Valet Bike Parking Extravaganza! (Part 2: actually parking bikes)

2011-10-31 by . 0 comments

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This is part 2 of a two part series. Part 1 focused on all the detailed planning leading up to parking a ton of bikes. This is about the actual event where we parked 2551 bikes.

The Day

Early-morning coffee

Some people had to get there at 5am to do setup, bag check, valet bike parking for last minute registration, etc. Luckily for me, the main valet bike parking that I would be dealing with doesn't really start until the first riders come back from their 30-, 60-, or 100-mile ride that they left for at 8am, so showing up at 9am was plenty of time to do some of that last minute setup (chalk, canopies, tables, putting tickets on clipboards, etc.) and to train volunteers. Some of our volunteers were regulars who only needed a little training about the differences (tickets have spots already, you have to deal with bags too, walk down wide aisles and park handlebars first, walk riders through so they see where their bike goes and direct them to the exit). Many of our volunteers were people who had never volunteered for any kind of bicycling-related activity at all before. Some of the local high schools have a community service requirement that they were fulfilling (most of these went above and beyond!), some were volunteering via the Gran Fondo's volunteer call and didn't know our organization. Some weren't bicycle riders at all. So, basic training emphasized being careful with the bikes, pointing out some of these bikes cost as much as a car, pointing out that one bad scratch can ruin a bike (most bikes are carbon frames), walking them through the procedures, etc. There was assigning people out to various jobs. Some people went off to help with bag intake since the electric "golf" carts ran out of batteries and bags needed to be hand carried in. There was a little bit of waiting. And then a few bikes started trickling in. I think the first bike was one with a snapped rear derailer.

Around noon, before things were too insanely busy. Note the chalk marks to indicate which aisles to walk down and which not to.

Then things picked up.... and picked up more... and got entirely crazily busy... At one point we were almost all full and there was a panic about not being able to find fresh tickets (with rack spots on them). I think early on a few tickets escaped without being collected, so up at the very front there were a handful of spots, so we released the 7th seats on racks for the first zone (red). I think later all of the “seven” tickets were released and many of the “eights” as well.

A sea of bicycles! Picture taken from front. Note two blue canopies for the two exits about one-third and two-thirds through our area). This picture was actually taken when things were starting to slow down just a little bit, these racks were a bit more packed a couple hours beforehand.

I believe we got very close to our 1085--1280 bicycle capacity. We did resort in a few cases to turning a smaller bike or two around to help squeeze one more bike into a rack, but we didn't have to do much of that and had the freedom to do it with only a small bike that wouldn't mess up the walking aisle too much. At one point, Cheryl (one of the main Bike Monkey / Gran Fondo people) came into the bike parking area and asked about finding a bag. "I've got a bib number, can you find the bag? The rider is in the hospital and unconscious." I explained that we could but it would take a long time looking at each bag. The numbers from the bag check ticket, or even just the color of the ticket would help, as would a description of the bag. I think there was some more phone calls and they got the ticket number (at first getting it as a "C" when it should be a "B"), I located the bag and it was whisked away. Later I learned the details. There's a tricky descent ending at Hauser bridge and there'd been a bit of rain out there earlier. It had been the very first rain of the season, so was chock full of extra oily slipperiness. A few riders fell down the ravine and had to be airlifted to the hospital. I was helping find one of their bags (or maybe their partner's bag?). Last I heard they were in stable condition and expected to recover fully. News article day of: 3 GranFondo cyclists seriously injured at Kings Ridge News article next day:  2 GranFondo riders remain in hospital.

Note that we parked about twice as many bikes as we had capacity for, so the system for turning spots over worked out well.

Line of people waiting to park their bikes or get their bikes back. Note my name-tag on my beer in lower right.

The Fondo staff were good at taking care of the volunteers. We all got food tickets to get lunch from one of the food vendors (I got curry because the paella line was too long). Snacks were delivered regularly. Beer from New Belgium Brewing was delivered several times. It's possible that beer was my primary sustenance through the event.

Some people worked pretty late until everything was torn down and packed away.


The day was exhausting. I was totally useless the next day. Sore legs, generally tired. Another volunteer that worked only about 4 hours (I worked closer to 10 hours) said her pedometer told her she'd walked 13 miles, so I figure I must've walked a marathon (26 miles; 42 km). We've already been talking a bit about planning for next year. I figured out that the "narrow" 7 foot aisles could have been 6 feet instead because most bikes are closer to 3 feet (in front of the seat when hanging) than 3.5 feet; a little front-of-wheel overlap across racks is ok; and we really never did have to squeeze down those aisles like I thought we might. I believe that using that aisle space for parking would've gained us roughly 100 more spots (9% more, or about 18% more than a standard alternating-on-racks setup). Last year we got a lot of tips (used to fund the annual volunteer appreciation party), but this year not many. Tip jars in more spots would've helped, but I think our usual routine where they wait at the front staring at a half-full tip jar while we retrieve their bikes is more likely to get us tips than this year's routine where we escorted them through and they never stood around waiting. All of the volunteers were awesome, but we were surprised about the high school students. They could've shown up, done the bare minimum and gotten their community service credits, but most of them really worked extra hard, showed initiative in minor adjustments (like somebody to direct people into the right lines) and were cheerfully awesome once they got the hang of things.

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