When there’s no bicycle rack in sight, a parking meter may seem like a potentially good thing to lock your bike to. After all, they are firmly attached to the ground, are monitored and used throughout the day, and are plentiful in most cities.
But parking meters are not there to park bicycles, they are there to collect money from motorists. And if you lock up your bike to one, there’s a good chance it will be impounded—and you’ll have to pay the city a hefty fine.
Locking your bicycle to a parking meter is prohibited in most municipalities because it interferes with the meter’s operation and creates a safety hazard.
What to do? Read on for some alternate ideas for parking your bike.
Should I Lock My Bike to a Parking Meter?
Locking a bike to a parking meter is probably illegal in your community. In some communities there may not be a penalty for doing so—or the rule might not be well enforced—but most cities don’t want bikes attached to parking meters.
Parked bikes make it difficult to use and check the meter. Besides, your illegally-parked bike will sooner rather than later be noticed by the traffic police that check the meters. And they can make your life harder in a number of ways.
Keep in mind that just because you’ve gotten away with it once or twice doesn’t make it ok to do; if there’s a law on the books, the authorities can choose to enforce it as needed.
If your bike is impounded, you will probably have to prove that it belongs to you in order to get it back (which, if you have had your bike for a while, can be harder than you think). Carry your bike’s serial number with you and make sure you have a photo of your bike with you on it.
Where Do I Lock My Bike if There is No Rack?
Chances are good that if you are in a place with parking meters, there might be bike racks, too.
Look online to try to find a rack within a few blocks. Bike racks are almost always found outside post offices, libraries, transit stops, and university campuses. Or ask that friendly traffic officer where you might find one.
If there aren’t racks, some communities would prefer if you lock your bike to their other property, such as sign posts or lamp posts, where bikes can better be placed out of the way. It’s always a good idea to check local laws about this, or call your police precinct.
Related: How to Lock Your Bike Without a Rack
Avoid handicap parking signs and bus stops, if possible, as bikes may interfere with safety.
Don’t lock your bike to anything that can be cut, dismantled, or bent. This includes anything wooden, chain link fences, scaffolding, and inadequate racks. Don’t lock your bike to anything that is short enough that a thief can lift your bike over.
Keep in mind that communities generally don’t allow you to lock your bike to hydrants, stair rails, or subway fences, as bikes might create a safety hazard.
Likewise, locking your bike to a tree might result in a fine, and trees are often damaged by bike locks. It isn’t unheard of for a thief to cut down a tree or its branches to remove a bike.
If there are not adequate bike racks in your community, you could also notify city officials of the problem and highlight areas where you think racks should be placed.
Many communities have bike advocacy groups, too. Check out their efforts and maybe even give your two cents.
What are Safe Places to Leave a Bike?
Granted, locking your bike to a parking meter comes with the added security of police monitoring of parking and meters. This may act as a deterrent to bike thieves, for sure. However, there are other places you might consider that are safe for bike parking.
Parking a bike in plain sight of a lot of people is probably your best bet. You can also look for places with security personnel, such as parking guards/attendants, traffic cops, doormen, or security guards.
Don’t park your bike somewhere isolated where a thief has privacy and time to work on your lock with tools. Generally it isn’t a good idea to park near a train station or other means of escape, as well.
Park your bike next to other bikes, in the middle of the pack, or next to other bikes that might be better targets for thieves than your bike. Generally, it isn’t a good idea to lock your bike to another bike unless you have permission. Don’t forget to put your lock through the frame and rear wheel.
How Do I Secure My Bike if There’s Nothing to Lock it to?
It is extremely frustrating to arrive at your destination and then to have to worry about your bike going missing in the time you are there. There are a few things you can do if you find yourself in this situation.
For starters, you can carry two locks.
With two locks, you can lock both wheels to the frame. Any thief will have to break both locks or remove the bike in a vehicle If you bring two different types of locks, even better, as the thief will then have to break two different kinds of locks.
Carrying two heavy-duty locks can be heavy, however.
Some riders prefer a U-lock for the back wheel and a cable to attach the front wheel to the U-lock. Keep in mind, however, that cable locks are easy to remove and should not be used as the primary means of protecting your bike.
You can also remove the front wheel and lock it alongside the back tire. Or take the front wheel (and any other removable parts, such as the seat, lights, seat post, etc.) with you.
This makes the bike impossible to roll away… and less desirable to steal.
Many communities want to encourage bike ridership as a way to reduce traffic, protect the environment, and contribute to the health of their citizens.
That doesn’t mean that there will always be enough city-approved parking, however. Try to find designated bike racks, bike corrals, and covered shelters, but if you can’t, it’s probably best to avoid a parking meter.
Sign post, lamppost, or public mental fencing might be your best bet. Check your local regulations (and talk to other cyclists) about safe places to leave your bike. And don’t forget your lock (or two!).