An Uncle Dave DIY system for cheapskates
Gear Blocks Sliding Bicycle Rack System
Until this year, my bicycle storage and workshop system really sucked. I kept my bikes in a damp, dark, head-height, dirt floored murder room under the stairs in front of our house. My workshop was a table in the front yard. I hated this, and improving this situation was one of my key requirements when we were searching for a new place to live. Lucky for me, I am now living the dream with a lovely single car garage partially dedicated to bicycles.
When it comes to spending money, I’m what you would call a super researcher. I like to know as much about all possible options as I can. Then I dig myself into a massive pit of indecision, and I stagger back-and-forth from one idea to the next, before eventually buying something with near immediate regret. This is why reviewing bikes is great! I don’t have to do any of that shit and I just ride whatever shows up. So, when I found out that Cam had beaten me to the punch on the Stashed system, I got a bit depressed, and then I plunged into research mode to figure out something that would work for me without costing a thousand dollars.
My first impulse was to use hanging door hardware. There’s a company called Slid’up that makes all sorts of trolleys and rails for fancy, heavy doors. I was very close to pulling the trigger on this. I had all sorts of spreadsheets full of costs and specs, trying to figure out the best way to hang 6 or 7 bikes. The problem was that by the time I priced it all out, I was easily up to 5-600 dollars. As well, there wasn’t a lot of dimensional or loading data available, so it was hard to determine a maximum capacity, or what sort of mixing or matching of components I could do. “Max 150 pound door” isn’t all that helpful when you’re trying to figure out how to hang 300 pounds of bicycle. Turns out people that buy fancy sliding doors don’t really need to know all that stuff.
Once I added in some fancy Park Tool machine screw hooks, the costs really were a bit ridiculous, and it became way too much money for a science project. Luckily, I stumbled upon another solution in the form of the Gear Blocks sliding bike rack hooks, which use Unistrut as a simple means to build a hanging/sliding bike rack system.
Before we talk hooks, let’s talk Unistrut. Unistrut (it also has other names – ABB Superstrut is another popular one) is a system primarily designed for hanging electrical components and conduit. It comes in a number of sizes and has boatloads of available accessories (including trolleys). The beauty of unistrut is that it is inexpensive, easy to find and has well documented capacities and dimensions. For example, it’s quite easy to find out that the capacity for the 12 gauge 1-5/8”x1-5/8” Unistrut/Superstrut that I was using (you can find this for as low as $50 for a 10 foot section from an electrical supply company, if you do your research) is up to 1700 lbs. on 24 inch mounting centers (depending on how it is loaded)! Handling a few hundred pounds of bicycle should be no problem. The weak point of the system is more likely to be how you mount the strut. Too few or too small anchors, or improper installation could lead to a horrendous failure. Lucky for me, I had visible roof joists to mount to, so I was pretty confident I could install a system that will survive an earthquake, and likely increases the overall strength of my garage, if anything.
The Gear Blocks Hooks
The Gear Blocks hook is a very simple 3d printed hunk of plastic that uses skateboard bearings and screw in bicycle hooks to hang your bicycle. It’s US$12 for a small hook (max 35 pounds and 2.35" tire), US$20 for larger hooks (what I bought - max 65 pounds and 3.5" tire) and US$42 for larger fat bike hooks (if that’s your jam - I don't have the specs on that one). There are some package deals that will save you a bit of money, and if you have some specific requirements you can probably strike a bit of a deal by e-mailing directly. Gear Blocks is US-based, so depending on where you live, shipping might be a bit of a limitation. I felt like Canada Customs might do some funny things with “3d printed bicycle hooks” as a product description, so I decided to have mine sent to Bellingham, instead.
There’s nothing overly complicated about the Gear Blocks hook, but it is well thought out. It fits the Unistrut very well and does exactly what it is supposed to do. Could you 3d print a set yourself, if you have that capability? Likely, you could. I thought about doing so myself and had a few thoughts on some improvements (metal shafts for the bearings, for example), but I decided that I would make use of all of the energy and experience that Gear Blocks put into their system, rather than spending another couple of months prototyping my own.
Gear Blocks also has a really solid guide for designing and installing the full system. They’re only selling you the hooks, so there will likely be some design required on your part for installation, but this is fairly straight forward with their guidance. When I did my install the guide wasn’t quite so developed, and it would have been handy to have some of the spacing suggestions for deciding on how far out from the wall to install my rail. I just used an old bicycle hook that I had and tested a few different locations to decide how far out from the wall I wanted to mount. It wound up working out pretty well.
