There are dozens of designs for bike racks, from David Byrne’s typography-inspired shapes in Brooklyn to old parking meters that have been chopped off and converted for cyclists. But they all tend to have one thing in common: They’re almost always made in steel. Designers from The Federal, a design consultancy in Ottawa, Canada, decided to try something different with the Loop, a flexible rack made from rubber.
Rather than starting with the problem of redesigning bike racks, the designers started by looking at a material they had—a new type of rubber—and wondering what they could do with it. "Once we have a new material in hand, we start exploring new applications," says Ian Murchison, co-founder of The Federal. "We look at industries that are typically dominated by one type of material, one single function."
Since steel bike racks are rigid objects, the designers were curious what would happen if they used a flexible material. As it turned out, there were a few advantages.
The rack has a steel chain inside, so it's still as secure as a regular bike rack. But the soft rubber coating on the outside means that when you lock up your shiny new single-speed, the bike won't get scratched. Similarly, when someone parks at the curb, their car door also won't get scratches or dents.
As they researched the project, the designers also realized that regular bike racks can be a hazard for people who are visually impaired (and, perhaps, for people who are texting and lose track of where they're walking on the sidewalk); since they're at waist level, running into a rack can be a painful experience. If you run into the Loop, however, it just flexes out of the way.
Unlike steel, the material is also much easier to manipulate into unique shapes. Developers who want to create custom forms for a particular block or building will be able to do that with little extra expense.
For now, the designers are working on getting the first prototypes ready for manufacturing, and testing how well they last in rough weather (the first tests, appropriately, will be in Ottawa, where temperatures swing from well below zero in the winter to the 80s in the summertime).
Once several different variations have been tested, the team will move forward with full production. The designers hope to see the racks quickly spread, and say they've already started getting calls from cities around the world.