Many cities and towns all over the world are trying to increase the number of designated bicycle parking spaces such as bike racks or parking shelters. At the same time, more people have started to use bicycles in the last few years, and quite a few communities are struggling to keep up with demand.
Regulations about where you can legally lock up your bike vary. Wherever you live, it’s important to familiarize yourself with what’s allowed, what the penalties are, and how to get your bike back if it’s impounded.
Many cyclists who don’t access to bike racks lock their bicycles to street signs, provided the signs are not loose or damaged, cannot be removed, and are high enough that a thief can’t lift the bicycle over them. Some cities prohibit locking bicycles to signs, so check your local laws.
The key when locking your bike to a sign is to use common sense.
Don’t lock your bike to something that can be easily cut or dismantled by a thief, or in a location that will interfere with traffic, pedestrians, or city services. Read on to learn more about how to park and lock your bike so it’ll be there when you return.
Where Can You Lock Your Bike?
In some precincts, when there isn’t a rack or shelter around, you can lock your bicycle to municipal signs—provided it doesn’t impede vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
The best places are obviously spots the city has designated for bike parking.
It takes just a few minutes to look online and see if there is bike parking near your destination. Many cities are encouraging ridership by designating vehicle parking spots as bike corrals, or making covered parking available.
Similarly, many cities are starting to crack down on cyclists who don’t take the time to learn the rules, or who just don’t follow them. So familiarize yourself with the local laws where you live or travel to avoid hefty fines.
Related: How to Lock Your Bike Without a Rack
Should You Lock My Bike To a Street Sign?
Before you lock your bike to a street sign, make sure this is the most secure option.
Check that the sign cannot be pulled out of the concrete, or that it isn’t rusted and easy to cut through. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to assume that a bike thief won’t stop at anything to take your bike home.
A sign pole that doesn’t have a large sign on top should be avoided. You want to make sure that a thief can’t lift your bike over the sign. This may also be a problem in the rare event that the sign is short and your cable is long—and can easily fit over the sign.
Obviously, your bike shouldn’t block the street, the sidewalk, or the sign itself. In some places, this is especially true of handicap parking signs as you don’t want to obstruct the way of those who need easy access.
Can You Lock My Bike to City Property?
In some places, there may not be rules explicitly relating to locking your bike, but there may be ordinances that say you are not allowed to affix any personal property to city property. (Take New York City, for example.)
Other towns will have rules expressly prohibiting locking your bike to city property. (Hopefully, these are also the places that provide plentiful bike racks!)
Of course, you may live in a place where locking bikes to street signs is forbidden, and yet everyone else seems to have been getting away with it for years. It may be tempting to take a chance and just do it… but don’t.
Even though others have been locking their bikes to signs for years, you could still get in trouble if the police decide to enforce the rule.
If your bike does get impounded, you may have to pay a steep fine to get it back. You will probably need a photo ID, and you may have to prove the bike is yours. For that reason, it’s a good idea to make your bike somehow unique and take a picture of it before the fact, maybe even keep a selfie of you and your bike.
Where Should You Not Lock Your Bike?
All this being said, street signs are often the safest place to lock a bike if no rack is available.
Often they are plentiful, well-maintained, tall, and sturdy. Same with light poles, though, if maintenance needs to be done on the pole, your bike may be removed despite the fact that you parked it properly.
Avoid locking your bike to private fences, as you will want to do as little damage to property as possible. Chain link and wooden fences can be easily cut. Make sure a fence can’t be easily dismantled.
I’ve had cases where I’ve locked my bike to a private fence only to find it with flat tires. While this was obviously a jerk move by the property owner, I was the one at fault for having decided to park it there in the first place.
Any railings that are meant to protect the public, such as subway railings or safety railings, are a no-go.
Securing your bike to scaffolding is also not a good idea, as it can be moved or unbolted, or might be dismantled in the time your bike is attached. (Plus, it’s there because construction work is going on. Objects and debris may fall on the bike.)
Avoid locking your bike to a parking meter, as it will be hard to avoid interfering with the use of the meter, and meters are too short–a thief could lift a bike over. (It probably isn’t legal, anyway.)
Same with fire hydrants–these are for public safety, not bikes.
Be careful locking your bike to a tree, as well. Small trees can be cut or pulled, and trees can be damaged by bike locks. (It is also against the rules in many places, especially in a park.)
How Do You Lock Your Bike Properly?
Get the right lock (or two).
Consider the crime rate in the place where you are riding (though bike theft happens everywhere). Bike locks are one of those accessories you want to splurge—not save—on.
You may want to consider locking your bike with two locks–say, a U-lock that goes around the frame and the back wheel, and a chain lock, for extra leeway, that goes around the front wheel.
If you have two different types of locks, you have more flexibility if no racks are available. (Locks are heavy, and you will have to lug whatever you buy everywhere with you, so keep that in mind.)
You may want to secure any removable parts of your bike, or take them with you. This includes the seat, wheel, and seat post. Many cyclists get a small, cable lock for such parts. It doesn’t provide maximum security, but it makes theft that much harder.
How Else Can You Protect Your Bike From Being Stolen?
If you are leaving your bike frequently, you may want to invest in a bike alarm.
A few other ideas including parking next to a nicer bike, parking near a security camera or in an area with high visibility, parking among other bikes, or parking where you can see the bike.
If you can’t lock your bike to anything, you can lock your wheel to the frame. You may also want to dislodge the chain, loosen a wheel, take a wheel with you, or whatever it takes to deter a thief, even slightly.
Don’t park in the same place every time, especially overnight.
It’s up to you if you try to lock to a street sign. If you do, make sure the sign is secure and that you’re using a good bike lock.
Related: The Best Bicycle Locks