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How to re-work old bike racks to make them functional again

Long steel racks, with rebars posts a 3-4 inches apart were designed in the 1950s to hold bikes upright. They don’t work as locking racks because it’s too hard to get the bike’s frame close to anything solid to lock to.

Old-school bike racks at a CBE school

Youth en Route, working with local fabricator Keith Simmons, and Bishop McNally Teachers Joe Lawrence and Brian Scott, landed on a plan to re-model the old rack into something functional. When local media picked up the story, we heard from schools across Canada that wanted to implement our design. Here’s how to do it:

The old rack:

The old rack: typically 20-feet long. It’s heavy, and generally requires a truck to move it more than a few feet.

It was designed to hold bikes upright, not for locking.

How to manage your project

Old racks at Ft Lacombe HS

The first step is to contact your school principal and your Parent Association or School Council to gain interest and support for your project.  This project will cost money, so part of this discussion should include initial financial options for the project.  The exact cost will depend on what parts you can obtain for free and what parts you’ll have to pay for.

Be prepared to ask for donations, do fundraising or seek grants as this sort of project often is not supported by public school board budgets.

With approval to investigate further, you’ll need to assemble a budget.  The next few sections will explain in more detail but you’ll need to factor the following costs:

  1. Welder
  2. Transportation
  3. Metal Pipe supply
  4. Fabricator
  5. Painting

Youth En Route has been fortunate to be able to create our prototype without any out of pocket costs.

Find a welder:

This is a welding job, so you’ll need to source a welder and get a quote for your budget.  You can go with a mobile welder, which will save you on transportation costs but you may not have a safe place for the welder to do their work.  If that’s the case, sourcing a welding shop is the way to go.  You’ll just need to figure out transportation, which the shop may be able to also provide.  More on that next.

The Calgary Board of education welding shop did an excellent job on our prototype. They charge schools a fee for service, but it’s very reasonable. All CBE schools should consider this route.

With our Open Source design below, take these plans to a welder with a photo of your current rack and go over the plans so your welder can provide a quote.  You’ll then use that in your budget.

Consider Transportation

Transportation of the rack to and from the welding shop is something that needs to be budgeted.  Your welder may or may not be able to help.  You’ll need to reach out to a local hauler with a flat bed truck to transport the rack.

For the racks in Calgary, Youth En Route worked with the local school board which has its own truck and welding shop.  We have also moved the racks to the shops with our shipping partner Markanic Towing. Any flatbed tow truck will generally work. In town trips are usually $100-$200.   

Pro-Tip:  Many of the old racks are staked to the ground with rebar stakes. This can add to the challenges in moving them. Others just sit on grass or pavement and are easy to move. Investigate as you create a plan, because you might need a truck to pull them out of the ground.

Mark Lalonde loads old racks onto flatbed truck

You need Pipe

Pro Pipe donated ¾ inch pipe for our prototypes.  This pipe has a 1-inch diameter, and the hollow area is smaller – hence the size. It generally comes in 21-foot lengths – you’ll need them in seven foot lengths to make hoops.   We were fortunate to have fabricator Keith Simmons volunteer his time to cut it for us. Chances are you will have to pay either for cutting, or for a truck to move it for you. Each 20-foot rack requires 12-13 hoops.

We have also received quotes from FloCor that were very competitive. (And they have outlets across Canada. Steel prices have fluctuated a lot, so be prepared for quotes to be valid for only a few days.)

fabricator cutting metal pipe
Cutting pipe into lengths

Hoop Bending:

The next step in the process is to have the pipe bent into circles with a diameter of 24 inches. There ways to hand roll pipe, but it is difficult work. There are fabricators that have tools that make bending easy. In Calgary, Youth en Route’s bending partner is BenPro, and they have a very reasonable rate to offer to school groups looking for this work. Expect to pay about $35 per 7-foot section roll of pipe, it will be less if you leave the pipe in 21-foot lengths and they can do 3 at one time. Compass Bending is another local fabricator with this equipment.  

BenPro fabrication machines

Fabrication steps:

  1. Prep the old Rack – Give the rack a buff, clean off any rust and get it prepped to work on. Often, you’ll have to cut off old locks.
  2. Remove some vertical posts – To start, remove two out of every three vertical posts. Then, 
  3. Prep hoops – prep the hoops by cutting a ¾ -inch gap where the hoops meet.
  4. Weld hoops to rack – The hoops are then welded to the rack. It’s a precise process. The hoop should be perpendicular to the cross bar. The hoops should be positioned to allow a bike to be locked on either side of it.
cutting hoops
FLHS students cut hoops
Students in Welding 30 class

Consider adding adding chain:

The benefit of welding lengths of chain to the racks is that students can use the chain instead of their cable or U-Locks. All that is required is a padlock. For our prototype racks, we used Grade 30, ¼ inch chain. We felt this chain was the right balance between cost and security. You can use heavier chain, which will be more difficult to cut. But it will be more expensive and heavier to work with. Students cut the chain to be about  100 inches long, welded in the middle.

There are many chain suppliers, and prices again will fluctuate because of the price of steel.

Consider Campbell Mack Supply or Princess Auto.

Chain welded to the top of the rack

Painting and protection:

Ideally, racks will be painted to make them look appealing and ready to use. It requires a large painting booth that can be hard to find. In Calgary, Youth En Route worked with the school board and they painted our prototype black.

There is plastic material that can be shrink-wrapped to the chain to help keep the chain from damaging bike frames. It would be great to install, but it will require ongoing maintenance. We are looking at getting this done on a prototype and will share images at that time.

Painted bike racks

Use our open source design:

Many people have asked why we didn’t patent our improvements to the bike racks. We are non-profit with a mission to break down the barriers for students using active travel to get to school. If we made it more expensive to update the racks, that would simply be another barrier.

We’ve already moved to Version 2.0 in these drawings. The Vs on the top of the rack are to rest 29-inch framed bikes. They could be covered with material or pool noodles to prevent scratches on bike frames.

So please, take our design, use it, heck, make it better. And send us photos of your finished racks.

If you have questions or would like more information, please reach out.

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