Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Bike theft down in Portland; but brazen thieves still at work

Posted by on August 9th, 2011 at 11:48 am

bike theft sticker-1.jpg

Seen in the Lloyd District: “A
thief is able to cut your cable.”
It’s not just a catchy tag line,
it’s real (see below).
(Photo © J. Maus)

I’ve got some good news and bad news about bike theft in Portland. First, the good news…

So far in 2011, BikePortland has received about 17% fewer stolen bike listings compared to this time last year. From January 1 to August 9th 2010, there were 397 stolen bikes listed. During that same stretch this year, just 331 listings have come in.

In July 2010, there were 90 stolen bike listings. This past July there were just 62.

Of course, the decrease is likely due to the cooler weather we’ve had this year since bike theft always tends to rise as higher temperatures bring out all those fair-weather (and not-as-conscientious-with-bike-locking) riders. But I’d also like to think that people are just getting smarter and more aware of basic bike theft prevention.

Speaking of prevention, the #1 best thing you can do to prevent your bike from being stolen is to lock it up with a high-quality U-lock or heavy-gauge chain. Cable locks are a bike thief’s best friend.

On that note, check out this photo snapped by Portlander Tom Becker…

Becker says it was 7:00 am on Saturday morning. “I was out for a walk when I saw this low life checking out locked up bikes. He saw the one he wanted and Snip! The thief had his ride for the day.”

According to Becker, the thief was a “pro.” “After he snipped the chain [it was a cable lock], he was gone in less than 20 seconds.”

Let that be a lesson: cable locks and measly thin chains and cable locks are like a big sign telling thieves to take your bike. Invest in a high-quality lock — the heavier the better. They might be harder to carry, but they’ll make your bike harder to steal (as this brazen bike thief learned back in April).

— Learn about bike theft at BikePortland’s Stolen Bikes page. Browse past coverage in the archives.

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  • Indy August 9, 2011 at 11:59 am

    The #1 method of preventing theft is to reduce visibility.

    Also… photo?

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  • wsbob August 9, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    “…On that note, check out this photo snapped by Portlander Tom Becker… …Becker says it was 7:00 am on Saturday morning. “I was out for a walk when I saw this low life checking out locked up bikes. He saw the one he wanted and Snip! The thief had his ride for the day.”

    According to Becker, the thief was a “pro.” “After he snipped the chain [lock], he was gone in less than 20 seconds.” maus/bikeportland

    End of story? People might want to know whether Becker got get any other shots that would identify the thief, and whether he shared what info he had with police.

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    • Mork August 9, 2011 at 12:13 pm

      I’m also itching for more information: Where did this take place? If I had to guess, I’d say transit mall based on the garbage can in the background.

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  • peejay August 9, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Physically interfering a thief can be quite dangerous––can you imagine if that guy swung his bolt cutters around into your face? And calling 9-1-1 is a great idea, but it rarely works to stop the theft in progress. My strategy for stopping crime in this case–with plenty of witnesses–is to yell out as loud as possible “HEY BIKE THIEF, STOP STEALING BIKES!” and let him deal with the consequences of being called out in a crowd.

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    • wsbob August 9, 2011 at 12:37 pm

      “…Physically interfering a thief …” peejay

      No expectation that a person photographing a bike thief, attempt to directly interrupt the thief’s actions. Simply suggesting, if possible, get identifying photos and turn them into the police. Doing so might not be able to the recover a particular bike stolen during around the time the photo was taken, but it could give the police helpful evidence for future anti-theft efforts.

      The poor thief is just lucky someone nearby settled for taking a pic of his backside, rather that something more serious. A guy could be in world of trouble if someone not appreciating bike theft, were to wrestle those bolt cutters away from the thief and proceed to affect some creative alterations.

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    • dmc August 9, 2011 at 12:37 pm

      I agree. Safety in numbers.

      Like the shady guy that was walking down the sidewalk at the North Portland Parkways event stealing strawberry plants out of someones yard. He was confronted by a rider in the group and after a few heads turned he was very embarrassed and 100 percent cooperative.

