The other week while I was traveling by the Public Market, a boutique shopping mall in the East Bay city of Emeryville, my neck was whipped to the side by a big, dark presence. It looked like an upside-down tornado, or the vortex of a black hole, or perhaps a giant megaphone that Cyclops would yell through.
It did not immediately look like what it is – a bike rack, or as the Europeans know it, a "Cyclepod." Here's what a full pod looks like (the one pictured above is a half version):
These unusual locking stations, with the attractive curves of a healthy orca, were invented in Britain in 2005 and have since made headway into Canada. But I can't find much evidence that they're being widely used in the United States. Andrea Lepore, co-founder of the restaurant chain Hot Italian, says that she was the first person to import a pod into the U.S. when she got one in 2009 for an eatery in Sacramento. It cost $2,500, but she claims it was worth it.
"We are located on a very busy urban street, actually the gateway into the capital, and wanted to 1) make a statement that we were serious about bikes and design; 2) make it easy for people to come via bicycle," she emails. "We actually earned the first bicycle-friendly business/restaurant award in California from the League of American Bicyclists in part because of these."
The half-pod outside Lepore's East Bay restaurant came in June 2012, and quickly became an object of curiosity among local cyclists. "Once they figure out how to park their bikes, they love how easy and secure they are," she says.
So what would make someone pay today's price of roughly $4,000 for a full, eight-bike Cyclepod? Conservation of real estate, firstly: The pod people, based south of London in Westerham, assert the thing's footprint is 50 percent smaller than the "usual" bike rack. That shrunkenness is quite important in British metro areas that are growing denser by the day. The Guardian covered the Cyclepod a while back and had this to report:
Cycling is taking off in the UK. In London, trips by bicycle increased by 50% in the five years to 2006, with other towns and cities reporting rising numbers on two wheels. In these times of global warming, congestion charging and obesity, cycling ticks all the right boxes, being a green, cheap and healthy way to get about. It's an activity whose time has come again.
More cyclists means more storage space for bikes is needed. But the architects building cutting-edge office buildings and regenerating Britain's urban centres into groovy spaces fit for the 21st century aren't keen on cluttering their vision with rows of unsightly steel bike stands. So what to do?
Enter James Steward and Natalie Connell, two young entrepreneurs who just happen to have invented a sleek, funky cycle storage unit. Resembling a cross between an alien spacecraft from a 50s B-movie and an upturned orange squeezer, it's called the Cyclepod, is fashioned from recycled aluminium, can store eight upright bicycles securely in a two-metre diameter and will probably make them millionaires.
The black plastic is also made from recycled material, for sustainability fans taking notes. And then there are the security features. "Almost every part of the bike can be locked onto a Cyclepod, ensuring that the most expensive and highly targeted parts of bikes are secured," writes a promoter of the station. "Padlocks cannot be moved to the ground and damaged (the most common method of cycle theft), and once a bike is secured in the Cyclepod it can't be lifted or manoeuvred."
While I can get behind the space-saving design, it seems (for my purposes, at least) to still fall behind a regular metal rack in terms of security. That's because you'd need either an extra-long U-lock, or perhaps two of them for front and back, to secure the frame and wheel to the bars. Dual-wielding U-locks adds a lot of weight to one's person. A cable lock would be much easier to loop through the tire and central frame, but then again, thieves can cut through most cable locks like butter.
Still, with new developments popping up left and right in the Bay Area, the odd pods could help declutter sidewalks. Should you ever encounter one, here's how to deal with it: