More and more people are choosing to ride bicycles these days, whether it’s to fight inflation, get some exercise, or travel in an environmentally friendly way.
This means that even if you live in a bike-friendly city with lots of bike racks, it’s getting harder and harder to find parking. If time is short and there are trees nearby, can you lock your bike to one of them?
Generally, trees are not good places to lock a bicycle. In many cities, locking a bicycle to a tree is illegal. Locking a bicycle to a tree can also damage the tree or the bicycle. In addition, a thief may try to cut down or pull a tree to steal the bicycle.
Read on for more info about the dos and don’ts of locking your bike.
Can I Lock a Bike to a Tree?
You can lock your bicycle to a tree, but that doesn’t mean that you should.
After all, it’s your bicycle. And the tree’s just sitting there, standing tall and not planning to go anywhere. So it’s understandable why you’d consider to use trees for bike parking.
However, it’s a good idea to assume that a bike thief will do anything to steal your bike, including cutting down the tree or cutting off its branches to lift your bike off. Newly-planted trees are often not that hard to pull out of the ground.
Besides, locking your bike to a tree can harm the bark and the branches. The bark is what protects the tree from pests and diseases, and the branches give structural support for leaves (with which trees breathe) and fruits (which feed honey bees).
Trees are living creates, after all.
You wouldn’t lock your bike to a cat or dog, so why would you lock it to a tree?
Speaking of your bike, locking a tree isn’t that great for the bike, either. You can easily scratch or damage the paint job on the frame by bark, thorns, or debris. (Oh, and dogs pee on trees. And you don’t want a dog peeing all over your bike.)
Finally, many cities explicitly forbid you from locking your bike to a tree.
For example, in New York City, locking bikes to trees is prohibited. The bike may be removed and you will be subject to a fine.
At the end of the day, trees are planted in cities for the benefit of everyone. So, for better or for worse, it’s probably best to keep it that way and not try to them into an improvised bicycle rack.
What’s the Best Place to Lock a Bike?
The best place to park your bike is a bike rack, bike corral, or covered bike parking area—but you already know that. You can find designated bike parking areas with a quick online search.
However, in some cities and towns this is not allowed and your bike will be impounded, so you need to make sure you research the regulations in your city before you lock your bike to any city property.
The benefit of sign posts and light poles is they are generally tall enough that a bike can’t be lifted over them, they tend to be maintained so they don’t rust or weaken, and they should be well anchored into the concrete.
A sign post that is missing its sign, or that is rusty or loose should not be used. Make sure your bike isn’t in blocking the sign. Really, the most important thing is to use common sense. Lock your bike out of the way of vehicles, pedestrians, fire hydrants, and emergency exits.
Related: How to Lock Your Bike Without a Rack
Where Should I Never Lock a Bike?
TL;DR: Anywhere where it will obstruct people from moving, doing their job, or escaping a building in case of an emergency.
Like trees, it is often illegal to lock your bike to a parking meter, as bikes often interfere with the use of the meter. Meters are often too short to protect your bike if a thief really wants to lift it over the meter.
The same is true with fire hydrants. They’re too short, and you don’t want to create a safety hazard. (Locking to meters and hydrants is also prohibited in most places.)
Don’t lock to any safety railings, as this will interfere with their function and cause a safety hazard. This includes subway railings and stair railings. Private fences can be easily damaged by bike locks, and owners may request that bikes be removed.
Keep in mind that chain link fences and wooden fences can be easily cut.
Scaffolding is often a bad choice as well, as it can be dismantled or easily unbolted.
Again, use (un)common sense.
Don’t lock your bike to anything that can be easily cut or taken apart (even with tools–bike thieves are serious).
Keep your bike out of the way of both pedestrians and vehicles (including garbage trucks and street sweepers, which may not be able to avoid a bike wheel protruding into the street).
How Do I Lock A Bike?
You can’t lock a bike to a tree with a u-lock, and a cable lock can be easily snipped by thieves and shouldn’t be used. If you have a heavy chain lock, it may fit around the tree, but might easily gouge the bark.
If you are worried about your bike disappearing, you could use two locks at the same time, say a u-lock and a chain lock.
No matter what, it is worthwhile to purchase the best lock you can. Ask at a bike shop or check out the Kryptonite New York locks online. It is possible to pry open a u-lock, but thieves will probably go for the easiest lock first.
Related: Which Bike Tire Should You Lock?
If you can’t find anything to lock your bike to, you can at least immobilize the wheels with two locks—making the bike harder for a thief to ride or roll away.
Many cities are working to increase bike ridership and reduce vehicle use.
However, demand for bike parking areas may not have kept up with the number of riders, especially if you don’t live in Belgium or the Netherlands where cycling is the de-facto way to get around town.
There are places you can lock your bike even if no racks are available. In extreme cases, a tree might be a safe place, but keep the safety of the tree in mind (and know it might result in a serious fine).
If you are in an area with inadequate bike parking, consider contacting your city counsel or bike advocacy groups and requesting more bike parking.