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Page last updated at 14:16 GMT, Thursday, 31 July 2008 15:16 UK

The etiquette of bike parking

By Vanessa Barford
BBC News Magazine

People ride bikes in Paris
Two wheels good...
With more and more cyclists taking to the roads and designated bike racks in short supply, where they park has tremendous capacity to annoy.

So how can those on two wheels avoid winding up officialdom, pedestrians and even fellow cyclists when they lock up their trusty steeds?

Below are five potential pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Don't lock your bike to a stranger's

The number one no-no in good parking practice is not to chain your bike to somebody else's, says Chris Peck, policy co-ordinator at CTC, the national cyclists' organisation.

bikes parked at BBC
Parking space fills up quickly

This can happen quite easily - especially with snaky locks which end up accidentally woven around another bike. Checking can become a bit of an obsession, much like fixating over locking the car or checking whether hair straighteners have been turned off.

The outcome may not be pretty.

"In one case, a man inadvertently put his lock through another bike's frame," says Mr Peck. "When he came back, his bike had been vandalised - the other bike owner had bashed it up by trying to destroy the lock."

Is street furniture fair game?

U-shaped Sheffield stands and designated bike shelters are in short supply, so cycling commuters get creative.

David Cameron
David Cameron's bike was stolen, but soon returned

Most regard locking bikes to street furniture such as lampposts and railings as perfectly acceptable. It even has a name - "fly parking". But leaving a bike exposed to the elements can lead to rust.

Nor should cyclists abandon common sense. As David Cameron recently discovered, a bollard offers little security.

Not all railings are fair game. Sarah Bell, 29, a marketing manager from Notting Hill, says if railings are private property, she won't park there out of courtesy: "I wouldn't want cyclists doing it at my place."

In 2001, one cyclist got so frustrated by a sign warning him off railings in London he began locking on other items - such as a kettle, frying pan, ironing board and fridge door.

bike chained to railings in Oxford
Some regard this as an eyesore

The key is to park politely and prettily.

"Make sure the front wheel is secure and does not get in the way - otherwise people might kick the wheel in or drive over it," says Mr Peck.

Although using public railings as a temporary solution is tolerated, abandoned bikes left are not.

Even if that one-wheeled, saddle-less bike latched onto railings is actually the work of an overzealous commuter who has stripped off every last accessory to deter thieves.

The bike in the hallway

In an ideal world everyone would have a shed, garden or secure space to leave a bike overnight. Or a very big house.

parking facility for bike
A rare sight

But for those who share footpaths, corridors or halls, a badly parked bike can lead to damaging disputes and bitter bust-ups.

Rule number one is don't block stairways or shared space.

"The fire brigade say there is nothing worse than falling into a bike because the wheels are so tangly," says Barry Mason, of Southwark Cyclists.

Tyre marks on walls are likely to get backs up. Try to come to an agreement with neighbours, or ask the council to convert any unused rubbish or storage space into bike facilities.

Bikes can become a sticking point at residents' association meetings. But if tucked away, most will turn a blind eye.

The best solution might be to take it into your home.

"Cyclists use all sorts of neat design solutions and clever techniques - such as pulley racks which can wheel bikes to the ceiling or suspend them above ground," says Mr Peck.

Stuck at a level crossing?

The Department for Transport wants cycling to integrate with public transport - it makes sense environmentally and eases road congestion - but cyclists complain that train operators don't seem to be getting the message.

Cyclists outside the Eurostar terminal of St Pancras International station
Park up, as it won't be welcome on the carriage

Cycle parks at stations have started sprouting up all over the country, but those with smartcard locks can experience technical difficulties.

Many bemoan a ban on bikes at peak hours, and claim cycle policies for trains change all the time.

"I wouldn't take a bike on a train - you never know which ones you can take a bike on, and getting stuck in an area where you couldn't would be a nightmare," says Ms Bell. "But it would be very useful if there was a section where they could be taken on the Tube."

Mr Peck says train companies do welcome people with bikes - and 60% of people live within a 15 minute bike ride of their nearest station, so it makes business sense. But he recognises that space is at a premium.

