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Thieves saw through City bike rack in North Portland

Posted by on March 15th, 2011 at 11:15 am

City bike rack at N Rosa Parks Way and Interstate.
(Photos: Jimmy C.)

Back in 2007, we shared what looked to be a clever method of stealing bikes — unscrewing the bolts that anchor the rack to the sidewalk. Then about a year ago, we reported an actual theft that had occurred in Southwest Portland after someone completely unscrewed a staple rack.

And now, in the most brazen attempt to take a bike I’ve ever seen in Portland, reader Jimmy C. has evidence of a staple rack on N. Interstate and Rosa Parks Way that has been completely sawed through. Here’s the note Jimmy sent us along with these photos…

“For the last several weeks, at least three or four, there has been a grey Scott bike [like this one] locked up with a U-lock at the corner of Interstate and Rosa Parks… Over time, the wheels and saddle and post were stolen and just today, I noticed the rack had been cut. I have never seen a rack cut before to take a bike. It looks like a power tool of some sort was used to cut through the rack.”

Here’s another photo…

PBOT bike parking program manager Sarah Figliozzi says crews are on their way to check it out.

What strikes me is how much noise and/or time this must have taken. And, someone must have been very desperate to have a bike! UPDATE: A commenter below makes a good point. This could also have been the result of the bike’s owner who might have lost the key to their lock.

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  • Paul Cone March 15, 2011 at 11:22 am

    I had the plumber at my house the other day and it took him less than a minute to cut through a pipe about that size with a Sawsall. His was plugged into AC, but they make cordless ones, too.

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    • Duncan March 15, 2011 at 6:18 pm

      cordless sawzall or angle grinder would be my guess

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  • Jim March 15, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Never mess with a guy with a Sawzall.

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  • Bjorn March 15, 2011 at 11:32 am

    yeah it would have been loud, but you could cut through a rack in seconds with a sawzall and a metal blade. I don’t really see any way to make a rack sawzall proof…

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    • Allan Folz March 15, 2011 at 12:22 pm

      Trivial: fill the inside of the tube with concrete.

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  • Caroline AKA Little Package March 15, 2011 at 11:36 am

    I loathe to add this to my “How (Not) to Lock your Bike” Flickr group. It’s how everyone locks their bike! What next?


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  • BURR March 15, 2011 at 11:37 am

    the safest place to lock you bike may be to a natural gas meter

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    • A.K. March 15, 2011 at 11:42 am

      I do that all the time. Usually no one else has parked there, and they are often not in the way of foot traffic on the street. Plus, if someone wants to blow themselves up to get at my bike, they can be my guest!

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    • 8pmhangover March 15, 2011 at 1:17 pm

      Natural gas meters can be dismantled very quickly with simple crescent wrenches. The open pipe ends can be capped with 50 cents worth of parts from a hardware store, but that only matters if the thief wants to stop the gas leak.

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    • Rol March 15, 2011 at 4:56 pm

      I’ve heard the gas company hates that though, and if your timing is particularly bad (like on a meter-reading or maintenance day) and your locking technique particularly obstructive of the meter, the gas company can legally do all sorts of stuff to remove the bike.

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  • Jim March 15, 2011 at 11:42 am

    or a Rottweiler.

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  • dj March 15, 2011 at 11:45 am

    pitbulls work too:)

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  • Esther March 15, 2011 at 11:51 am

    a reminder to everyone who rents: RENTER’S INSURANCE. I got a year’s worth of $20,000 (with a $500 deductible) for $100, which works out to about $8 a month. Yes, many bikes may have COST less than $500 if they were used, but their replacement value (which the insurance covers) might be more than that.

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    • Zac Benjamin March 15, 2011 at 6:12 pm

      Careful though: a claim on your renter’s insurance can stick with you for a few years and if you’re looking to buy a house you’ll end up paying more for your house insurance.

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    • cycler March 16, 2011 at 9:56 am

      When I looked into condo insurance (sim to renters’), bike coverage was limited to $1,000 or maybe less, so if you have a cheap bike it’s probably not worth the $500 deductible, and if you have an expensive bike you will need an additional rider to cover the value over $1,000.

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  • buglas March 15, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Some of the staple racks my employer provides are tubular stainless steel. Stainless has a reputation for work hardening and being tough to cut. You can cut it if you know what you’re doing, but it would probably dull a Sawzall blade pretty quickly.

