After his bike was stolen, product design student Mason Holden started combing Amazon for a better lock. The problem: It didn’t exist. Even the best lock on the market was easily breakable with a few simple tools. So Holden teamed up with fellow Glasgow School of Art student Daniel Harking to design an alternative.
The heavier a bike lock, the better it works. But since cyclists don’t want to lug around a giant lock–one highly rated lock weighs 11 pounds, and it still can’t stand up to a hacksaw–the designers took another approach. What if the cyclists didn’t bring a lock at all?
“The way we saw the problem was that there’s a limit to the weight cyclists are willing to carry, and that’s the limit of bicycle security,” says Harking. “If you look at something like a house or car, the lock is fixed in place, you take the key with you. You don’t see someone going around locking their car with a padlock. So we began to look at the option if what if the lock wasn’t with the cyclist, but rather fixed in place.”
In the new design, called the BikeVault, the lock is built into the bike rack. With the swipe of a card, the rack activates and slides a giant bar through your bike frame and back wheel. Until you come back and swipe again, the bike isn’t going anywhere. It’s like a sturdier version of the Publock, another student bike rack design that also uses a card to activate.
The rack was designed to look better than the typical industrial steel loops. “If you look at existing bike racks, they’re not really street furniture, just big ugly things,” says Harking. “We worked with architects who told us whenever they’re planning a public space, they always plan for the bike racks to be out of sight. We were acutely aware of the fact that if you make the rack more visually appealing, planners would be more likely to put it in more prominent areas.”
That has an important advantage: The more public the space, the less likely a thief is to try to take off other removable parts like a light, saddle, or a quick-release front wheel. “Obviously thieves don’t like an audience,” Harking says. “By making the structure more appealing, it adds this social element of protection.”
Though the rack is significantly more expensive to make than the standard alternative, it’s designed to be free to use and free for cities to install and maintain. Funding would come from LCD advertising at each end of the rack.
“If you look at a company like Facebook or Google, they implement these really expensive, high research and development budget projects, and release these for free, financed by advertising,” says Harking. “We kind of realized that’s never been done with a physical product.”
They hope for the rack to cycle through six ads a minute, running for four weeks. In two months, the team calculates that the advertising could pay back the cost of installation–and then revenues will be used to fund a new rack somewhere else. Unlike bike share programs sponsored by a single company, they believe that an endlessly changing series of ads can be more interesting, and ultimately more successful, for both consumers and advertisers.
Of course, until the racks are ubiquitous throughout cities, bike riders will still have to carry locks. “People will still carry locks, but if they use ours, it’s just a lot more secure,” Harking says. If the racks spread as planned, eventually individual locks might become a thing of the past.
Harking compares it to the shift from cash to plastic. “If you go back to the early ’90s, a lot of people carried cash around because they worked on the assumption that there may not be an ATM, or the bar that they’re going to may not take credit cards,” he says. “Over time, people now work on the assumption that there will be card facilities. I think something like this takes time to shift.”