      Confronting a thief alone and up close is asking for a physical confrontation. Throw rocks from a distance instead…. 🙂 j/k

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  • Cecil August 9, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    I once rode my bike over to River City Bikes and took a cable and padlock with me to lock my bike in the racks right by the door. I THOUGHT that I had brought a padlock to which I knew the combination. Silly me. After I realized that I was not going tobe able to unlock my bike, and went inside and asked if they had a cable cutter I could use. The very accommodating salesperson came out and cut the cable so that I could ride away on my not-at-all-inexpensive bike, no questions asked, even though he did not know me from Adam’s off ox. I couldn’t decide whether I should appreciate the sales person’s courtesy or be dismayed at his naiveté .

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  • q`Tzal August 9, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    In the forums yesterday was posted a 11:07 long Youtube clip from an “itv” London regional news segment Gone In 60 Seconds – The Bike Crime Wave Part 1 and 12:54 long Gone In 60 Seconds – The Bike Crime Wave Part 2.

    Very informative even if it is a 2007 segment. Follows police bike theft stings. Of particular interest to me was the 1~2 minute side bit (Part 1 starting @ 6:40 to about 8:15) where they got some professional bicycle thieves to go against some of the best and highest rated like the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit and better. Two guys rip through 500 pounds (weight or cost?) of locks in about 90 seconds.

    So no lock is undefeatable. The big thing the whole segment shows is the greater apathy that society has about this issue.
    If you are not a victim of this almost no one cares.
    Bike theft is seems to be only a technical crime; you will be more likely to be cited for not wearing a seat belt than to caught and convicted of a bike theft.

    There is no standardized ID system for bicycles that all law enforcement has access to, no requirement to use such and very little incentive not to buy low cost “chop shop” bikes or parts. The system could not be set up any better for bicycle theft.

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    • A.K. August 9, 2011 at 1:59 pm

      Indeed, no lock is perfect – but amongst all the other bikes on the street, you want yours to be the hardest to seal, not the easiest.

      As the saying goes, you don’t need to be able to outrun a bear to keep from being dinner, you just need to outrun your friends.

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      • q`Tzal August 9, 2011 at 3:58 pm

        I agree.
        I was hoping that that big heavy bike chain that I mentioned above might have lasted just a bit longer than that. I happen to have dropped cash on that Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit.

        It seems that the real trick is to:
        () register your steed with what ever bike registry your local police use
        () insure it with your home or renter’s insurance
        () get an expensive lock with an “insurance against lock defeat” policy.
        () do what ever you have to to get them to pay out (the hardest part may be getting a police report)
        () report it to the police and get paperwork even if they say it is a waste of their time

        Maybe the best thing an employer can do to encourage workers to cycle to work is to provide a restricted access parking locker. I find myself wondering if I’d pay to use a hard cage secured parking area downtown rather than simply locking to any structure near the door; Portland pays a lot for SmartPark facilities but secure cycle parking facilities are few and far between.

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  • Spiffy August 9, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    my friend has his bike stolen last week… first friend I knew to have a bike stolen…

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  • bumblebee August 9, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    “Let that be a lesson: cable locks and measly thin chains are like a big sign telling thieves to take your bike.”

    Actually, they’re not. In fact, I would argue that a bike lock, no matter how ineffective, is like a big sign saying, “Please, don’t steal my bike.” Breaking the law is still a choice someone makes. It’s disappointing to see, especially on BikePortland, how easily this is ignored or forgotten.

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    • jeff August 9, 2011 at 2:32 pm

      you may be missing the point.

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      • bumblebee August 9, 2011 at 10:08 pm

        I have not missed the point, but I do take issue with how the point is being made. Jonathan has voiced his displeasure with people speaking of “cyclists” and “pedestrians” and “motorists” because he believes it encourages divisiveness; yet, he can be quite careless in his own writing. There is a difference between advising cyclists against using cable locks because they are easy to cut through, and stating that they are “like a big sign telling thieves to take your bike.” I wish he would be just as sensitive with his own wording as he is with others’.

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    • peejay August 9, 2011 at 5:10 pm

      How about this?
      1. Bike theft is common.
      2. Authorities, while not condoning bike theft, haven’t the resources to efficiently stop it.
      3. Because of 1. and 2., take as many reasonable precautions as you can. One of the best reasonable precautions is to buy the right lock, which costs not much more than a useless one.

