Functional public art in Vancouver’s Solar Bike Tree

New art installation is also a primo spot to park your wheels.

Credit: Ken Ohrn

Vancouver cyclists can now park their bikes in a more artful way

A bike rack. A solar lamp post. A work of art. Reminiscent of the globe on top of Superman’s Daily Planet, Vancouver’s newest bike-themed public art piece, the Solar Bike Tree is all of these things, embodying both function and frivolity.

“Bike racks typically don’t beautify outdoor spaces,” says the project’s visionary, Vancouver writer and composting queen Spring Gillard. “They are merely functional, and are often seen to just take up space. The Solar Bike Tree turns a bike rack into a work of art, making it almost as much fun to park your bike as to ride it!”


More on public art in Vancouver

Building the Solar Bike Tree: Spring Gillard blogs about the Solar Bike Tree.

Bike inspired public art in Vancouver: Third Wave Cycling Blog tours Vancouver’s inspired bike art.

Q&A with Eric Neighbour: Community-building and public art in Vancouver.

At 15 feet tall, the Solar Bike Tree shares all the same parts—branches, a trunk and roots—as its live arboreal cousins, helping it blend in with its backdrop. Yet, the Solar Bike Tree also gives off a soft light, collecting energy from solar panels nested within its metallic branches. The panels power motion-sensitive LED lights and serve to illuminate the 15 bikes the Solar Bike Tree accommodates along its trunk and roots.

Planted earlier this year, the Solar Bike Tree’s functional and frivolous aspects are in part defined by its Science World locale. The location marks a convenient junction connecting three of the city’s major bike paths. The Science World globe also inspired the dome-like design of the Solar Bike Tree’s distinctive canopy.

Ironically, though the anatomy of the Solar Bike Tree and its locale may look simple, Gillard’s Tree did not easily spring forth. The slowness of the process, which saw Gillard learning the fine arts of engineering and construction, was the most challenging part:

“I had to jump through so many hoops, it was just the nature of the beast. There were a lot of people involved, and it just took a long time… even the location took about a year to finally settle on.”

Together with Gillard’s hard work, the Solar Bike Tree was also created with assistance from the City of Vancouver, Better Environmentally Sound Transportation (BEST), BC Hydro, Webster Solar Energy, and lots and lots of volunteer hours. All told, the Solar Bike Tree took Gillard more than four years to complete, cost upwards of $40,000 to build, and involved nine different non-profit and governmental organizations and dozens of volunteers.

More of Gillard’s epic journey in creating the Solar Bike Tree can be found on her blog.



Alex Samur

Alex Samur is a writer, editor and Commercial Drive nomad who appreciates the fine arts of lace knitting, small space gardening and a well-made espresso. Follow her on Twitter @asamur.