Splendid Cycles Big Sale

Updated — Thieves unbolt staple rack to take bike in Goose Hollow

Posted by on April 14th, 2010 at 9:39 am

Thieves simply unscrewed the
rack to get Bryan Thompson’s bike.
(Photo: Bryan Thompson)

Back in 2007, upon coming across a wobbly staple rack in Northwest Portland, I wondered if it was the work of thieves or just a natural occurrence. It seemed plausible that someone intent on stealing a bike could just loosen the bolts of a rack and walk away with the bike(s).

This morning I got a report from reader Bryan Thompson. He says that’s exactly how a thief took his 2009 Trek road bike from a parking garage in Goose Hollow. This is the first time in five years I’ve every heard of this actually happening. Here’s a snip from Bryan’s email:

“I had my bike stolen from the (supposedly) secure underground parking garage beneath my girlfriend’s apartment….I was simultaneously impressed/enraged at the ingenuity of the thief: I had locked my bike and the front tire to a parking staple using a Kryptonite U-Lock. When I returned the next morning I found the aforementioned lock rendered moot by the thief taking a common ratchet set to the bolts that secured the staple to the cement floor.”

Bryan said he was shocked that he never realized that these very commonly used staple racks were attached to the ground with simple bolts that can be unscrewed with an ordinary wrench purchased from any hardware store.

Racks installed by PBOT have a special
bolt (an Allen bolt with a piece that protrudes
in the middle).

It’s important to note that the racks in Bryan’s case and in our story from 2007, are not official, City of Portland staple racks (the official ones are blue). When PBOT installs a rack they use a vandal-proof, security bolt (like these) that requires a special wrench to loosen (see photo at right).

Even so, there are hundreds of staple racks in Portland not installed by PBOT that have the same security issues as the one Bryan used. It’d be great if businesses that have installed their own, publicly available staple racks would partner with the City to retrofit theirs with the special bolts. But then again, I’m sure the wrench for those could be purchased by a thief if they really wanted to source it.

In the end, I suppose a way to deter thieves in this situation would be to lock your wheel to the rack as well. That way, if a thief was brazen enough to try this, they’d either look very suspicious walking a locked bike around or they’d have a tough time riding it with a u-lock still hanging on the wheel. (As someone points out below, Bryan did lock his wheel, so I guess if a thief is brazen enough it doesn’t really matter.)

The solution from a rack-installation point of view would be to sink the legs of the racks into the concrete or asphalt — but I’m sure that would add quite a bit of expense to an otherwise simple job.

I’ve got a call into PBOT to ask just how many non-PBOT staple racks are installed throughout the City and how difficult it would be to purchase the type of wrench it takes to loosen their special bolts. I’ll update the story when I hear back.

UPDATE: The PBOT staffer in charge of bike parking, Sarah Figliozzi, said it’d be hard to estimate the number of non-PBOT racks. They require a permit to install, so she’ll check the number of permits in the last year and get back to me. She also made the point that they’re well aware their racks “aren’t 100% secure” but she stressed that they’re intended for short-term parking, not overnight use. She also mentioned they try to only install racks in high visibility locations.

As for the wrench to unscrew the PBOT security bolts, Figliozzi said they’re expensive but not hard to find and many websites sell them (in fact, I found several cheap options with a quick online search).

UPDATE: One of our Twitter followers points out that the Seattle DOT has a solution — an extra bar across the staple that would prevent locks from being slipped off. Here’s a drawing:

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

60
Leave a Reply

avatar
60 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
42 Comment authors
DaveZachChris ShafferEl BicicleroJackattak Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
John Lascurettes
Guest

Jonathan:

In the end, I suppose a way to deter thieves in this situation would be to lock your wheel to the rack as well.

But, Jonathan, that’s what the guy did:

I had locked my bike and the front tire to a parking staple using a Kryptonite U-Lock.

