How to Get 200 bikes in a Prius

Valet bicycle parking for the concerts on the square in Madison.

As the state’s bicycle advocacy leader, the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin is always looking for fun, effective ways to increase bicycling and build bicycle culture in communities across the state. We are fortunate to have many partners in Wisconsin who believe in our mission and want to help us meet our goals. Saris Cycling Group approached the Bike Fed with willingness to help us develop a bike valet service to forward bicycling in their home town of Madison by providing fun and easy bike parking at some of area’s most popular and largest events. Having provided bike valet service at a few events in the past, we happily took this opportunity with Saris, knowing that bike valet provides many important benefits for our work and the local community.

These racks are designed to be portable and easy to set up. A Prius holds enough racks to park 200 bikes.

Valet benefit #1: LUXURY – Yes, luxury and bicycling can fit together! People LOVE the valet! We’ve heard such positive feedback from valet patrons. For downtown Madison events where bike parking is limited, bicyclists are delighted to use the valet and have told us that it is so convenient and feels like a luxury. While drivers wait in long lines to exit the parking ramps, bicyclists quickly retrieve their bike from the valet and happily avoid the frustration of car parking.

Valet benefit #2: BICYCLE PAMPERING  For those bicyclists who have a shiny new Trek or a Schwinn that they adore, they appreciate the care that their bicycle receives at the valet. Instead of trying to cram their poor bicycle in an overflowing rack, their bike is escorted to a secure parking spot with no worry about being scratched or dinged.

Valet benefit #3: THE HUB  We’ve been surprised to see the spontaneous bicycle community that grows around the bike valet. The valet becomes a gathering place for bicycle conversation and camaraderie. It is also a spot to show off your bike and receive admiration and compliments from other valet users… always a benefit for those with a particularly cool bike! This type of community-building is critical to increasing bicycling and forwarding the mission of the Bike Fed.

Smiling volunteers mean the racks are easy to set up.

Valet benefit #4: OUTREACH  For bike advocacy groups like the Bike Fed, a bike valet provides a targeted marketing opportunity. Not only are we encouraging more bicycling, but it also gives us the opportunity to bring bicyclists to us and to begin to engage them in the work we are doing. While we are parking their bike, it gives us a chance to share our latest news and program updates. People enjoy the valet experience and are so grateful for the opportunity, that they are happy to hear about the work we are doing. Some even want to volunteer to help at a future valet event.

The racks slip together and are secured with clevis pins.

Valet benefit #5: WE’RE EVERYWHERE! Seeing other event-goers reaction to the valet has been a wonderful unanticipated benefit. We try to place the valet in a high-traffic area near the event entrance. Not just because it’s most visible and convenient for bicyclists, but also because of the reaction we receive from other event attendees. They are surprised when they see 200 bikes parked in the valet racks. This simple visual can be a powerful marketing tool to show that “Yes. Many people do actually bike and you can too!”.

The racks slip together and are secured with clevis pins.

Given these fantastic benefits, we felt fortunate to be able to work with Saris to develop a bike valet service that would meet our needs and be a program we could offer frequently and on a long-term basis. However, as is true for most non-profit organizations, we did not have an extensive budget or resources to launch a new program. Our greatest obstacle in beginning the service was transporting the bike racks. Saris has large trucks, but it was not efficient nor practical to depend on Saris for every event. Renting a U-Haul truck would be too expensive and time-consuming to do on a routine basis. It was very important that Saris help us develop a bike valet parking system that we could easily provide without outside help and that would not be a strain on our budget. With this in mind, Saris designed a special rack that could be easily transported in a standard size car or on a fortified bike trailer. Each rack breaks down into three pieces and is very light weight. We’ve been able to haul 25 event racks that park 200 bikes easily and conveniently in the back of a Prius!

The racks are light enough not to break your volunteer's backs setting them up.

This summer, the Bike Fed has already parked nearly 1,000 bikes and plans to park another 1,000 before the end of the year. Even though we haven’t marketed the service heavily, we have received numerous requests for our service at various events. We’ve found that event organizers have incredibly limited car parking and are willing to pay for the bike valet service as an effort to decrease driving to the event.

The Saris racks are a big improvement over the folding wooden 2x4s, with metal or PVC pipe we have used at other events

We are offering the Bike Valet for $40/hour plus we have a donation jar front and center at the valet. We provide everything for the event organizers from racks so that they don’t have to worry about any of the details. Another perk of purchasing the valet is we will promote bicycling to the event through our Facebook page, blog and other channels. Event organizers have found this promotion to be a major benefit of purchasing the service.

If you are interested in having the Bike Fed provide valet bicycle parking at your event or want help in setting up your own valet, contact Amanda via email at amanda (dot) white @

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

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