"We need longer trains and longer platforms and designated carriages for bicycles like they do in Germany and Switzerland."

Does a bike belong at your desk?

Plenty of employers provide bike racks and spaces, but according to Mr Mason, bike storage at workplaces is in real crisis. "At the moment new office blocks cater for bike storage space for one in 20 employees, but this is an old-fashioned standard."

underground parking garage for bicycles
European countries like Germany have huge underground parking garages

There are 91% more cyclists in London now than in 2000, and Mr Mason says one in five employees might soon commute by bike. Some companies are already hiring car parking spaces to provide additional facilities.

And some cyclists take bikes into the office rather than expose that precious fold-up or hand-built road racer to the elements - or thieves. This does not always endear them to colleagues. "[Bikes] can drop oily water and grease up clothes, which other employees don't take to happily," says Mr Peck.

Mr Mason says attitudes towards cyclists are shifting: "Ten years ago it was only the messenger or photo copier who cycled - nowadays no-one bats an eyelid if an accountant turns up to a meeting first thing in shorts."

Below is a selection of your comments.

I don't mind bikes being left in the stairwell of our flats, under the stairs. They do take up a bit of room, but there is nowhere else to put them. However, the bike that is most regularly there is actually a fold-up bike - that is never folded up. You would have thought they bought it to be folded up and take less room. I think someone with so little common sense should not be cycling in London.
Rachel, London

Some more: don't lock your bike to stair handrails because people want to hold on to them. Also, enormous great wicker baskets that make you take up three slots instead of one in those racks that only secure one wheel. Nobody can carry that much stuff safely on their handlebars anyway.
Jo, Cambridge

I still can't help feeling irritated when trying to get on a packed train when most of the standing area is occupied by someone with a bike. Or, squeezing onto the train only to have a bike parked on my foot, and dirty marks from the wheels all over my clothing. Whatever happened to guard's vans on trains for transporting cycles? Surely it cannot be beyond the realms of possibility for a designated space to be allocated on trains to keep the bikes away from the rest of us on crowded trains?
Coolhiggib, Essex

Personally I cycle to work and chain it to the closest sign post. Not the most secure and not weather protected but it doesn't bother me. Obviously I won't turn down a bike locker when one becomes available. When cycling to the shops, I'll chain it to anything anchored to the ground and doesn't block any access. It's not really a problem in Aberdeen yet, maybe when it's more popular it will be worth worrying about.
Damo, The Deen

The "locking one bike to another" thing was explained to me by a colleague as a common technique used by thieves - as a simple way to force you to leave your bike in place overnight, the thief comes back after hours and in darkness and has the time to unlock theirs, and steal yours without interruptions. Clever these criminals.
Peter Galbavy, London

Someone once locked their bike to mine using a cable lock. Having failed to locate the owner, a security guard came and sawed through their lock cable with a blunt butter knife. Only one person stopped to ask what he was doing and we were on a busy London street for about half an hour. I bought myself one of those huge chain-link locks after seeing that, and no-one ever got through it.
Adam, Belfast, UK

It is annoying that cycling is promoted as the most environmentally friendly way of getting around quickly but little infrastructure is provided by government, and most transport companies seem to go out of their way to demonise cycle commuters. That said, recently London Underground has started accepting full-size bikes on certain lines and folding bikes are surprisingly effective and able to travel on all public transport. There may be hope yet.
Adam GC, London

As the number of cyclists increases, a good thing in many respects, perhaps it's time to regulate cycling. If cyclists were required to pay an annual tax, just a small fraction of that paid by motorists, councils could be required to provide better facilities.
Mark, Gravesend

Mark, cyclists already do pay an annual tax to cover the road costs. It's called income tax and VAT and it goes to subsidize motorised transport the true costs of which are covered by neither road tax nor fuel duty.
Joe Gallagher, London

On a recent trip to Santa Monica, California, I noticed that many of the buses had bike racks on the front that you could strap your bike to. Great idea and encourages cyclists to take their bikes both locally and on long journeys.
Paul Betteridge, Poole, Dorset

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