Bike Hacks: Tips for Cyclists With Small Homes and No Garage


Bike Hacks: Tips for Cyclists With Small Homes and No Garage

When you have too many bikes and too little space, simply living your life feels like one big bike hack. It’s something Travis knows all too well, juggling multiple cycling disciplines, piles of gear, and a smattering of trail-work tools. With the help of a very forgiving spouse, he fits it all in (and around) a rental unit that’s about the size of a two-car garage. Oh, and he doesn’t have a garage.

In 2003, when I moved from the heart of the Midwest to south Orange County, California, I think it was the little things that surprised me the most. Like all the burger joints that sell burritos, and all the burrito joints that sell burgers. And then there was the fact that the ubiquitous suburban two-car garage serves a completely different purpose in The Southland. Back in northern Illinois, it was where we parked our cars. In California, the garage is where you put the stuff you don’t want in your house. I was raised to believe that’s what basements are for, but they don’t really have basements out here. So, garages are storage units. They’re workshops. They’re studios for painting or podcasting. I soon learned to love it, but it didn’t last. Ever since I moved again, this time from Orange County to Los Angeles, I’ve had to live without one.

That move came with less culture shock, but more downsizing. My bro-tastic OC four-bedroom rental house wasn’t perfect, but at least I had a workbench. Now, my wife and I share a 600 square-foot apartment, so I (we) have had to adapt. It didn’t all happen at once. In fact, after ten years here, I just recently unlocked a slightly more efficient method for hanging my more seldomly used bikes. That got me thinking about all the other ways I cope with living small in the big city. If you’re fighting the same fight, you probably know some of these methods. Maybe you even know a few more. Drop some suggestions in the comments and let us know how you make it fit.

Tie it down

Full disclosure, this might be my only tip that qualifies as a Bike Hack. So, everything that follows got in on a technicality. Also, it wasn’t my idea. Shout out to Ryan Palmer, current marketing manager at Spot Bikes, and former manager of a whole bunch of other cool things. This is a way to make a portable repair stand feel and function more like a shop-quality repair stand. Portable stands get kinda tipsy unless the bike’s center-of-gravity is over the stand’s center-of-footprint. But when you don’t have the dedicated space for a 100-pound Park PRS-2.3, here’s how to make a portable stand feel like one.

The goal is to create an anchor for your repair stand. With the right hardware pre-installed, threading an eye bolt into the floor takes just a couple seconds. And once you’re done, the floor is flush and free of trip hazards. I’m showing a threaded wood insert since I’ve got a wooden deck, but if you’re on concrete, I recommend a “drop-in” concrete anchor. Each is easy to find at your local hardware store, and each has plenty of youtube videos on installation. Just pick one big enough for an eye bolt that’ll fit a Voile strap. Once it’s locked down, you’ll be able to raise, lower, and tilt your bike without throwing anything off balance. Now I just have to worry about how to hold onto the bikes the rest of the time.

Keep it tight

I have five bikes that I store in my 200-square-foot living room. And I’ll often have two more that are in for review. So, I have to get creative. When my cup overfloweth like this, I have to take the front wheel off some of them so I can turn the bars. But then I can’t hang them by the front wheel, eliminating the space-saving stagger method. I know there are a few swinging and sliding options out there, but they don’t really work when the bikes are boxed in like in my situation. So, here’s my method for fitting too many bikes in too small a space … assuming some of those bikes have front thru-axles and (ideally but not necessarily) straight handlebars.

I have a line of big J-hooks on the ceiling. Simple enough. But then I added a line of smaller J-hooks in the wall just below them. With the bar turned 90°, I hook the front axle against the wall. That way, the narrowest part of one bike is mated to the widest part of the bike next to it. It both packs bikes tightly together, and makes them easier to pull out because there’s less overlap. But it does require some sacrifice.


That ultra tight bike-hanging method means that a few of my bikes will need their front wheel installed before they’re ready to ride. What’s more, it works a lot better when at least a couple of them are stored without pedals. If you only have two or three bikes, and each gets ridden regularly, I guess that tip isn’t for you. But personally, I always have a couple bikes that might go unused for a few weeks or months at a time. In fact, I’ve got a lot of gear like that. Like my winter shoes and my summer hydration packs. Getting comfortable with some short-term mothballing can make it easier to access the stuff I use regularly. So, I try to keep tabs on what’s not in constant rotation, and I set it aside. Or often, outside.

Go Outside

I’ve already made it clear that I live in southern California. A lot of things can survive outside here. Shopping malls, concert venues, and high school lockers tend to require only partial shelter to function. But the past two winters added up to the wettest period in California’s recorded history, and my indoor / outdoor approach to storage has held up pretty well.

The most important accessories are my assortment of latching storage bins. The positive closure keeps me from getting lazy. If I leave a Rubbermaid lid ajar for just one rainstorm, I’m likely to find my seatpost / saddle / handlebar bin half full of water. And the stuff that won’t fit in a bin is robed in easy-to-deploy tarps. Or in one case, something slightly higher-tech.

That brings me to a tip that I suppose does count as a bike hack. My toolbox was pretty banged up and rusty when I inherited it from a neighbor. And half my tools are no better. But to keep them from getting any worse, I found a $20 barbecue cover that fits the whole thing like a glove. Just enter a few dimensions into Google, and you’ll be surprised at what you can encase in classy black vinyl. But it can’t cover everything.

Go Deep

One of my recurring dreams involves finding a room or closet or hallway in my house that I never knew existed. The nearest thing I’ve ever actually experienced is when I removed some lattice at the base of my outer wall to expose a crawl space full of concrete waste and mouse poop. A couple of dump runs later, and I had a third-tier storage option for the rest of my bulky items. This, of course, may not be an option for you. But you never know. Perhaps it’s not a rat hole under your house, but maybe you have a deck. There are some cheap, clever methods for under-deck waterproofing that could give you just a few cubic feet of large-item storage. It’s almost like having a garage. But you can’t work on your bike in it.

Go dark

I always end up doing most of my wrenching at night. Either I’m busy during the day, or I only notice a stubborn shifter the evening before a big ride. And without a garage, that means working under the stars. So, some of my most valuable tools are my clip-on shop lights, and a head lamp for good measure. Like most back yards in Los Angeles, I’ve got a string of Edison bulbs to offer a little ambient light, but that’s not enough to line up a derailleur or silence a rubbing rotor.

These cheap, powerful lamps (and nonflammable diffusers) can give me shop-quality light for an hour or so, and get taken down immediately so they’re not eyesores during the day. Sure, the smart thing would be to get better at time management and wrench in the morning or at lunch. But let’s face it. If I did smart things, I’d probably be able to afford a place with a garage.