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  • Ethan March 15, 2011 at 11:55 am

    My bike use usually locked to a natural gas meter . . . goo luck with that.

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  • mabsf March 15, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    Would it make sense to pump concrete into the staples after installing them?

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  • Todd Boulanger March 15, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Situations like this remind us that:
    1) the rack metal is often easier to cut than a good quality lock shackle (other than the frame of course);
    2) it is best to not leave one’s bike on the street for long term parking, that abandoned bikes are an attractive nuisance for thieves/ recyclers/ property managers;
    3) long term parking is best at home or at a bikestation type facility or bike locker (cities need to provide more secure bike parking locations in shopping areas);
    4) bikes locked to a type 1 rack should use 1 or more locks to to disable the bike from being ridden after removal; and
    5) the CoP (and other cities) PBoT should HALT the use of circular pipe racks and use only square pipe racks in order to minimize the types of tools that can do this type of work silently and cheaply, as some cities have done years ago.

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    • Steve Hoyt-McBeth March 15, 2011 at 12:15 pm

      Todd, can you explain how a square pipe is more difficult to cut?

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      • Toby March 15, 2011 at 12:54 pm

        He mentioned they’re to minimize the types of tools used. Only a guess, but I’m assuming he’s referring to pipe cutters. The kind you may have used while cutting copper tubing doing home plumbing repair, only larger. In the Flickr link provided by one of the posters there is a staple at PCC SE Center with a chunk removed from it. I bet this is the tool that was used on it. You can see where the wheels of the cutter rolled along the pipe

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        • pat March 15, 2011 at 1:35 pm

          I second the possibility of pipe cutters. they would be quick and silent. I can’t see a larger version of the photo to say whether that is happening in this case.

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          • Toby March 15, 2011 at 1:49 pm

            No, pipe cutters by their design will cut perpendicular to the pipe/tube. The one here is at an angle. My vote is not for Sawzall because they are easier to use while holding tool perpendicular as well. Angle grinders, cordless bandsaws, or even hack saws on the other hand, don’t really matter.

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  • A.K. March 15, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Would it make sense to pump concrete into the staples after installing them?

    I thought about this same idea, or just making the tubing less hollow, so there is more material to cut through.

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    • q`Tzal March 15, 2011 at 1:09 pm

      Fill with concrete before install – while upside down ot while the job is just plain easier.
      Use glass fragments, ceramic fragments and scraps of carbon fiber, fiber glass and kevlar as aggregate in the concrete.
      It doesn’t need to support a load. The more varied and unpredictable the fill the better.
      I like kevlar scraps from fiber optic cable installations mixed with hard porcelain shards.

      Then they’ll need to escalate to 18″ concrete saws, cutting torches or explosives: either way it should draw some attention.

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  • Brian E March 15, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Maybe it was the owner of the bike who did the sawing. I was in a similar situation a few weeks ago when my Kryptonite lock failed in the locked position. I called bike shops and Kryptonite and could not find a solution for removing the lock. Luckily, the rack was bolted together. that allowed me to disassemble the rack and remove my bike w/locked lock.

    I took the bike and lock to a machine shop and they cut through the lock in about 10 seconds.

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  • J_Ryde March 15, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    I too have helped friends cut their bikes off of racks with both a sawzall and a cutoff wheel/grinder (both work very well, and quickly). If you think the sawzall is loud, try the grinder! No one seems to ask questions. When done in broad daylight people assume you’re legit (don’t worry, we were). We even borrowed electricity from behind the bar at a nearby business. They didn’t think twice about it. Things to keep in mind…

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  • rigormrtis March 15, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    I am sure the person stole it to sell for food for his family. Where is the compassion?

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  • was carless March 15, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Uh… don’t think its legal to destroy city property just because you forgot your key. If you went through to bring a grinder, you may as well just go through the lock.

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  • K'Tesh March 15, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    the safest place to lock you bike may be to a natural gas meter

    That seems a bit extreme, but sounds like a good solution for nice bikes.

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  • Tony Pereira March 15, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    The house next door to this has a bunch of security cameras. Would be interesting to see if they picked anything up. There are usually unmarked cop cars parked outside, so I’m guessing a paranoid cop lives there.

    Everyone should know that cutting ANY lock off a bike is very easy. As someone who makes a living cutting metal, let me tell you, this ain’t rocket science. It can be loud, but only takes seconds to cut absolutely any lock.

