Why and How a Cyclist Became a Bike Rack Manufacturer

We have been manufacturing and selling bicycle parking racks since 2004. Our story actually begins back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when I was a student at Cal Poly State University. The story is full of twists and ironically Cal Poly is responsible for our beginnings in more than one way, but it is the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution District under Larry Allen in 1999 who provided the funding to launch the original Cal Poly Bike Rack Improvement project. And, Deby Anderson of the CP police department gets the credit for listening to me and giving me all the APCD grant funding to develop new bike parking racks for Cal Poly.

I will start with the story in about 1989/90 when I was a student riding my bike to and from campus every day. I was often annoyed at how poor the cycling infrastructure was at Cal Poly despite how many students actually rode their bike to and from campus every day. It seemed very clear to me that the school did not give much attention to making cycling to and from campus an enjoyable experience. One of the best examples was the complete lack of attention given to well placed, well functioning bicycle parking racks. Not only were the racks old and difficult to use, they were not, in my mind, strategically placed with any mindfulness to serve the best needs of the students.

On more than one occasion, when I went to retrieve my bicycle from a bike rack I was unable to remove my bike because other bikes had been jammed into rack literally pinning mine in place. I could not remove my bike until the other bikes were removed first. This is the classic “first in last out” scenario. Needless to say, I was not happy and realized that I should avoid the crowded bike racks when possible. But the event that struck an everlasting chord with me was one morning when I arrived at school to find nothing but full bike racks in the area I wanted/needed to park. No way was I going to pin someone else’s bike in the rack or take a chance of getting my bike pinned so I elected to lock my bike to a nearby tree and scooted off to class. In the later afternoon that day when, I was ready to leave campus, I went to retrieve my bike. When I got there, oh was I in for a big surprise. Luckily my bike was still there, but I could not ride it home because it was locked to the tree with another lock and an impound note telling me that I had to go to the police station and pay an impound fee to get my bike unlocked. My blood boiled. I was furious. I was late. I didn’t have any money.

When I went to the police station, I could tell they had an attitude about giving tickets to bikes. I asked them what they did with the impound money. They said they purchase equipment like radios. I said, “you don’t purchase more bike racks?” They said no, we use it for police stuff. I said, do you guys try to put bike racks where they are needed the most? They said we don’t do that. Facilities does that. I was furious as I paid the impound fee. When they met me at my bike to unlock their lock they said to me, “there is plenty of bike parking right over there”. I looked over there and said “yes at 5:00 PM there is, but not at 9:30 AM”. It was at that moment that I said to myself “if I ever get the chance to develop a great bike parking rack and place it in the most needed spaces I will do that someday”. That was 1990.

Fast forward to 1999 at Cal Poly. I am member of the Bicycle Advisory Committee as a faculty member in the Industrial Technology Department in the College of Business. I learn that Deby Anderson, director of Access and Commuter Services in the Cal Poly Police Department, secured a grant to purchase new bike parking racks. In a committee meeting I asked Deby what bike racks she planned to purchase. She said “more of what we already have”. I was shocked. When I met with Deby privately, I explained that I have always wanted to improve the cycling conditions and maybe this is the opportunity to do that. I proposed she give me all the grant money and two years to develop, test, manufacture, and place new, well-functioning bike parking racks on campus. I promised I would make it a real-world learning experience and involve as many students as possible to work on the project and at the end of two years we would provide at least as many bike parking spots as the grant was going to purchase. She said write up a little contract and I will sign over the money!

Just as planned, many, many students (more than 30) from many departments participated in the bike rack improvement project. English and Marketing students conducting surveys, Engineering and Industrial Technology students building and testing bike rack prototypes and designing and building production tooling. Lots of students building and installing the racks. The project was a great success and delivered more than the quoted number of bike parking slots within the two-year time limit and under budget. And best of all, the new design incorporated a vertical stagger to eliminate handlebar tangles and each bike slot had an individual, well-placed locking bar to allow easy access to locking a bike-frame and wheel simultaneously. No more bikes getting pinned in by other bikes. No more handlebar tangles! The bike rack design was clearly much better than any rack on the market. This was May 2002 and Cal Poly had lots of these racks in use. The project ended with great success.

January 2004 Matthew Moore of San Luis Obispo tried to donate a city bench with a bronze plaque as a dedication to his father. He learned from the City of SLO that there were no spaces in the downtown area left to put more benches and he would have to place the bench somewhere else. Not satisfied with that answer, Matt wondered if there were other items on which a plaque could be placed. One of the things that came to mind was a bike rack. Could a donation plaque be placed on a bike rack and used in the downtown area? A good bike rack that functions well?. He remembered the Cal Poly bike rack improvement project and contacted me about the idea. Within a few months, a new bike rack was designed with a well placed cast bronze donation plaque and Peak Racks “Racks with Plaques” was born. The City of San Luis Obispo, thanks to Peggy Mandeville Transportation Planner, was the first city to adopt the “Racks with Plaques” bike rack donation program and today many, many bike racks with donation plaques can be seen in downtown San Luis Obispo.

For the first few years, Peak Racks only had one primary design that sold fairly well. But with time we developed a few variations with the same design concepts. Sales were strong for more than 14 years—then Covid-19 struck.

A few months into the pandemic we started to notice people calling to ask about bike racks for their house. In the past we have made some designs specifically for home use but they never seemed to be a design that fit the need and price point so we didn’t offer any at the time Covid-19 locked down the world. 

With no work on the horizon, we decided to spend some time on an entirely new Home Rack concept. We envisioned converting part of our existing design and incorporating it with wooden 2 x 4’s supplied by the customer to make a “Build Your Own” version of a Home Rack. The new design would need to be easy to ship with various options for numerous bike types that would offer the customer lots of flexibility. And the new design had to offer a vertical stagger and an easy to reach locking bar option just like our commercial products. After months of designing, testing, and developing new production tooling (just like the Cal Poly bike rack improvement project of 1999) a completely new version of a Peak Rack BYO bike slot was developed. It incorporates a Patent Pending (a five month project in itself) “diamond” wheel holder we believe is the best wheel holder on the market. We like it so much we incorporated the diamond design into our existing commercial rack versions (another couple month project).

To make things simple, we elected to make the new BYO product out of stainless steel which does not require any outside finishing and allows Just In Time manufacturing. The stainless steel version should give us the ability to respond quickly to variations in market demand. We are excited about the product and wish we had brought it to market much sooner.

Turning my initial frustrations with an inadequate bike parking situation into a manufacturing company with patents and customers all over the country has been a wild ride. But, like all the cyclists I know, I still get satisfaction from every hill I climb.

— Rod Hoadley
Founder, Peak Racks Inc.