Josh P
Guest
Josh P

A simple fix would be to weld the nuts to the bolts. No wrenches can fix that. It could be done in 10 minutes.

commuter
Guest
commuter

That’s really unfortunate. I lived in Goose Hollow for a couple of years and learned that you could never leave a bike parked overnight anywhere except where you are sleeping. Even if you lock up your wheels and frame your seatpost/saddle are still up for grabs. Hopefully his girlfriend has renters insurance that might cover the theft!

Peter S
Guest
Peter S

Maybe they could use some kind of adhesive on the bolt threads or a tack weld on the bolt head.

fool
Guest
fool

@commuter his own renters or homeowners insurance might also cover it. i make certain all of my policies cover offsite belongings and props to travelers insurance who did pay up (full value minus deductible, including upgrades and even some i couldn’t document, like helmet and lock) when my fancy bike was stolen from downtown last year.

Dan
Guest
Dan

The bit to unscrew those “specialty” bolts are incredibly easy to purchase if you know what they’re called. I’m not going to post details here, but I could have one in a couple days if I wanted.

Brian E
Guest
Brian E

Tamper-Resistant Hex Insert Bit 3/8″ Hex Size, 1/4″ Hex Shank, 1″ Long
In stock at $2.87 Each

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

Wouldn’t it be great if the Portland Police spent as much time and money on stings for bike thieves as they do for stings on bicyclists rolling stop signs at intersections that haven’t had a reported injury in years…

Dillon
Guest
Dillon

The bolts PBOT are not that unique. You can get them at most hardware stores. Their common in the auto industry. I happen to have a set myself.

Member

I reported a loose staple rack just last night to the city via their mobile Citizen Reports app.
There is not yet a setting to specifically note bike staples but you can fill out the notes field more explicitly and attach a photo and pinpoint the location on a map.
http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/city-portland-citizen-reports/id351455616?mt=8

Vance Longwell
Guest

I’ve had precisely one bicycle stolen from me. The bike was unlocked and leaned against a staple rack and I was standing two paces away from it with my back turned. In the space of less than 30 seconds my bike was gone.

Totally my fault. So, if you will, allow me to go a step further and say that I’ve never had a bike stolen.

Here’s why I ask for the leeway. Because I feel I have a fool-proof bike-security tip. Never let your bike out of your sight. It sounds impractical. It sounds a little nuts. Trust me. After awhile it will become second-nature. But I have never had a locked bicycle stolen ever and I refuse to let my bike out of my sight.

There are hand-held, battery operated, tools called a high-speed rotary-grinder. Most commonly associated with the Dremel brand. There are widely available for these tools friction-blade bits. Given that most bikes are made from very thin-walled steel tubing, aluminium tubing, or some form of carbon-fiber, it’s a simple matter to simply cut away any part of the bicycle you use your lock on. This is a very common problem in other cities, I don’t know about Portland. A would-be thief can quietly, quickly, cut a two, or three, inch section of your frame away and walk away with your bike in less than 30 seconds.

Given that the frame is ruined means nothing. There remains an entire groupo to sell at City Bikes, The Recyclery, and any number of used-bicycle-parts retailers.

The most secure locking-platform, the most secure locks, all mean nothing. If you can’t see your bike you are begging for it to get stolen. A thief may also, usually under the cover of night, do the same thing with a large (48″ or greater) set of bolt-cutters. The jaws on a tool like that will open the width of a hand-span, and accommodate almost any tubing diameter. Snip, snip, and your bike is gone. That’s less than 10 seconds and no staple rack in the world, no lock in the world, will stop the thief from selling the parts off the bike to City Bikes, The Recyclery, or any number of area used-bike-parts retailers.

Don’t let your bike out of your sight.

trail user
Guest
trail user

With a Snap On battery powered impact wrench or similar, the bolts can be removed in a matter of seconds. It’s loud and attracts a lot of attention though. The only real way to recover your bike is though GPS transponders concealed inside your bike. Good luck with that one as I’m trying to figure it out myself.

eli bishop
Guest
eli bishop

thanks for the tip, JR: i’ve noticed several bike racks that look like they’re being pried from the concrete and whose nuts are loosened. my dry cleaner was one of them and now they don’t have a bike rack at all. i thought maybe they were being sold for metal scrap. at least i have a place to report them now.

