike?
Sign posts are probably the best alternative to bike racks.
Make sure they are secured to the concrete, not rusted, and the signs cannot be easily removed. A thief could easily lift your bike over the post if there’s no sign (or a small sign) attached at the top.
You could also consider locking to metal city fences (not safety fences) or benches, provided your bike isn’t in the way and this is allowed in your community.
Generally, locking your bike to fire hydrants, trees, subway railings, safety railings, or parking meters is a no-no, and your bike might be impounded and you may have to pay a large fine to get it back.
Location is also important when locking your bike.
Try to park where others (and not just thieves) might be keeping an eye on it. Look for places with obvious security cameras, security guards, or crossing guards. Park your bike with other bikes and riders that might look out for thieves.
Do a little research before you set out. You may be able to find bike rack locations online. It is safe to assume there will be racks outside libraries, college campuses, transit stations, and post offices.
You can call big-box stores to find out if they have bike racks—and some will even let you bring your bike inside.
How Do I Lock My Bike to a Lamppost?
The first thing to do will be to make sure you have an adequate lock, no matter what you are locking your bike to.
Cable locks can be easily cut and should not be used as primary protection for a bike.
A lock typically needs to go around both the frame of your bike and the rear wheel. Try to avoid locking around the top tube of your bike, as it may be easier for thieves to twist the bike and break the lock. Secure to the lower tube or the seat tube.
Smaller U-locks may not be big enough to fit around the wheel, frame and streetlamp. You may want to consider using a larger lock on the back and a smaller u-lock on the front wheel and frame.
Larger U-locks may be able to fit, but try to leave as little room inside the lock as possible, so thieves will not be able to insert tools to pry the lock.
Other Tips for Locking Bikes
If you have detachable wheels, you can detach your front wheel and lock it alongside your rear wheel if you only have one lock. This will protect your front wheel from being stolen even if the rest of your bike is locked down.
Many cyclists recommend having two locks, so each wheel can be locked to the frame (and maybe the rack as well). This means that thieves would have to pry two separate locks to ride the bike. To be even safer, you could use a U-lock on one wheel and a chain lock on the other.
If locking to a thick lamppost, you might consider this, so you can put the larger chain lock on the back and secure the front wheel with the U-lock. Some riders use a U-lock or chain lock on the back frame and wheel, and then a cable to attach the front wheel to the rear lock.
Make sure the lock is facing down so it is more difficult to tamper with. And never leave your lock touching the ground, as it is easier to smash a lock if it is against the ground. Anything that deters a thief will help protect your bike.
Don’t lock your bike outdoors overnight.
Try not to park your bike in the same place every day. (That said, some cyclists leave heavy chain locks on racks so they can return to them each day. This may not be allowed in some places.)
Related: How to Lock Your Bike Without a Rack
If you cannot find a bike rack, a streetlight may be your best option when it comes to locking your bike to something sturdy, tall, and immoveable.
If there isn’t enough bike parking in your community, reach out to local officials and try to get quality racks installed in places where you notice a need. Check out bicycle advocacy groups and maybe even get involved.
You probably aren’t the only one who would benefit from additional bike parking.