Ask BikePortland: Will my bike get stolen from bus bike racks?

TriMet bus with rack

Easy pickings for thieves?
(Photo © J. Maus)

This week’s question comes from reader Carl Blanchard. He wants to know if the bike racks on the front of TriMet buses are secure. Here’s the question:

“Are you aware of any incidents of bikes being stolen from the racks on the front of TriMet buses? I’m always leery of leaving my bike up there and having to take a seat further back in the bus. And even if I am close to the front, would I have time to stop the thief?”

Carl, I haven’t personally heard of anyone getting a bike stolen from one of those racks, but it does happen. What I have heard of are people simply forgetting their bikes and hopping off the bus without it.

I asked TriMet’s bike guy Colin Maher about this. He confirmed that yes, theft from bus bike racks does happen, “So be vigilant,” he says.

Maher also offered a bit more advice on the subject:

“My advice is to sit close to the front of the bus, keep an eye on it, exit the front door and tell the operator you have a bike on the front. This way the bus doesn’t leave with your bike still on the rack, which happens much more frequently than theft.”

We still haven’t answered your question of whether or not you’d be able to chase down a thief even if you see them in action — I guess that depends on how fast you are!

How about it readers? Do any of you have experiences to share with Carl?

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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AaronF
AaronF
14 years ago

I left a bike on the rack once.

I called Trimet and they let the driver know. They told me when the bus would be back so I could grab my bike. It went pretty smoothly really.

Just like with the MAX, I sit somewhere I can see my bike, and like the article says, I get off from the front and remind the driver “I’ll be grabbing my bicycle, thanks.”

Caroline
Caroline
14 years ago

You need to make eye contact with the driver when you get on the bus and signal that you will be loading the bike. Then on your way off you *must* again engage the driver and indicate you are taking your bike off the rack, so that they know to wait for you (and not run you over).

I usually make drivers grin by asking them if they will please honk the horn if someone else touches my bike, but have never heard it blow. I’ve seen people look interested in trying, but never any thefts. I have heard about people forgetting their bikes on the rack.

What worries me a little more is having my bike on the front of a 12 ton city bus careening around corners, etc: having it crushed.

Anyway, no time to worry. Be adventurous!

Paul Tay
Paul Tay
14 years ago

Yes. Someone almost nabbed my bike when I was on a Honolulu Transit bus leaving Waikiki. Fortunately, the bike was locked on the rack.

kiwimunki
kiwimunki
14 years ago

I second Caroline. If you make an effort to be friendly and engage the bus driver while you’re paying for your ticket, and ask them to keep an eye on your bike, they will help you out – especially if you ride the same line often and see the same bus driver on a regular basis. After awhile, they’ll recognize you and your bike.

A neighborly relationship(or just a friendly interaction) with your driver is one of the best and easiest things you can do to protect your bike and your peace of mind.

Carl
Carl
14 years ago

Thanks, Jonathan and your readers,for responding to my question. At my age,I am much faster on the bike than off!

Dan
Dan
14 years ago

I used to use the TriMet bus racks regularly. While waiting at the bus stop, I’d lock the rear wheel to the frame and put it on the rack that way. This won’t stop someone from taking your bike if they’re really determined, but it will slow them down (won’t be able to ride away), and maybe hinder them enough to give up on the project.

I’d also sit as close to the front of the bus as possible, and when I got off, I’d always say to the driver “I’m going to get my bike,” so they wouldn’t drive away. I think one time the driver started to take off before I got my bike – the drivers can be spacey, so I wouldn’t rely on them for much (and it’s not really their job to keep someone from taking your bike).

Jim Lee
Jim Lee
14 years ago

Once I was bussing a bike out to CCC for a donation when the driver said she could use it as a birthday present for one of her children.

I just left it in the rack and gave her the CCC’s location so she could have it spruced. Several weeks later she told me that CCC had done a great job and she had a really happy kid.

Sometimes things just work out!

Bob_M
Bob_M
14 years ago

Jim Lee
That is a wonderful story.
It is good to be good.

Beeman
Beeman
14 years ago

Another question is about the hooks on Max. There’s more time to stop someone trying to take your bike, but on the other hand, most seats near the hooks face away from them. Doesn’t stop my from hanging my bike and burying myself in my laptop, but it worries me.