Edward Re
Guest
Edward Re

A tack weld would take about 2 seconds to put onto the bolt. The welding machine can plug in to mains power, and cost well less than a grand.
you also need some decent bolts. The PBOT special screws look very weak. I’d be interested to see if you could just pop those with a crow bar. An angle grinder would take the head off in about 10 seconds.
They need some thieves on the PBOT team to design and test these things.

Carl
Guest
Carl

I’ve heard of this happening before in Portland, but only 3rd hand. This certainly happens elsewhere.

For this reason, some cities only spec staples that are welded to a single long plate (rather than two little plates for feet) or have a middle horizontal bar.

commuter
Guest
commuter

@Vance Where were you when your bike got stolen while your back was turned? That’s insane! More reason to not leave my bike when I’m meeting up with friends for a ride at the NW Starbucks. It’s not like I could run after them in my cleats!

TonyT
Guest
TonyT

Smearing some industrial-strength epoxy in the bolt head would go a long way. Easier than welding.

TonyT
Guest
TonyT

Another thought. If the base of the staple were connected with one long piece of metal, rather than two separate pieces, detaching it from the ground would still leave the bike connected to the rack.

matt picio
Guest

Vance is spot-on. I’d like to add to that: If you practice the following, you are unlikely to have your bike stolen.

1. Lock your bike to a location in the open – grinding tools and hex wrenches are much less likely to be used in the open streetscape than inside a parking garage

2. Bring the bike inside – that’s an advantage to bike over car, a car can’t be parked indoors, but a bike can. If the business or home won’t allow your bike indoors, practice Step 1, or if the option allows, tell them you won’t patronize their business if you can’t bring your bike in.

3. Don’t leave your bike parked outdoors overnight. Period. This greatly increases the odds of it being stolen. Bring it indoors, put it in a locked shed or garage / cage / chicken coop. If you have to park it outdoors overnight, pick a well-lit location in the open within sight of wherever you’re staying.

4. Make your bike look less desirable – style = target. Carbon = target. Fancy racing bike = target. If the bike looks like crap, it’s less likely to be stolen.

5. Use 2 locks, and on different parts of the bike – if your bike is harder to steal than the other guy’s, the other one gets stolen and yours will be safe. If it’s the only bike, making it harder to steal (and easier to get caught trying) is the best deterrent you can use.

Not all of these options are practical for everyone, or in every situation, but the more of them you practice, the more likely your ride remains yours.

Ideally, like Vance said, keep it in sight at all times.

Bryan, sorry about your loss, please don’t take these tips as an indictment, they’re just meant to help people. Like Fool said, check your homeowner’s or renter’s policy if your have one – almost all of them cover your bike. The downsides are that there is almost always a deductible to be met, and making a claim may raise your rates.

Those of you who don’t have a homeowners/renter’s policy, they are typically less than $100 a year, cover your bike, and any damage you do to another vehicle or person while on it – it’s the next best thing to dedicated bike insurance, and it’s generally cheap.

Vance Longwell
Guest

Matt Picio – Right on all counts and thanks for expanding. I was already, ahem, less than concise. I’d like to add that I try to think like a thief when I’m locking my bike. I ask myself, “If my bike is out of sight how long do I have before I check it again?”, the answer to which is roughly the same amount of time, that in your personal judgment, it would take to pull-off one of these moves.

Also this: There is a tool called an angle-side-cutter sometimes erroneously referred to as ‘Dikes’. That tool, combined with a three-way allen-key, makes your handle-bars, and anything attached to them, quite vulnerable too. Snip, snip, twist, and off-go your STI shifters, brake-levers, bars, and stem. All of which can be sold at City Bikes, The Recyclery, or any number of area used bike-parts retailers.

commuter #14 – Hehe. It’s bad. I was on the clock with Speedy Messenger Service in Denver Colorado in the dead of winter. It was -30 degrees ambient, ankle-deep snow, and about the last thing I thought was that somebody would swipe my bike. I was literally maybe six feet away from it taking a package hand-off from a dispatcher. 20+ super-P.O.d messenger, totally mobile, and we never saw hide-nor-hair of that bike, or it’s abductor. We even had tracks to follow. Nada. Poof! I wouldn’t believe it if it didn’t happen to me. Couldn’t have been out of sight, never mind ear-shot, for more than 20-30 seconds. Bike-theft is a given in Denver. One simply does not leave their bike unattended there.

