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Do thieves loosen staple racks to get bikes?

Posted by on April 11th, 2007 at 8:00 am

The other day I noticed something strange when I went to park my bike on the corner of NW 23rd and Kearney (just in front of the toy store). The bolts that attach the rack into the concrete had been loosened and the rack wobbled back and forth (see photos below).

Loose bolts on the staple bike rack at NW 23rd and Kearney.

A loose rack does not instill much confidence, so I moved to a different location to lock up my bike.

At first I just thought it needed some maintenance, but then I started to wonder. First, all the bolts were backed out about the same amount; and second, what natural thing could possibly make this happen?

Then it dawned on me that maybe this was the work of a thief. Here’s my theory: A thief unscrews the bolts just a little bit each night, which would only take a few seconds and therefore wouldn’t raise suspicions. Then, on the final night, it would only take a few seconds to free the staple rack and take the bikes.

But then again, if a staple rack was loose, no one would lock up their bikes to it…would they (I didn’t)?

Have you ever come across loose staple racks? What do you think about my theory?

UPDATE: This is not a city-approved staple rack (notice that it is not the standard blue color). City-approved and installed staple racks have bolts that require a special wrench to loosen.

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  • Kyle April 11, 2007 at 8:09 am

    My thought is on what ‘natural thing’ could loosen the bolts. At 13th and Kearney there is a massive pile driver operating about nine hours a day which vibrates the ground quite extensively – could this be backing out the bolts?

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  • Mike April 11, 2007 at 8:37 am

    When I was going to school at OSU, an entire bike rack loaded with student’s bikes was missing one morning. It’s possible.

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  • Steve April 11, 2007 at 9:39 am

    My money’s on someone primarily intending on stealing the rack for scrap metal and bikes attached a “bonus”.

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  • Disco D April 11, 2007 at 9:43 am

    1. The fact this is a non standard install isn’t surprising, those look like some low grade hardware store bolts.

    2. I grew up in a pretty bad neighborhood and I know plenty of thieves and whatnot. I don’t want to write a whole article, but I kinda doubt anyone would bother loosening bolts night after night and then wait until some bikes are locked to it…then proceed to have to deal with moving the entire rack+bikes all at once. It has been my experience that people who are into these larger schemes are usually looking for a bigger return (cars, house jobs, whatever).

    Your standard car prowling/bike snatching type is just going to look for easy targets…and there are plenty. Every day downtown I see LOADS of bikes that are locked up improperly, locked with garbage locks, or not locked at all.

    I certainly wouldn’t say it couldn’t happen, but it would not be my first assumption. Crappy install more likely 🙂

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  • bArbaroo April 11, 2007 at 9:52 am

    I’ve run across loose bolts in NW only – at 26th and Vaughn – I think? that one is a blue city-approved model.

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  • Kirsty April 11, 2007 at 11:35 am

    I’ve come across loose racks on several occasions, some city installed, some non-city installed. There was a very similar extremely loose rack outside my old apartment on Kearney and 21st that somebody had been trying to ransack – two blocks from Jonathan’s experience!

    If it’s a city rack that you as a cyclist reading this have concerns about, I’d highly recommend calling 503 823 CYCL – then pressing 3 for bike parkingn and rack installion information.

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  • Tbird April 11, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    I checked the one’s in front of my office. Out of the 4 in the vicinity of Stark between 3rd and 4th there are 2 with loosened nuts.
    Dirty Dogs!

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  • Todd B April 11, 2007 at 12:43 pm

    I cannot directly speak to this as being an actual theft issue, but I do check for wobbly racks and do not park there if possible, as thieves are known to remove similar street furnishings to get at bikes.

    Racks installed without theft resistant bolts (or not welded to the flange or mounted into concrete) very likely do not meet the PDOT/ City’s bike parking standards. (This looks to be a very old rack…so it may have been before this rule. Such racks should be reported to PDOT for installation of theft resistant bolts.)

