Navigating Stairs with a Bike

Stairs are my biking nemesis.  (Well, after cars, train tracks, and black ice.)  My heavy Dutch and Danish bikes, Oma and Coco, are extremely difficult to navigate up and down stairs – or even impossible to navigate, depending on the number and steepness of the stairs.  My Betty Foy weighs much less but she’s also tough with stairs, since her handlebars and basket are unwieldy.  I deal with this simply by avoiding stairs, which is usually easy, since I park my bikes on the ground level at both home and work, plus there are ramps or elevators near almost all stairs, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A couple of times a year, though, I come across a small flight of stairs that presents the most convenient route by far.  For example, the stairs above in the Lurie Botanical Gardens are much faster to descend than the far-away ramp.  In those cases, I grab hold of the handlebars, squeeze the brakes, and make a spectacle of myself as I grunt my way up with a worried look in my eyes.  Not fun.

Too bad all stairs do not have convenient bike ramps alongside, as is common in Amsterdam.  Chicago has one that I know of, leading down a Lakefront Trail underpass.

The incline is so steep that the process is still a pain with a heavy bike, but it’s certainly much better than nothing.

I have a couple of friends who regularly carry their bikes up and down stairs and therefore could never buy a Dutch-style bike.  I wonder how many of you out there are in the same situation.

Do you encounter stairs regularly while with your bike and, if so, does that keep you from buying a heavier bike?


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34 thoughts on “Navigating Stairs with a Bike

  1. Ive figured out where to ride ramps on the bakfiets I have no choice. Recently I was skunked near the Indian statue bridge in Grant Park had to turn around.

  2. Christina Drogalis says:

    Unfortunately, I have no where else to store my bike except in my third floor apartment, so I do the carrying up and down the stairs thing. My Linus is a bit heavy to be doing that, but I’ve gotten much stronger since I bought it!

  3. What a timely post. I was very recently bemoaning my own trials with stairs, inclines and heavy bicycles. If only I could install a Dutch style winch and rope system on the gable of my house, all my problems would be solved!

  4. Lauren says:

    Haha I take my bike down stairs every time I leave my house :) Of course, it’s only a front stoop so it’s not too bad! I don’t really encounter stairs much when I’m riding about – especially since we don’t have a subway system here – but when I do occasionally come across them, I just pick up my bike under the saddle & carry it – riding it down the stairs would pop a tire!

  5. Lisa Curcio says:

    I am just buying a new bike and weight was definitely a factor in part because of the occasional encounter with stairs.  It is a Linus, so it is not exactly a lightweight., Compared to what I am replacing, however, it feels a lot better. 

  6. Like Lauren, I too have to womanhandle my bikes down a front stoop when I leave the house. I’ve had the misfortune to lose my balance a couple of times while wrestling a bike past the storm door and have fallen off the stoop into the front yard. Of course both times I wound up landing in the mud puddle in the low spot of the yard and had to rush to change clothes before riding off to work. Good times.

  7. Julie says:

    I also carry my bike up and down the stoop stairs every day, but that’s about it. I have a Schwinn Collegiate from the ’80s that I think is around 35 pounds, and it’s not too bad. I’m shopping around for a second bike, and weight is definitely one of the reasons I’ve ruled out the heavier dutch bikes.

    This bicycle frame handle Kickstarter project I saw on Atlantic Cities yesterday looks pretty awesome for helping with stairs:

    I wish I’d known about that project when it was still open for funding!

    • LGRAB says:

      Trisha forwarded me that article about the handle yesterday! I planned to update this draft post with a link before publishing, but I messed up my auto scheduler and this post published a day early. :)

      I’m glad I don’t have a stoop to navigate. My Oma is such a beast, even a couple of stairs would be a pain.

  8. Ymperez921 says:

    I live in a second for walk up, and my Electra Amsterdam weighs a ton. I used to park it downstairs but it was vandalized by a jerk neighbor. Although they moved (er… Better put, they were evicted), I am now retried to leave Willow downstairs, so I get my husband to carry her up. I did it once myself but almost died in the process, so, I keep him around.

  9. Guest says:

    Actually, what keeps me from buying a heavy bike is the need to lift it on and off bus bike racks.  Considering that lifting my commuter bike is a struggle when I’m sick or just tired, no Dutch bikes for me!

    • LGRAB says:

      That’s a good point! Once in the snow I wanted to put my bike on the bus to get home, but I was riding Oma, so that was not possible. Not only the weight factor, but also I think the wheel base may be too long.