R-doodly
Guest
R-doodly

I’m about to blaspheme here, but my secret to avoiding bike theft in the city is to ride an ordinary-looking, non-tempting bike of very average quality, i.e. a beater. You can’t make a bike theft-proof… this article pretty much puts a nail in that coffin. If a thief DECIDES to take your bike, you can’t stop them. So I focus on making them not DECIDE to take it. I do this by riding a beater, and it works great in Portland because there will always be a nicer bike nearby that’s owned by someone more bike-conscious than I am, who maybe thinks they’re RACING RIGHT NOW, and/or couldn’t put their luxury or vanity aside long enough to leave the carbon-fiber, 7-pound Dura-Ace Lance Armstrong Special at home. And by “home” I mean “indoors.” On a hook. Where it can start conversations. You wouldn’t take a Lamborghini to do errands. Or if you did, people might say you were a bit of a douche. And if it got stolen, a lot of people would say you deserved it, or the more leftist might say that was wealth that needed to be redistributed. Just think about it. If you can afford a really nice bike, then you can afford a nice bike plus a beater.

beth h
Guest

This is an unfortunate — though not entirely surprising — incident, and I really feel for the owner of the bike.

That said, if you are going to live a bike-centered life — that is, your bicycle is your primary mode of transportation — then certain choices will have to be made, including choices around housing, work and play.

Here’s my list of choices, and while it may not work for everyone it has certainly worked for me:

1. When I was a renter, I simply refused to consider ANY apartment or shared house that required me to lock my bike in a basement or outside. If I can’t bring the bicycle into the living space then I can’t keep an eye on it; and that is unacceptable to me.

2. When I bought a house with my partner, I paved the way with careful, sensitive negotiation about why it was so important to store my bicycle in the house. I offered to design and install storage that would keep our bikes off the floor, and to wipe down both our bikes after a wet ride before bringing them inside. And I also installed a small shelf unit nexr the bikes where we keep our helmets and raingear when not in use. Our storage area for two bikes takes up half of our tiny entryway and is worth the peace of mind.

3. When shopping with my bike, I spend my money at stores that provide secure bike parking (racks that are sunk into the ground or use bolts that are harder to remove) NEAR THE ENTRANCE. If I make repeated, polite requests of a shop to install such parking and they are totally unresponsive, I stop spending my money there and *politely* inform them of this fact in writing.

4. When I sold my car 20 years ago I became the first daily bike-commuter at my place of employment. I sat down with my boss and spelled out all the reasons I felt this bike commuting thing was going to be good for both me and for his company (less sick time and money spent on doctor visits meant lower health-care costs for him as my insurance provider; plus I was coming to work in a better mood and refreshed, alert state of mind). After this, I asked him if we could work together to create an indoor parking area for my bike and perhaps for one or two more, since I expected this bike commuting thing to catch on. Because I’d paved the way by discussing the potential benefits to him, he was more receptive to the idea and together we built secure hanging bike parking inside the building. I have taken this approach with every employer since and have had positive results every time.

While these choices may sound rather limiting on the surface, I have never once felt limited by them in the 20 years since I sold my car and went bike-centric.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Guest

just updated the story with a drawing of racks used by Seattle DOT to prevent this from happening…

R-doodly
Guest
R-doodly

Aha, I see Matt has already covered what I said but without the judgmental tone! hehehe, don’t mind me

Peter Smith
Guest
Peter Smith

thanks for the report — good to know. and, sorry Bryan!

i would like to see a picture and description of Bryan’s bike. why not?i don’t live in Portland, but lots of people do. dude’s gotta unload it or ride it somewhere.

