Surrey’s Urban Racks goes into high gear as bike culture hits the mainstream

SURREY — With yearly bike maintenance averaging $300 to $800, compared with $9,000 for a car, Metro Vancouver is dramatically shifting gears in the way it commutes. But biking’s economic benefits go deeper than the individual pocketbook, says Kosta ChatziSpiros of Urban Racks, a provider of innovative bicycle parking systems.

Urban Racks’ managing director suggests thinking even deeper by questioning whether multi-level underground parking will continue to be needed in our growing bike culture, when one car parking stall can accommodate 10 to 24 bicycles.

Presenting that kind of innovative idea to property owners, architects and developers has proven key to Urban Racks’ continuing growth. A private company founded in 2008, Urban Racks is stacking up success — $1 million to $5 million in annual profits — in good part because of its argument that biking isn’t just greener, it’s more economical.

“If you’re a developer or a property manager, you really can convince your local government that I have fewer people who need [car] parking in this building. Why do I need to build so much car parking? Can’t I just eliminate two floors and put in more cycle parking and less car parking?” ChatziSpiros said.

“And by the way, doesn’t that feed nicer into transit, because when you’re on a bike you might go some of the way and transit the rest of the way?”

Priced from $250 to $100,000 and up, Urban Racks’ products range from bike racks to free-standing bike parking structures. So far the company has created more than 70,000 bike storage and parking spots, ChatziSpiros said. It’s “uniquely positioned” in Canada, while in the United States it is “competing with companies, like Dero, that offer this full-service approach.”

Based in Surrey, Urban Racks has expanded to Seattle, Toronto, Montreal, Portland and Houston. The 16-member team focuses “on three things: listening, innovating and solving.”

As well, the company advocates in communities for regular cyclists, not just the diehard enthusiasts.

“The hard core, as you and I know, they’ll ride in any weather, no matter what, and whether there’s parking or no parking, they don’t care. That’s such a small, select group of people. How about the rest of us who aren’t as hard core? We need infrastructure. We need a safe place to put our bike.”

With the recent police report of a 13 per cent spike in bike thefts this year compared to 2013, putting up a chain-link fence suddenly seems a lot less adequate. Ditto the street-furniture practice of placing sidewalk racks that owe more to art than security.

For developers and property owners uncertain about what structure to invest in, Urban Racks offers Bike Parking 101 sessions. ChatziSpiros stresses that his team listens as much as it teaches.

“One significant benefit from the close customer relationship is product innovation. An example of this is evident in the design of our urban bike repair station, designed to provide a stable platform and tools to help cyclists repair their bikes quickly when they are far from home.”

The bike-culture sell is working in economic ways beyond saving on car parks, ChatziSpiros said. Employers are seeing that “the overall health benefits of employees that get regular exercise from riding to work directly translate into a more energized and healthier workforce with fewer sick days.” (But more perspiration – leading Urban Racks to gently suggest showers as part of a property’s bike facilities.)

As ChatziSpiros notes, chuckling, it may not be enough “to smile our way through the day.”


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