Michael
Michael
14 years ago

RE: MAX Hooks –

I often lock the wheel to the bar the hook is on if I don’t want to have to pay attention to it. (Remember to give yourself enough time to unlock it before you need to get off, though.)

Ivana Tinkle
Ivana Tinkle
14 years ago

I walked out off the bus to unload my bike only to find my back blinky light was missing. I did notice the other cyclist taking awhile to get his bike off the rack., I didn’t realize he was unclipping my light off the seatpost.

About bikes on the MAX, I just stand next to it. (but I do have a major gripe about rolling my bike onto the MAX and finding baby strollers parked below the bike hook..grrrrr!)

Adams Carroll
14 years ago

I once absentmindedly left my bike on the rack of a 17 Holgate rushing to get to a morning class at PSU. Once I realized what I had done, I called Trimet and was informed that my bike was waiting for me at the terminus. I got on the next 17 and rode to the end of the line, described my bike, and then a few minutes later was already riding home.

That bike was a real beater, and I doubt anybody would have nabbed it even if it was obviously left behind. In the four years I lived in Portland after that (with a much prettier bike on just about every Trimet bus route) I never had any incident of lights, parts, or bikes being stolen. I’ve also never had a bus driver take off with my bike, but I would always exit through the front so I could inform the driver of my plans beforehand.

Andrew Plambeck
Andrew Plambeck
14 years ago

Not to retread what’s been said above, but chatting or at least greeting the driver is a good idea. A couple of drivers have told me they try to keep track of who owns the bikes, which is another reason to wear a helmet–it helps make you easily recognizable.

Nonetheless, I try to stay within line-of-sight of my bike on the rack. Just in case.

Todd Boulanger
Todd Boulanger
14 years ago

I agree with Colin…you are more likely to forget your bike than have it stolen while on transit (Bikestation Seattle used to manage the [4?] thousand of bikes forgotten each year lost on buses in Seattle.

On a design issue – the low floor buses make it less easy to keep an eye on ones bike than the old high floor buses.

I am glad TRIMET has not adopted the CTRAN policy of having the bus operator handing the bike rider a ‘bike on rack reminder’ card when one uses a rack. It is a great idea except when one uses a rack everyday…and has to hold onto a card for long rides.

I agree the MAX hooks might be more worrisome when on a crowded train due to potential ease of unhooking a bike quickly and dashing out the door.

For this reason – I like the Dutch style wheel frame locks (AXA) Clever Cycles has for this type of security duty. They are quick and easy to use – plus they make a great ‘kick stand’ when riding the MAX and there are no more hooks to park on.

Todd Boulanger
Todd Boulanger
14 years ago

And when using the CTRAN bike racks…I think one is more likely to have one’s bike fall off a rack than have it stolen…especially when the bus is traveling at high speed through a work zone or other poor pavement section.

In my use of CTRAN bike racks…I have experienced a very high proportion (1 in 3) of racks with weak/ damaged hook mechanisms. They are just so old and well used (15 years old now?) that they need to be replaced or rehabbed. I report these broken racks to the operator. I hope they are getting fixed.

On other rack issues – I respectfully ask TRIMET and CTRAN remove the advert panels off of the racks…they make the racks too heavy to lift or lower for all users especially in wet conditions …the lift springs do not really mitigate for this aftermarket change (is it ADA compliant?).

JDL
JDL
14 years ago

Todd @15,

CTRAN must be listening to you and fixing those weak/damaged racks. I’ve been putting my bike on CTRAN regularly for the last few months and never encountered a bad rack.

Re rack weight – you’re right, they’re pretty heavy if you are holding your bike in one hand and lifting the rack with the other. Some users must have to put their bike down and use both arms to lift the rack.

I ride CTRAN’s express routes 134 and 157. The bus doesn’t stop anywhere between where I get and where I get off so I don’t worry about someone snatching my bike off the rack. My biggest problem using the racks is that when it’s raining my bike gets plastered with splashed road grime from its 10-mile rack ride on I-5.