i have one possible simple-ish solution — start using a different type of staple lock — an ‘enclosed’ one that attaches to itself in some fashion — like these. it’s not difficult to imagine how typical staple locks could be redesigned (prob a bit more expensive), and existing racks could even be retrofitted with a few more welds.

not saying it’s an epidemic or that we need to get busy replacing every rack in the city, but maybe high-risk/low-eye-traffic areas can be first.

and i would still love to see a Twitter-driven Amber Alert-style bicycle theft warning/detection system — it throws out the hashtag #pdxstolenbike with a description and photo link, etc. maybe one of the bike insurance providers could run the approval system, or maybe it can be run very informally at first…somehow…? of course, the idea would be to extend the program nationally. users could ‘follow’ the @pdxstolenbike twitter user, etc.

R-doodly
Guest
R-doodly

Beth, you’ve got chutzpah! And really it’s not at all outrageous to ask for the things you’ve asked for, because businesses and employers make those kinds of accommodations for autos all the time, and they’re much more expensive and space-intensive.

Matti
Guest
Matti

While the Seattle DOT rail-type rack makes theft more complicated, it still isn’t a magic bullet: if a thief loads bike and rack into a getaway vehicle, he can leisurely cut the rack apart with a torch in the privacy of a garage and have a very intact bike to fence. The lesson is: don’t use staple racks for other than short term parking, and certainly not overnight.

matt picio
Guest

Oh, one other anti-theft technique I forgot. Buy a 40-lb. steel frame bike, and lock it with 2 10lb. locks. Park it next to 6lb. carbon-fiber bikes. 🙂

You wanted to become a stronger rider, right? Keep the carbon bike locked inside until the time trial. (yes, this is totally tongue-in-cheek)

velo
Guest
velo

The rail type rack is good. Better attachments to the ground are good. Setting racks in cement? Very good.

Cameron
Guest
Cameron

I once heard that all bikes in Amsterdam weight the same when you add the weight of the lock. 14lb bike with 26lb lock or 36lb bike with 4lb lock.

commuter
Guest
commuter

If you have a sub 16lb bike, your saddle alone is probably worth $150+, which would render your lock pretty much useless. And thieves would probably take your seatpost too (another $100+). I own 3 bikes and don’t have a lock. I just can’t lock up my bikes. Fortunately, I have been able to park my bike next to me at work.
As for doing shopping on a bicycle, I just can’t unless the store allows me to bring my bike in. I usually walk to stores if I can or take the bus.

TonyT
Guest
TonyT

I like the added rail, but I’d prefer to have the rail lower. If I take off my front wheel and lock it with the rest of the frame, the U-lock is typically locked lower on the vertical portion of the staple.

Or they could just make the mounting plates big enough to not pass through the typical U-lock.

maxadders
Guest
maxadders

the best solution is to ride a bike you wouldn’t be heartbroken to lose. really, if you’re locking up for an extended period in a public space, it’s the only way to go.

John Lascurettes
Guest

My bike stays in a locked garage at home (and a locked, secure room at work) whereas my car is parked in the driveway. I’ve never had a bike stolen in Portland, but I have had my car stolen from in front of my house.

craig
Guest
craig

Locking your bike in plain public daylight also doesn’t deter component thieves–they just sit down in their shorts, bike helmets, and tool kits and patiently remove your components. They look like they’re supposed to be there, fixing their own bike. My seat/post were stolen at 1pm on a sunny Tuesday in front of the big glass doors outside the 1000-employee high-rise where I work next to Lloyd Center Mall.

May not deter a bike thief either, for the same reasons. The WWeek did an experiment a few years back that demonstrated this EXCITING social phenomenon: http://wweek.com/editorial/2006/08/23/steal-this-bike/

Bonnie
Guest
Bonnie

The two racks at the south terminus of the Eastbank Esplanade (where it dumps onto SE Caruthers St) were installed by the city (or it’s contractor), and are barely bolted down, one of them isn’t anymore, actually.

Tomas Quinones
Guest

Makes me want to go around with my socket wrench and a large bottle of Loctite Threadlocker just in case I find a loose staple.

A.K.
Guest
A.K.