  10. cycler says:

    Every once in a while I take my bike on the T, which involves stairs on both ends.  I find it’s a good upper body workout!  The key is to hold it high enough that it doesn’t bang on the steps or interfere with your legs.

  11. ladyfleur says:

    I love my 48 pound Viva Juliett, but when I took a new job a few months ago that turned my commute into a train + bike commute, I used it as an excuse to buy my mixte from Public.

    You see, the train has three steep steps for boarding and I could see myself loading the big bike in heels. The mixte is about 30 pounds and even with my laptop in the pannier I can manage it OK.

  12. jesse.anne.o says:

    This was one of the parameters I brought to the bike shop with me when shopping for a new bike, which is how I ended up with a small Linus.  I actually carried up and down a nearby front stoop to ensure I could carry it into my apartment (my other bike was starting to rust in the winter so I’d decided to move it inside…but it was a vintage Huffy and heavy as hell).

    Unfortunately my stairs were more narrow than I thought and with me being slightly over 5′, I could never carry it at the angle I needed to in order to get it up the stairs.  Thankfully I have an elevator now and I only need to get it past 6 stairs in my new apt.

  13. Max_Paq says:

    I live on the third floor, always bring my bike to the apartment, usually the worst part of my commute. I would do it with any other, heavier bike but I do not plan to EVER change my bike even if she is not well suited for urban cycling. We went through so much together #truelove

  14. Vicki says:

    I have to make a trip to the hospital every fortnight and that Includes a long flight of stairs, the worst part of the trip! I recently took my diamond frame bike there for the first time and it is so much easier to carry up, mainly because it is lighter than my loopframe bike I think, as well as having a much shorter wheel base, I might take it there every time from now on.

  15. Necia Necia says:

    Hi, I do NOT encounter stairs regularly with my bike, however the few times I have, I have instantly wished for a lighter bike.  I’ve actually been fantasizing about one pretty much all the time.  Even lifting the bike over the turn style in the train station makes me avoid bringing my bike out.  Until, I’m able to afford a lighter bike, I am trying my best to work out my upper body, so encountering stairs wont be as dreadful. In the meanwhile, I try to avoid stairs at all costs.

  16. Jessie K says:

    Ugh–I live in a second-story apartment with stairs that have TWO bends in them. Even if we had room for a couch, I have no idea how we’d get it into our apartment, and I can guarantee you I’ll never buy a Dutch-style bike while I live there.

    My bikes are all light, but sometimes in the morning if my panniers are loaded up for work it can be really difficult for me not only to carry the bike, but also to navigate the turns (there are plenty of tire marks on the walls to prove it). On top of that, I have to balance my loaded-up bike on the bottom three stairs and lean over it to unlock and open the door. It drives me nuts!

    Apparently I needed to vent. :)

  17. i♥plastic_bikes says:

    i can’t speak for anyone else but the heaviness is what keeps me from buying a heavy bike.

  18. Gemma Piper says:

    Eugh I hate stairs, my bike is an old
    mountain bike and is not light. I have to admit when I recently cycled &
    caught the train to my friends I gave out a huge sigh of relief when she told
    me beforehand that they had recently built new lifts for the platform bridge,
    nice lifts too just the right length for a bicycle plus doors each end making a
    nice easy exit forward.

    The only place I really encounter stairs
    though is if I decide to go to my local Lidls in a retail park which is
    positioned right by a river (the Thames) down a lovely steep cliff. Coming back
    I have the option of either cycling 10 mins along the river and up a steep(ish)
    hill, however as this is the completely opposite direction to what I want to go
    I’d have to go back on myself at the top, alternatively there are some stairs
    from the edge of the retail park going to the top which come out directly
    opposite the junction I need to go down. They are supposed to be cycle friendly
    stairs and have a sloped ledge at the side to wheel bikes up or down however as
    I discovered when I first used them recently the slope is completely pointless
    for the lower two thirds as my local council haven’t maintained them allowing
    the bushes to completely overgrow into the slope. It’s also very clear from the
    growth that they haven’t been maintained for some time now. The cliff is
    reasonably high so there are a lot of stairs and thankfully the top third have
    managed to stay clear making it a lot easier, also the stairs are long and
    shallow going up in steady blocks so you can gently wheel the bike up just
    lifting the front for each step anyway, but when my bike was loaded up with
    goods from the supermarket & Lidls it was too heavy for me to even drag up
    that way. Luckily my hubby was with me so I took his newer much lighter hybrid
    (we haven’t attached a rack to his yet so he uses a backpack to carry a small
    amount) and he took my much heavier loaded bike. I’ve got my next trip alone down
    there tomorrow morning and I’m trying to decide which way to use to come back.
    I’m considering mustering up as much strength as I have to use the stairs armed
    with a camera so I can take pictures this time to send to my local council to
    complain. I’m using my bicycle more now to get around so plan to take more trips there and don’t want to have to deal with this every time. It’s utterly pointless building bike friendly stairs and highlighting
    that fact with a sign at each end if you are not going to keep them maintained
    and usable.