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    • El Biciclero August 10, 2011 at 11:16 am

      I understand exactly what bumblebee is saying. To me, this is the same as the “physics” argument used to warn cyclists that they better stay out of the way: if you want ride your bike in the road, you’re “asking for it”, because “the car will win every time”.

      Just as in that situation, prudent measures are warranted to reduce the risk to life and property, however–using a weaker lock than is on the bike next to yours is not “a big sign telling thieves to steal your bike”. It may be more like a smaller sign telling thieves not to steal your bike, but only in extremely rare cases are victims of crime truly “asking for it”, as the phrasing in the article seems to suggest.

      The blame for theft falls squarely on the thief.

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  • jake August 9, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    actually all of you people are very, very naive. “Pro” bike thieves use lockpicks. No matter how big the lock, (even a very expensive one with security pins) an experienced picker can get through it in 10-15 seconds. So go buy bigger locks, and watch your bikes mysteriously disappear. Bigger ~= better.

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    • Indy August 10, 2011 at 1:45 pm

      Actually, they don’t. They use cutting tools, which do the same job in a fraction of the time and allow thieves to keep their awareness around them. A cut works on 95%+ of chain and U-locks, doesn’t require the thief to focus on a pick or style of picking, and doesn’t require dexterity to the level picking does (Go ahead and try and pick something when you have a ~360 degree field of attack.)

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  • captainkarma August 9, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    Exploding dye-packs on stem and saddle.

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    • q`Tzal August 10, 2011 at 11:04 am

      Aww come on …
      If you want to be really vindictive you make your own frame in to which you integrate a stun baton circuit along the entire geometry of the diamond frame.
      Trigger with a mercury switch, disarm with a keyfob like device or secure remote smartphone app.

      It might be polite to include an audible warning a few seconds before voltage is released.

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      • Indy August 10, 2011 at 1:47 pm

        “disarm with a keyfob like device or secure remote smartphone app.”

        Oxymoron. Keyfobs are trivial to impersonate and let me know of a “remote smartphone app” that can’t be intercepted and used against the owner of the bike.

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        • q`Tzal August 10, 2011 at 1:56 pm

          So can most locks, chains and cables.

          For best security: hire an out of work actor to dress up and act like a coked-out screaming street addict to guard a rack of bikes. Anyone that doesn’t cross the street to avoid him should be a suspected bike thief.

          Or we could just find some way to remove PROFIT from the bicycle theft ecosystem.

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  • Kt August 9, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    Multiple locks? In theory, if it looks like it’s going to take too long to clip it free, maybe the thief would pass over your bike.

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  • dan August 10, 2011 at 12:08 am

    Commuting on a beater seems to work pretty well for me. 🙂

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    • 9watts August 10, 2011 at 8:09 am

      “Commuting on a beater seems to work pretty well for me. :-)”
      I think this really is the answer. I got my shiny expensive bike stolen fifteen years ago. Replaced it with a shabby looking but functionally equivalent bike and have had zero problems ever since. Or have folks had their unattractive bikes stolen while locked? I’ve not heard of it.

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  • spokesy August 10, 2011 at 1:50 am

    I was rolling down N Williams on Sunday night about 11:45pm and saw an African American gentleman with bolt cutters strutting down the street.

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    • Chris I August 10, 2011 at 7:20 am

      Did you pop a cap?

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      • q`Tzal August 10, 2011 at 1:56 pm


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  • esther c August 10, 2011 at 7:12 am

    Considering that this is a major quality of life crime that affects the whole community, not just the individual bike owners, the city should really do something about the problem. If there were roving gangs of criminals committing some other crime involving thousands of dollars of destruction on another type of property they’d probably take some action but since its bikes that belongs to individuals who cares. But if there were say, a rash of people throwing rocks through windows of businesses, several every evening in downtown Portland, they’d have a task force on it immediately.

    But the bike theft isn’t the only problem. There is also the lifestyle that they’re supporting with the bike theft. They’re not buying bread and milk for their kids with the money they’re making off of the bikes.

    When thieves are allowed to walk around brazenly with the tools of their trade it really terrorizes the whole community. What is this Mad Max land or something.

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    • wsbob August 10, 2011 at 10:34 am

      Every once in while, articles either written by bikeportland, or passing through the monday roundup, mention that big bike cities like Paris and Amsterdam, have major, chronic problems with bike theft. Not much, if any mention about what those cities have done to effectively reduce bike theft. To some extent, it’s an uncontrollable problem.