Man, that sucks for Bryan. Hopefully he gets his bike back, or is able to be reimbursed somehow through insurance.

That being said, this is why I am a fan of owning
two bikes. I have my 34 lb schwinn for going to the store, bars, etc. and my nice light Felt for fun, long rides, when I’m not going to leave my bike locked up
outside.

eli bishop
Guest
eli bishop

i like how you think, tomas! i might start doing that, too. 🙂

grrrr
Guest
grrrr

live in the same building as Bryan – in fact my pretty new bike was 2 insecure racks over from the picture above. this happened at COLLINS CIRCLE APARTMENTS at 1701 SW COLUMBIA that this had taken place. Having had my mt. bike stolen from the same garage (on a chain lock, stupid me, not U-lock) I can sympathize immensely with this predicament. It’s simply amazing that a garage that is ‘secured’ and patrolled by PACIFIC PATROL SERVICES can be just the opposite. If I paid the 80+ per month to park off street I’d sure be asking myself why at this point.

Sorry for the name dropping but this crappy situation should be remedied and the poor handling of the situation should be exposed.

Toby
Guest
Toby

How about using up old lumps of epoxy putty on the non-security bolts of lame bike racks. Of course, it will annoying the businesses that half-heartedly installed them, if they need to move them, but they can just use a sledgehammer or a torch.

steve
Guest
steve

Everyone reading this article and the comments should do a personal evaluation of thier bicycle security. Ask yourself if you can take it to a higher level? And do it now.

Mitch
Guest
Mitch

just outside a bar called “the hutch” at ne 47th and glisan, there is a mark on a bike rack from a tubing cutter running around it and for some time judging by the depth of the cut. never seen anything like that on a bike rack before. go check it out.

Zach
Guest
Zach

Me and some of the boys are going to bring our acetylene torches and weld the bolt heads of every staple rack we can find in Portland. You can join us if you dare, meet at Lucky Lab on Hawthorne Friday night at 11:00pm

Oldskol57
Guest
Oldskol57

Beater bike is the way to go. No worries.

I have the great, long distance, road racing, hot rod. I only ride this when it is round trip to come back home. I also have the commuter, leave outside, will only be out 1/10th of the money, no one really wants it because of the crappy paint job I put on it bike for going out and locking outside. I actually love this bike now because I ride it every day!

Daniel
Guest

easiest solution yet….go around town with a little wad of j.b. weld epoxy and fill the bolt heads with that stuff. it’d take, oh, about 5 seconds per rack, and ain’t nobody gonna fit a wrench in there ever again.

bhance
Guest

Peter Smith: stolenbicycleregistry.com is already doing this with #stolenbike, but Jonathan’s feed at http://twitter.com/stolenbikespdx is much better when it comes to localizing the effort.

Also – the “secure” designated bike parking spaces at apartments and campuses etc. seems like a big target of late (followed by garage and car break-ins.)

If I were forced to use one of these by my housing/apartment and had no say in the matter, I would at least demand some sort of video security before I ever thought of parking my bikes there.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

The City of Vancouver WA has used welded nuts in the past to secure racks, though it can lead to premature corrosion over time and makes removing racks for maintenance time consuming.

My long time recommendations for staple rack purchases have been to:
– buy only staple racks with the cross bar,
– avoid rack pipe diameters less than 2 inches (like the older staple racks in Eugene), and
– avoid racks with round piping – instead use squared piping for additional security.

A sample of this type of rack can be found here (many rack firms make a similar product):
http://www.creativepipe.com/inverted_u_racks_square_tubing%20.htm

O2
Guest
O2

I had rack in the back of my truck that was affixed with regular allen bolts. I filled the hex holes with glue to prevent them from being loosened with a wrench. It took me an hour to pick the glue out of the holes when I finally had to remove the rack.

Nate
Guest
Nate

“how difficult it would be to purchase the type of wrench it takes to loosen their special bolts”

REALLY?! I’ve got a bucket of them sitting right next to me in the office. Many industries use “tamper resistant bolts” and it’s actually really easy to find them. Only solution – sink the racks into concrete.