    I would suggest that the PBAC and PDOT update their on-street parking standards to do what other cities (Chicago, NYC, SF) have done to minimize this theft issue: use only staple racks that have a cross bar and squared tubing. (This may already be underway – I do not know. Roger?) This would stop the use of pipe cutters and minimize the ability of thieves to slip a bike’s U lock off a leg of a loosened staple. Though these racks will have a higher unit price.


    The City of Vancouver’s design for our decorative staple rack minimizes these theft issues too.

    Other rack suppliers have similar products.

    …And as bikes should not be left at such racks for long term parking (>2 hours), there should be more secure options for long term bike parking (cages, lockers, Bikestations/ Bike Republic, etc).

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  • nuovorecord April 11, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if this was the work of thieves. Nasty drug habits lead people to do pretty extreme things.

    I use a Krypto Mini lock, which has too small a “U” to allow the flange of the rack to pass through it. They’d have to take the bike and the rack…which isn’t outside the realm of possibility, but at least it discourages someone from simply riding away on the bike.

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  • Burr April 11, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    The city is supposed to be using bolts with security heads that can’t be removed with a standard wrench, they started doing this about six or seven years ago after a rack was unbolted and a Willamette Week employee’s bike was stolen, I believe. Any hex head bolts still in use should be tack welded to the rack.

    It is also possible for the bolts to loosen if a car or other vehicle hits a rack.

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  • organic brian April 11, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    Related: I did witness a bike being struggled with in the stairwell of my apartment building (where I’ve since requested some bike racks be installed and the city later added them to the sidewalk) where neighbors often locked to the stair handrails. At first, I was sure it was just a drunk or clumsy neighbor. As the guy rode away and I got closer and saw that the handrail was unbolted at one end, I realized he had threaded someone else’s bike off the end of the rail and was able to ride off since the lock didn’t go through a wheel. I chased, but this person had apparently cut through a yard or something clever to get away. It made me steamed that I missed him, I’ve long daydreamed of catching a bike-thief in the act.

    Moral: don’t lock to stuff that unbolts, and lock your wheels.

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  • Disco D April 11, 2007 at 4:24 pm

    Just to clarify my previous comment: I have no doubt that racks are getting removed/broken as a way to jack bikes w/o dealing with the lock itself…I just don’t believe in the theory of a multi day bolt loosening plan.

    I also wanted to mention (since we are on the subject of bike safety) keep in mind how much damage a 5mm allen key can do. I saw some downhill bikes locked up a couple weeks ago with a HUGE chain through the frames/rear wheels. Problem is, with modern headsets a fork could be removed viciously quick with just a 5mm. Cut the brake/derailler cables and bam…you have scored a front fork/wheel/brake caliper/stem/handlebars/shifters/levers. All for about 45 seconds of work.

    Checked the price on a Fox DH40 lately? That could easily be a $1500-2000 score with the parts.

    As a victim of multiple bike thefts myself I know how frustrating it can be. Best bet, never let the bike leave your side…

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  • Burr April 11, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    Pitlock sells locking systems for headsets and brakes as well as wheel and seat quick release replacements.

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  • MaTa April 11, 2007 at 7:42 pm

    Thieves definitely think of this kind of sh*t. At a certain 24hr cafe’ I used to go to a lot, one of the employees got her very nice bike stolen like this. They have solid looking staple racks in a well lit area but they were bolted in poorly and sure enough, some loser simply unbolted it and scored a bike.

    Don’t underestimate tweaker thieves on bikes. They are very in tune with bikes and their workings and tend to carry tools on them. They will steal anything that isn’t welded down from scrap metal to bikes and will do so anywhere, any time – though generally very late at night.

    Ever notice how nice some of their bikes are? (though generally crudely/obviously repainted) Ask them how they got them – ‘Oh, I found it. . ‘ is the favored response.