      This article, describing the theft “…Portlander Tom Becker …” observed, vaguely mentions that the thief used the bolt cutters to defeat a “…chain [lock] …”. So how heavy, hard of steel might that chain have been? It’s kind of up to the individual to do whatever they can to prevent bike theft.

      When victims relate them, it’s interesting to note the circumstances of bike theft, which they do sometimes on craigslist. Monday, someone related having their bike stolen on NW 21st in front of Coffee Time, between 1:30 a.m. and 4 am. Location and time frames like this make up perfect, easy opportunities for bike thieves to take whatever they want regardless of what kind of locks may be in use to protect any given bike.

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    • El Biciclero August 10, 2011 at 11:21 am

      Interesting. What if thieves were going around stealing the wheels off of cars?

      Huh, officer? What, me? Oh, no, no, no–I’m just fixing a flat here; of all the crummy luck, you know?

      Would it garner any more attention than bike theft? Would it be more “solvable”?

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  • middle of the road guy August 10, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Look at how skinny that guy is. Meth addiction?

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    • Indy August 10, 2011 at 1:48 pm

      No, Biker. 🙂

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    • q`Tzal August 10, 2011 at 1:57 pm

      500 reps with 15lb bolt cutters.
      Perfectly innocent:)

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  • Suburban August 10, 2011 at 11:32 am

    I found some 3 ft long bolt cutters (painted olive drab) in the bushes last summer. Amazing tool, but the red 18 inch cutters shown above would undo most cables just fine.

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  • Todd Boulanger August 10, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    As for Amsterdam…
    …yes it used to have a much much higher bike theft rate which caused many cyclists to ride beater utility bikes in town and park their nice touring/ trekking bikes at home or at Bikestations. And if they loose a bike they would buy a cheap hot bike.

    In my personal experience, I have had a bike stolen in Amsterdam back in 1997 on the first day (3 hours) I owned it before I could armour up and get a third lock for parking on the street in front of the hostel. The cops back then were no help, until the front desk clerk told me where hot bikes were fenced. My bike was waiting for me to buy it back.

    Now things are better…I have been able to leave my trekking bike and a city bike locked up (3 locks) at a racks for months at a time between my camping trips there in 2009. (Picking a good neighborhood and rack design does help too.)

    Much of this change is due to many high end bikes having ID chips one can buy (like the chips we buy for our pets), better locks, more Bikestations and very secure street racks exist now. But more importantly buying and selling hot bikes is now reduced through much more active Police enforcement and education.

    The City leaders realized that they had to address the bike theft problem in order to keep people riding and not shifting back to cars (or stealing someone else’s bike).

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  • tonyt
    tonyt August 10, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    The most common story I heard when I was selling a new bike to a theft victim was, “I had it locked on my front porch with a cable lock.”

    It’s like a freakin’ billboard. “Hi, here I am! I’m parked here most evenings, and if you want me, just bring cable cutters!”


    U-Lock. Learn to use it.

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  • wsbob August 10, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    Just tonight, about 7:30pm, out in the Beav as I was walking to target, in the parking lot next to the sidewalk, I noticed a middle aged couple…gray hair…unlocking some decent hybrid bikes from a sign pole. The target out here has a nice sidewalk running out into the parking lot between the rows of cars. Where they were unlocking their bikes was maybe 60′ from the front entrance.

    At any rate, I said to them: ‘Cable locks are bad.’. Took them a second to understand what I meant. Then she asked: ‘What’s better?’. So I replied; ‘U-locks’. Also mentioned bikeportland and this story.

    I didn’t get the impression they were aware that cable locks were one of the weakest methods to secure a bike. Considering this is Beaverton, not the big city, it would be nice to think people’s bike’s are never going to be stolen in situations such as I just described.

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  • Marsh August 11, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    I use the orange mid-size kryptonite to lock my frame to the rack, then use a cable around the frame and wheels, also through the rack. Seems to work well. At least for me.

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  • velvetackbar August 12, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    a long time ago, I cut through a cable lock with a leatherman pocket tool on a bet. it was an old leatherman so it ripped my hand up but it worked. ruined the jaw, tho. Won a carton of smokes that way.

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