Rack concerts: Tour de Fat and Pitchfork highlight the need for good bike parking at festivals

[flickr]photo:5952876061[/flickr]Chicago Reader Biker Village at Pitchfork

Last weekend there were at least two fabulously bike-friendly festivals in Chicago. New Belgium Brewery’s Tour de Fat celebrated craft beer, bicycles, bands and other forms of “sustainable folly,” raising thousands of dollars for West Town Bikes community bike shop. Meanwhile the Pitchfork Music Festival included the Chicago Reader Biker Village with an attended bike parking area that docked over 1,000 bikes at a time – and it still wasn’t nearly enough capacity. More on that later.

I arrived early Saturday at Palmer Square Park for the Tour de Fat, in time to catch the Racketeers, Chicago’s BMX dance troupe, performing sassy moves and astounding tricks with their bikes. They coasted with hands on the bars, one foot on the saddle and the other in the air; turned their cycles upside-down, rested hands and feet on the front and back pegs and did high kicks; and lay on their backs in the street, holding their bikes aloft, pedaling them. Despite the fact that it was way too early in the morning for Lady Gaga, it was an awesome spectacle.


Next was a wonderful bike parade around Logan Square and Humboldt Park with hundreds of cyclists of all ages with lots of great costumes and “freak bikes” that must have been a big surprise to bystanders. After that came musical performances by Mucca Pazza, a local “circus punk marching band” that often brings their instruments to gigs via bike trailer, plus touring music groups and carnival performers, culminating with an homage to the Von Steuben Day parade scene from Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.

Needless to say, most people pedaled to the event, but the organizers provided plenty of the galvanized steel fences that are becoming the standard for bike parking at Chicago fests. These are not ideal, since you have to throw your front wheel over the top and figure out a way to secure the wheel and the frame to the fence with a U-lock. If I was riding a fancy bike I probably wouldn’t want to lock this way for fear of chipping the finish. Still, parking did not seem to be a problem at the Tour de Fat.

[flickr]photo:5947503185[/flickr]Freak bike at the Tour de Fat – photo by Josh Koonce

But as cycling gets more popular here, bike parking at big summer events is becoming a major issue. There are free valets at Cubs games (sponsored by SRAM, a local bike component manufacturer) and a couple of neighborhood fests. But most events fail to provide enough parking spaces for everyone who would like to bike there. At the popular Monday night Downtown Sound rock concert series in Millennium Park there are usually fixies locked to every railing near Michigan Avenue. Insider’s tip: try the plaza on the south side of the [cough] McDonald’s Cycle Center, 239 E. Randolph, which has many “wave” racks.

[flickr]photo:5953427036[/flickr]Bikes locked at Green Line stairs outside Pitchfork

For several years Chase Bank bankrolled free bike valets at all the major downtown fests but pulled their sponsorship in 2009. It would be great if another corporate sponsor would step up to do this. Heck, I wouldn’t balk if they called it the Burger King Bike Corral.

As for Pitchfork, despite the best efforts of the Reader crew, this year’s fest was the Vietnam War of bike parking. Driving to the fest, in Union Park at Lake and Ashland, would be an exercise in frustration and nearby secure car parking cost $20. While there’s a Green and Pink Line station next to the park, the trains and Ashland buses were insanely packed. So cycling was pretty much the only civilized way to get there.


But when I arrived on Sunday afternoon, every railing, signpost and tree on the public right-of-way was covered with bikes. The parking situation was way more challenging that last year because this year almost all of the many wrought-iron fences next to buildings on the west side of Ashland had signs zip-tied to them warning against locking bikes. I can sympathize with the locals’ annoyance with having swarms of outsiders, sometimes drunk and/or disrespectful, taking over the area for the weekend. But since bikes don’t really damage the fences, this struck me as an unnecessary turf claim.


It would have really been a mess if it weren’t for the Biker Village corral, with about 100 racks in a large, fenced-off parking lot located at Warren and Ashland. Even so, the fencing around the perimeter of the lot was coated with cycles. When I visited in the afternoon Pedal to the People proprietor Adam Clark was stationed outside the lot with his mobile bike repair trailer. At the end of the night he was working feverishly fixing flats and adjusting brakes for concert-goers.


Inside the village, a handful of staffers, including employees from the Reader, the Bike Lane cycle shop and volunteers recruited via the Chainlink social networking site were doing repairs, giving out Reader bandanas and, most importantly on this sweltering day, offering free ice water. Biker Village manger Ginny Cook told me they hung 125 yellow pennants along the perimeter of the fest directing cyclists to the corral. “All were stolen on Friday Night by the wonderful Pitchfork crowd of intoxicated kids,” she says. “That’s OK, we forgive them.”


My night ended on a high note, with a spine-tingling set by oddball indie rockers TV on the Radio. I was pleasantly surprised when Ogechi, Kendall and Colleen from Lula Café, next door to Boulevard Bikes, where I work, came onstage to play sleigh bells for a song.


Afterwards I rode away from the fest through the hot, murky night with hundreds of other cyclists. I predict even more people will pedal to Pitchfork in the future, and Cook hopes the Reader can provide a second lot for bike parking next year. Too many bicycles at a festival? That’s a good problem to have.

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John Greenfield

John has lived in Chicago since 1989 and has worked a number of bicycle jobs, from messenger to mechanic to managing the Chicago Department of Transportation's bicycle parking program, arranging the installation of over 3,700 bike racks. He writes regularly for Time Out Chicago, Newcity, Momentum and Urban Velo magazines and works at Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square.

8 thoughts on “Rack concerts: Tour de Fat and Pitchfork highlight the need for good bike parking at festivals”

  1. Speaking of the ‘Burger King Bike Coral’… The services provided through Chase Bank’s sponsorship of the Active Transportation Alliance’s Bike Valet are still available! In 2011, we are happy to work with organizers of Lollapalooza, the Taste of Chicago, Blues Fest and several other events to provide patrons with free bike parking in our secure pen of new triathlon-style racks.

    And if Burger King, or anyone else for that matter, is interested in gaining the appreciation of thousands of Chicagoland bicyclists next summer by sponsoring our Valet, please let me know at katie@activetrans.org!

    1. Thanks for pointing this out – I neglected to mention that some of the major downtown fests are providing secure parking. If you feel like it, please post a list of the other events that are providing bike corrals this year.

  2. I don’t really blame the property owners for not wanting bikes locked to their fences for several reasons: one is liability, and another is that they could get stuck dealing with the problem of bikes left abandoned on those fences. Bike locking may not really “damage” the fences, but could chip the paint–and painting fences is NOT fun. The real solution is for bike parking to a part of the planning for these events the way traffic management and crowd control and any number of other aspects of many large events. How about an ordinance requiring festivals to provide bike parking options?

    1. An ordinance might not be necessary.

      Could the Department in charge of festival permitting be able to regulate and change the rules, without an ordinance, to require bike parking, just like it requires a certain number of portable toilets? (rhetorical question, probably)

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