    These are the same f**ks that have pried open the access plates and stolen the wiring (and the access plates themselves) out of LIVE light posts up and down the bike paths out here in Parkrose (making much of the path pitch black at night – niiiice work, a**holes) – I am sure they wouldn’t hesitate to unbolt a staple rack, too.

    Check out how the racks are mounted before you use them – you will be shocked how many racks are attached in slipshod fashion. Parkrose hardware down the road here, has staple racks on the wall held on by only a few phillips screws – they look so weak someone could probably just pull them out!

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  • Todd April 11, 2007 at 10:02 pm

    Yes good point MaTa…racks with phillips screws or the wheel bender racks at my HiSchool Pharmacy…held together with nuts. Duh! No wonder smart bikes are still locked to the ADA railing.

    Off street racks are often even less secure and thought out than the city’s on street racks.

    As customers and employees we must dog these business and building owners to fulfill a city’s code objective and still be real – vs. tin foil racks.

    One of our new multistory office condo retail developments spent millions on 2 square blocks of car parking (3 levels of 800 spaces) but they could not spend more than $10 a wall hook (sans cable) or a pad lock for each of the 3 bike parking cages. Now after 4 years there has been a lot of bike theft. (I have lost a bike and lots of gear.)

    Just imagine if 40 motor vehicles were stolen from a single garage over a year … the building owner would upgrade security or be before City Council on why a city garage has this problem.

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  • joel April 12, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    i was admiring the bolts at the post office off the north park blocks, hoyt i think, this morning. all screwed in, the bolt heads are all hammered down, its nice.

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  • John Bender April 12, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    Remember that scene in the Breakfast Club when Bender takes the bolt out of the door then the principal comes in an Bender says, “it just fell out sir, the world’s an imperfect place.”

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  • Tankagnolo Bob April 12, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    Whenever I leave a bike outside a 7-11 to duck in for a quick purchase, I move the shifters completely out of alignment to where the derailers are, so if someone jumps on for the fast getaway, they end up messing up the gearing and possible having the chain slip causing a fall.

    No one has ever attempted a breakaway with one of my bikes, but such fun to watch it will be, as I never leave the bike out of sight through the store windows when I do this. I always thought disconnecting the brakes would be fun too, but that might hurt an innocent person, so I do not do that. – Mr B

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  • Burr April 12, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    ^^On my internal hub bikes I put it in the highest gear.

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  • MaTa April 12, 2007 at 9:30 pm

    I will also add that its also very possible that the rack(s) just weren’t anchored very well to begin with.

    Having worked maintenance jobs in the past, I know first hand that its pretty difficult to get a decent heavy duty anchor in concrete unless you have a hammer drill, masonry bit, good lag bolts, etc. Even then, they can work their way out just from freeze thaw cycles, repeatedly being wiggled or rocked, run into, that sort of thing.

    The irony of my hardware store just down the road having such lousy bike racks (mounted with small phillips screws) is that they have an incredible hardware selection inside. I buy all my stainless steel allen head bolts there, for my bike. They also have quite a variety of those one way ‘theft resistant’ screws – why they didn’t use those, I have no idea. . .someone wasn’t thinking!

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  • Scout April 13, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    I like Tankagnolo Bob’s idea of switching your shifters out of alignment before locking up. I learned that little trick from an old friend, and love to employ it. Luckily, I haven’t had a stolen bike since I was 9 years old, but if it ever does happen, I hope to witness the thief taking a hearty chunk of chromoly to his junk.

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  • Anonymous April 14, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    Perhaps they mean to catch unsuspecting people. Some people aren’t as observant or as bright as you are, Jonathan. And so the thieves would be targeting those people who are unaware.

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  • Todd B April 14, 2007 at 9:51 pm

    I saw several racks with simple thief friendly nuts out in Hollywood on my way to BikeGallery: Gustavs Restaurant and near the little gym. One looked like it was installed 1 or 2 years ago. (Perhaps the PDOT inspector missed it.)

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