    I have to say it certainly made me wish my
    bike was a lot lighter, though the tins and bottles loaded in the panniers
    would have probably added enough weight it wouldn’t have mattered . I’m hoping
    to get a new bike soon and I really want a dutch-style bike but things like
    this do really put me off, however a well maintained well built cycling
    infrastructure (obviously not taking apartment buildings into consideration)
    would be very welcome. As you point out the Netherlands consider cyclists in
    every aspect of their lives and many cycle heavy bikes and have no difficulty
    because everything is built around bicycle use. I don’t know about the USA but
    here in England in general (stairs below are a rarity) the only saving grace
    for people with heavy bikes are places where lifts have been built with disabled
    people in mind. Although Britain is making more cycle aware & friendly (use
    that term loosely) especially with the recent Olympic & Tour de France
    successes, I would love more to be done and hope one day in the future the only
    reason you’d have to decide between a heavier or lighter bike would purely be
    down to preference on appearance or use rather than the worry of having to
    carry it.  

    N.B This Google street view image is sometime
    ago when the stairs were clear, you can’t even see the slope now. I’d cycle
    on the road but there’s a tunnel which is rather unsafe for cyclists and leads
    in the wrong direction.

  19. Elise says:

    Navigating stairs definitely prevents me from buying a heavy bike.  Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve had to do at least one flight of stairs or sometimes as many as three.  Last month my heavier bike was stolen because I was too lazy to take it downstairs to the bikeroom and I left it locked to an (unbolted-oops) street sign.  Luckily I have another lighter bike, so I’m riding that one for now.  And when I’m in a city where I need to use bike and bus together, it’s very handy to have a lighter bike when lifting on and off the bike racks on the bus.

  20. Les Connally says:

    Frame bags can make nice padded shoulder slings, but on your step-through frames, its tough with nothing to hang on your shoulder…. Hand strength and arm/upper body required :-( I carry with an extended arm grabbing the down tube towards the BB

  21. chibikegal says:

    the stairs up to metra trains (both at the station and to get on the train) were a great excuse to buy my little citizen barcelona folding bike … sort of a little sister to big Oma!

  22. Katie says:

    I too lug my fairly heavy vintage Raleigh Sport up two flights of stairs and dread it at the end of every ride. I think the bike frame handle is a brilliant idea. While looking into frame handles a little more I came across some very nice looking (although pricey) bicycles by Beloved that have a handle built into the frame. Such a great idea!

    • LGRAB says:

      I’m so impressed by you and everyone else here, carrying your bikes up the stairs everyday! I often joke that I wish bicycling worked out my arms. I guess that’s the way to do it. :)

      That Beloved bicycle is gorgeous, but JM&J – $6K is a heap of money for a bike that is not fully custom!

  23. aem2 says:

    I have to carry my Opus up a small flight of stairs everyday because I keep her on (locked) on the porch. It’s much easier when the load on her rear rack is heavier than the load in her front basket because she’s at a good angle to navigate the slope.

    I am still bruised from carrying a fully loaded Opus up a massive, narrow flight of stairs to a train overpass this past weekend. People (men) kept coming from behind and picking up the rear wheel, which was nice of them but actually made it harder and on a couple of occasions trapped my arm. Fortunately there was a large elevator to go back down.

  24. AKA60643 says:

    My utility ride is a steel Raleigh mountain bike with oversized tubes. It makes a great utility tank, but lugging it up or down more than 6 steps can be hell. Getting it on and off a Metra train (something I do regularly) can be bad enough, especially if the bike is loaded up for a day around town.

    The worst is having to get it up or down stairs at a CTA station when I have a full day’s worth of stuff in one or two panniers.

    I have considered a Dutch bike, but the difficulty of schlepping my 35 lb Raleigh plus however many lbs of stuff is enough to deter me from anything heavier.

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