Barney
Barney
14 years ago

I’ve forgotten my bike on the bus and was floored that Trimet guided me and the driver through the whole process and I got it back within an hour of realizing what I had done. It was awesome.

I just stand next to my bike on the MAX. If someone or something (baby stroller) is in the way of the hook, I ask them to move. They always do.

Paul Johnson
Paul Johnson
14 years ago

Back when there was still a permit system (which I think they need to bring back if they’re not going to add more bicycle capacity), you were required to use the front door and sit or stand near the driver. I still do out of force of habit.

Paul Johnson
Paul Johnson
14 years ago

: Wait, I thought you couldn’t board with a bike if all the bike spots were already taken.

craig
craig
14 years ago

I was told you can take your bike on MAX if 1) the priority seating area has available space and 2) you can keep it out of the aisle, and 3) you remove it and yourself from MAX if a priority user needs the priority seating.

I left my bike on the bus rack, called trimet right away, and was told to call later to see if it was brought back to the bus barn–it was and I used a zipcar to go down there and get it. Wish they’d done for me what they have for some of you, i.e. coordinate with the driver for the next time around the route. But still they were very nice.

craig
craig
14 years ago

ref MAX above: that is, when the bike hooks are full, and 4) you hold onto your bike

Ed
14 years ago

Yeah, just tell the bus driver, nicely, and he/she will keep an eye out for you. I usually try to sit closer to the front so I can try to see my bike.

hanmade
hanmade
14 years ago

Ok, I’m late to the party, but here’s what I do: put the bike in high gear and take my bungie chord I have on my rack and hook a spoke. If anyone tried to ride off on it, they wouldn’t get far, or fast!

wsbob
wsbob
14 years ago

Theft of the a customer’s bike from the bus bike rack doesn’t seem to be common, judging from the responses to this thread. That’s certainly good to hear.

Not sure how much searching it would take to find them, but I remember two or three comments posted to bikeportland threads in the last few years, where this very thing happened.

The way the incidents were described, the thefts apparently happened very quickly and easily. Just seconds for the thief to get the bike down off the rack, astride it and speeding away.

chrisx
chrisx
14 years ago

In 96 I caught a guy taking my bike of the front of the bus. He tried to claim my 58 Free Spirit was his, aggressive thief. in 2000 I caught a thief running of the max with my freshly painted 58 Free Spirit. Max personnel later returned my bag I forgot during the chase. In 2002 a bus driver called the police when I refused to move to the back of the bus. He said I smelled bad. Police understood about bike theft, and civil rights. No one can be sent to the back of the bus.

Marcus Griffith
Marcus Griffith
14 years ago

I sit on the C-TRAN advisory committee and have not heard of any issues with bikes being stolen off the bike rack. But, I can understand the concern, a quick enough person could have a bike off the rack and be blocks away by the time anyone knows what happened. All of C-TRAN buses have audio/video security cameras. I think TRIMET has about 50% of its buses with active cameras at a time (as of 2007ish.)

When the bike racks are full, C-TRAN policy is to allow a person to board with a bike if the driver determines it is safe and room on the bus (have to stand with bike in wheel chair area with bike secured). Most drivers are pretty reasonable about boarding a bus with a bike, the times I have been denied boarding a bus with a bike, the bus was visibly full.

As for broken or damaged bike racks, C-TRAN has a pretty good turn-around for repairs if the issue is reported to C-TRAN. Emailing the bus ID# and issue tends to be more effective as drivers can forget (after-all, they have a lot of stuff going on their routes.

And lastly, C-TRAN policy is any complaint or concern reported results in the bus video being pulled and reviewed by management. In the case of a bike theft of a rack, C-TRAN would provide the video to the police.

April
14 years ago

When I took the max from downtown to Beaverton and back every day, I locked my front wheel to the bar over the hook, so that I could sit down wherever a seat was free, without worry. I worked a job where I was standing up all day, so being able to sit down was really important.

I do worry when I have it on the front rack. Sitting or standing in front is definitely a good idea.

Paul Johnson
Paul Johnson
14 years ago

@Marcus: So why isn’t C-TRAN on board with MAX yet?

BB
BB
14 years ago

Most buses have cameras correct?

Another reason to wear a reflective vest you stand our to the bus driver.