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    • beth h March 16, 2011 at 8:43 am

      Indeed. Our shop occasionally is asked to bring a dremel tool to a bike on the street because the lock mechanism froze up or the owner lost the key. (We charge for the service, of course, and how soon we can get there depends on how busy we are in the shop.)
      Removing the lock is rather noisy and sets the teeth on edge but it’s not terribly difficult.
      The best defense for your bike is to bring it inside with you whenever possible — especially at night! — and to lock it where you can see it when you must leave it outside.

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  • Dominic March 15, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    Well of course they saw through it – There’s a big open space in the middle of it 🙂

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  • ac March 15, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    hmm, makes the stainless steel (solid) bar racks on the bus mall more appealing, no?

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  • q`Tzal March 15, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    Makes me want to set a stun baton to be triggered by a mercury switch and rig the whole thing to the entire bike frame.

    Good thing I’ve been assured that this is illegal in all 50 states. Non-lethal though it may be.

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  • thefuture March 15, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    Reminds me of the beginning of Cool Hand Luke.

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  • Jacob March 15, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    A hacksaw, with cutting oil, while not the fastest, can be very quiet.

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  • mabsf March 15, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Dreaming of the day when bikes come with a little locator chip and a cell phone app…”Your bike has been moved -beep-…”

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  • um March 15, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    I’m not sure it’s legal to lock bikes to natural gas meters…

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  • Sky March 15, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    This appears to have been done with a Porta-band (hand held band saw). It would have taken 15-20 seconds in mild steel, and maybe 10 more in stainless. I have two of these that I use quite often. Square tubing would not have made much difference. The best and easiest solution I’ve seen here was the idea of filling the tube with concrete.

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  • john March 15, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    Actually with a fresh starrett bi-metal blade in my Arm-Powered hacksaw, i could [probably] get through one of those pipes in about 60 seconds . Stainless is typically softer and thus would be even easier.

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  • Stripes March 15, 2011 at 4:31 pm


    Question: a Sawzell (whatever that is) can apparently saw through a bikerack yes?

    But can it saw through a bike LOCK? Say, a Kryptonite New York lock?

    If the answer is no, then there’s probably little to worry about. If you are locked through your frame and wheel with GOOD u-lock, then even if the thieves cut the bike rack, the bike is still locked to itself.

    So…. CAN you saw through a u-lock?? (I hope not).

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  • Daniel March 15, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Yeah this doesn’t make sense. They apparently felt they couldn’t cut through a u-lock easily, or were going for multiple bikes.

    Why cut the rack instead of the u-lock?

    This is a true mystery and I’m totally boggled.

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  • Tony Pereira March 15, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Stripes and Daniel,
    A sawzall, portaband or hacksaw would have difficulty getting through a hardened lock, such as a Krypto New York. There are other tools that can easily cut through them though. Cutting through a good lock is either noisy or slow. The best you can do is make it as difficult as possible for someone to steal your bike. Helps to keep your eye on it too.

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  • cold worker March 15, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    there was a rack outside la luna years ago that someone cut through. la luna.

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  • Todd Boulanger March 15, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    Steve – yep I was obliquely referring to a pipe cutter. I was hoping not to openly discuss other tools to use and help the “lazy or novice thief” start in this trade. Square tubing just helps to easily remove one tool in the tool box…PBoT could also spec round tube racks with an outer sleeve of PVC pipe segments to defeat this tool. (The City of Vancouver did this to it’s parking meters decades ago to minimize Cool Hand Luke type thefts.) But square tubing is easier.

    And yes, the cut was not by a pipe cutter due to it’s angle. (I used to do a lot of pipeline work in Asia.)

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  • esther c March 15, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    I’ve noticed that bike chained to the rack with its front wheel and seat missing several days in a row and was hoping the owner took them off when he went inside to prevent them from being stolen.

    If the parts had been stolen why would the owner have left what was left chained to the bike rack?

    I agree with those who say if you’ve lost your key, cutting through a city owned bike rack is a crappy way to deal with the situation.

    Do the guys at Revolver around the corner know anything about the bike owner or the bike?

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  • Rol March 15, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    As a sometime civil engineer, I can tell you that filling with concrete would help some, but not a lot. You could just skim around the circumference of the pipe with a saw or pipe cutter, cut down to the surface of the concrete, and then hit it just so with a sledgehammer to break the concrete (which is weak under that kind of force). Or you could use the kind of diamond saw blade they use for demolition or search & rescue operations and cut right through the whole thing. A bit louder maybe. That’s how we might remove a bollard that was no longer wanted.