Installing the System
Probably the most complicated part of my install was getting the 10 foot Unistrut home. It didn’t quite fit in my vehicle, so it wound up hanging about a foot out of my passenger window. I tied it down in the back and crossed my fingers that nobody was going to stop short in front of me. Once home safely, installation was pretty straight forward, and I was able to complete it solo.
1) Measure out from the wall to the center of your rail. Do this on the 2 joists/points that will be at the ends of your rail.
2) Drill a small pilot hole for your 5/16” Spax or GRK low profile lag screws (I originally used 4”, but bumped up to 6” just for absolute piece of mind. As well, you do need to pay attention to the clearance from the top of the slider to your fasteners, so something like the GRK will be necessary). You’ll want 1 fender washer under each head. I also used fender washers to fill some of the gaps I had between the Unistrut and my uneven joints, but this likely isn’t necessary.
3) Rest one end of your Unistrut on a ladder (or in the hands of your helper) and screw the other end in, using the pilot hole from Step 2. You don’t need to screw it in all the way at this point, just enough to secure it. I can’t imagine doing this without some sort of impact driver.
4) Screw in the other end. Tighten both ends up. You can now mark out your holes on your remaining joists. I removed the Unistrut, drilled my pilot holes and then went back to step 3, but you may be able to leave it in place.
5) Slide your hooks in, pop on an end cap and start hanging bikes!
The only problem with this system is that it assumes you have a ceiling to mount to that isn’t too low, isn’t too high, and has a number of sturdy joists or beams to bolt to. If you don’t have all of those things, or need a wall mount or something, you’ll have to get more creative, or spend more money. 1up is now making a very similar system with powder coated Unistrut and a wall mount option, for example. I’m working on tracking this system down for a comparison test, but no luck so far.
Using the System
The challenge with moving is that your life becomes far more chaotic than you think it will. Luckily I got much of the work that I wanted to get done in the garage before moving day. Unluckily, all of our crap has taken over the garage far more than I had anticipated. Free access to my new rack has come in fits and spurts.
Overall, this system does exactly what I wanted it to do. It gets my bikes up and out of the way, and it lets me easily access each of them. Before I had the rack installed, the 8 bikes that I have hanging took up a huge amount of space, and it often required a lot of work to access those jammed in the back. Now, with the rack, I can concentrate my bikes in one corner of the garage, freeing up space for boxes and motorcycles to gum up the rest of the works. You just slide the bikes over a few feet and can easily access any and all.
There are a few things I would change, or at least are lacking compared to the much more expensive Stashed system. The first is that the bikes move around almost too easily! It hardly takes anything to send a bike sliding down the rail. This creates some challenges when I try to lock the bikes up using a cable lock. The cable tries to straighten out and it actually pushes the bikes away from where I want them to be. Not a big deal, but a bit frustrating.
This is total wish list, but I also wish there was a way to lock the bike to the hook/slider. I had dreams of using my collection of Hiplock security ties, just for that little bit of piece of mind. There’s no real way to easily secure the wheel to the hook, and I feel like with a bit of thought something could be added to the base of the hook before it screws in to the slider that would allow for easier locking.
And then, of course, the major feature lacking with this system is the locking/rotating feature of the Stashed system. It is a bit of a balancing act to place a bike on one of the hooks, especially since they move so easily. As well, I could see it being handy to be able to spin each bike around to change orientation. Removing the bike and spinning it around isn’t the end of the world, though.
Overall, for the price, I couldn’t be happier. In total, I spent:
- 10 feet of Unistrut - ~CAD$60
- Hardware – 6x 5/8” GRK Low Profile Lag Screws + Fender Washer + Impact friendly Torx Bit - ~CAD$40
- 8 Gear Blocks Large Hooks plus End Caps – US$120
So CAD$260 for an 8 bike rack, or CAD$32.50 per bike. It’s a really solid system that is easy to use and that securely holds a boatload of bikes. It lacks a bit of polish and some of the features of higher dollar systems, but if you’re willing to figure a few things out on your own, the price is tough to beat.
One addition I made was to buy some wide velcro and make some pedal covers. These aren't pretty but do the job of preventing my pedals from gouging the next door neighbour. I should probably add another $15 into my total price.
My current 8 bike setup is full, and I have a couple more bikes to make room for. Plus, I want some surge capacity so that I can get a bit crazy with test bikes. My plan is to install a second rail right beside the first, and add 4 more hooks to the system (hopefully the 1up version for comparison). With 2 rails, I think it will allow me to play around with spacing a little bit and move individual bikes either closer or further away from the wall, as needed. I should also think about getting rid of a few bikes.