Park It Here

IMG_7472

Park It Here 

Locally made bike racks make it cool to reconsider the daily commute.   

By Rosalind Fournier

 

When does a piece of bent metal become a friend to the environment?

 

small-IMG_7517When it’s a bike rack. Designed for installation almost anywhere, the bike racks made by LOCAL Bicycle Racks are space efficient, functional works of art that encourage people to bike to work, to their favorite coffee shop or anywhere else they might otherwise drive.

Homewood-based industrial designer Foster Phillips first turned his eye to designing bike racks back in 2009. An avid cyclist himself, he started with a selfish goal—to make it easier to park his own bike as he traveled around town.

IMG_7472He knew he wasn’t alone. “We have plenty of people who ride bikes in our community,” Phillips says, “but the cycling infrastructure is not as good as it could be.”

He could see why. For one, a lot of people associate bike racks with the galvanized behemoths from back in elementary school—not so cool for professionals who commute to work, and not very workable for businesses with limited space to commit. Phillips has also seen a lot of what he considers flawed designs, mainly because they aren’t user friendly.

“We wanted to make something better,” he says.

Phillips spent hours at the Bici Bicycle Cooperative working on designs. Once he was satisfied, he found local craftsmen to build some prototypes—D. Brooks Bending to bend the pipe into the right shapes, Caroll Machine and Welding Company to trim them and weld the racks onto their base plates, and finally Pablo’s Custom Powder Coating to create a smooth finish.

The first one was ready in 2010, and LOCAL Bicycle Racks was born. As a side project for Phillips, the business grew slowly, but he found an early supporter in CommuteSmart Birmingham, which was created in 1999 by the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham to encourage more environmentally friendly forms of commuting including carpooling, walking, using public transit and—of course—bicycling. Realizing they shared a common mission, CommuteSmart—which is federally funded—has been instrumental in getting LOCAL racks installed at area businesses. “Without CommuteSmart I don’t think LOCAL would exist today,” Phillips says. “They have been a great partner for the city and for local bike racks as well.”

He says the businesses benefit, too. “They might not need parking for 100 bikes, but they might want to have parking for two or four bikes at a time,” Phillips explains. “And the racks that will hold two bikes or four bikes are easy to place, they’re convenient, and we try to make them very colorful, too. That’s intentional—one, to make them visible, and two, the hope is that if people notice the racks maybe that will plant a little seed in their minds: ‘Oh, I could ride my bike here next time instead of driving and looking for a parking place.’”

Still, for years it has been a labor of love for Phillips on a fairly small scale. Then about two years ago, he received a query that has sent production—and exposure of his product—soaring. The client? The University of Alabama at Birmingham. “They had bike racks, but there were maybe 10 different types of racks throughout campus and some were good but some were not as good. So they said, ‘We need a unified experience for bike racks at UAB.’” I worked with them to create a custom design, and they ended up ordering 250 racks to put throughout campus.”

It’s all given Phillips a new sense of pride and ownership in his hometown, as he bikes around and enjoys the fruits of his own labor. “Most of the time these are public installations, and they’ll be there for a pretty long time,” Phillips explains. “So it’s neat to go back and be like, ‘Oh yeah, I remember that one.’”