    The other thing in the back of my mind is that it took years of a consistent persuasive presence at City Hall just to get any racks at all. And there are some voters out there in our fair city who think even THAT was too much money & time spent on bikes. Which brings up an interesting question: Where does the city’s responsibility begin & end, for deterring theft? And where does the individual’s responsibility begin/end?

    Kind of a similar debate to the “reflective clothing” debate. I can’t win if a bus runs me over, and I can’t win if a thief wants my bike. In both cases there are actions you can take — for example you can ride a cheaper bike and not leave it locked for very long.

    My girlfriend just chimed in over my shoulder and said the owner probably lost their key, called the city and waited and waited and waited for some help, as their components got stolen one by one, until they finally went vigilante. hahaha

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  • Greg March 15, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    I agree with where Rol is heading in that I think the desire for perfect theft deterrence is simply unachievable. It’s an arms race, and you simply can’t win on the street, and probably not at home either, if the thief is determined. That’s what insurance is for, as mentioned above.

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  • Tourbiker March 16, 2011 at 2:56 am

    Case hardening the staple would go a long way to halt even a Sawzall /Hacksaw from cutting through, but add considerable cost. The process involves heating the metal, then quenching rapidly.
    Most of the quality Bike chains out there are treated this way.

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  • andrew March 16, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    A surley was locked there for several weeks. Both tires were eventually stolen and only the frame remained. It was an interesting process to watch.

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  • Jimbo March 16, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Someone very well could of cut the pipe when no bike was present, wrapped some duct tape around the cut, which not only hides the cut but with the pipe cut at an angle, provide just enough structural support that unless you were leaning on the rack you might not notice. It would then take only seconds to remove a bike from the railing as the hard work had already been done.

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  • jv March 16, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    I too saw this bike stripped day after day – it was on my way home. I think that (as others have said), the tool used was a cordless bandsaw. The cut is very clean and very thin kerf, which no grinder would produce. Additionally, the blades of cordless bandsaws are set at a slight angle to the body of the tool…which might explain the cut angle.

    Outdoor bike racks are not intended for long-term bike parking, they are merely a convenient place to lock up temporarily. There should not be any escalation of materials/costs for bike racks in order to make them more theft-resistant, because any dedicated thief will always be able to break either the rack or the lock. I would rather there be more, cheaper bike racks out there rather than fewer, more expensive bike racks. Situational awareness, common sense, and luck are your only protection from theft.

    I hope that PBOT welds this to fix it, rather than replacing with another staple rack of the exact same construction.

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  • She March 16, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    At PCC SE on 82nd there is one of the U racks with a chunk missing, similar kind of cut but two of them.

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  • Jim O'Horo March 16, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    I too like the idea of filling the rack with concrete. It’s inexpensive and makes cutting somewhat more difficult. A way to make the concrete even mor difficult to get through would be to drop in scrap hardened tool steel like old drill bits, files, etc.

    Some years ago I locked my bike up at a shopping mall, got a hole in my pocket and lost the key. Went home, got a grinder & a 50′ extension cord and returned. Cut through the lock in about 60 sec., took the bike & tools to the car and drove away. Though many people coming & going looked at me, no one including mall security asked any questions or challenged me.

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  • Joe March 20, 2011 at 1:00 am

    Instead of disassembling bike racks you can just drill through a u-lock lock core with a regular large drill bit. It doesn’t take long to do and is the fastest way to remove a u-lock without the key. Some cordless drills have the power to take care of the job too.

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  • toolman September 17, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    I like the idea of filling the pipes with concrete,but you need to install the bike racks in well lighted areas whith nothing else close by to hide behind.Also you need to install below the top crossbar next to the support legs.Sink these supports in the ground 4′ and fill with concrete before you weld them to the top cross bar.Make sure all piping is filled with concrete before you weld it toggether.Even if they happen to saw a leg in half they won’t be able to lift it or move it in amy way.Also you will need to set the legs 4′ in the ground encased in concrete.That way there will be no bolts to undo.

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  • James Mason January 22, 2014 at 1:44 am

    I’d like to rig a 12 gauge shotgun shell in the seat post pointing straight up and lock the bike in a place where there’s bad guys. sitting on the saddle detonates the shell…..the problem is you got to remember not to ride the bike once it’s set up.

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