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Thief saws through PBOT bike rack to steal women’s bike

Posted by on January 5th, 2015 at 11:27 am

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Sawed then stolen.
(Photos: BikeIndex.org)

Portland thieves will stop at nothing to take your beloved bike.

In the wee hours of this morning, someone sawed clean through a standard-issue City of Portland staple rack and stole a Trek Lexa road bike.

The theft happened in front of Star Bar at SE 7th and Morrison and was first reported via its listing on BikeIndex.org. Bryan Hance from Bike Index said the listing came in at 6:00 am so he suspects the theft occurred overnight. (We’re still trying to get in contact with the bike’s owner.)

It’s important to note that PBOT does not intend their blue staple racks to be used as long-term bicycle parking. They are only meant for short-term parking.

This isn’t the first time we’ve reported about a PBOT rack being sawed through. Back in March 2011, thieves used a similar method to compromise a rack in North Portland. Other brazen and surprising ways we’ve heard of bikes being stolen include unscrewing rack bolts and sliding a bike up and over a street sign pole after unscrewing the sign.

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Despite this attention-grabbing heist, PBOT spokesperson Diane Dulken says it shouldn’t be cause for alarm. They have over 6,000 racks installed throughout the city and they typically only see about 1-2 of them getting sawed through each year. Of those, “This is the first actual theft we’re aware of,” says Dulken.

Dulken added that PBOT is considering ways to update the design of their standard-issue racks to make them more theft-proof. One idea is to use square instead of round tubing. PBOT bike parking program manager Sarah Figliozzi shared at our Bike Theft Summit that they might design them with larger foot flanges to make it more difficult to slide a u-lock off.

But Dulken says any changes to the rack’s design will have to be weighed against higher production costs. The current racks cost just $80 each and, “Any changes will increase the cost which means we can put fewer in.”

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65 Comments
  • spencer January 5, 2015 at 11:38 am

    its sad, but never ever ever leave a bike out overnight in this town. usually just your bolted bits disappear, but not in this case. How much does a good hacksaw run? maybe ~15 bucks.

    ON a side note, there was a shopping cart with three bikes in it this morning under the west side of the Burnside bridge . . . AHEM. I did not see that bike though. Its likely on the East bank esplanade under the highway or under the Ross Island bridge east bank.

    ready set go, you have < 2 hrs to find it before its %$#@ed

    Recommended Thumb up 14

  • Granpa January 5, 2015 at 11:52 am

    Threading a robust length of cable through the pipe during fabrication, or having the tubes welded around a length of rebar during fabrication would stop a hack saw. It would also slow down a sawzall. I wonder if the saw used was a Hilti product?

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    • milkshake January 5, 2015 at 5:54 pm

      Los Angles bike racks have a length or chain inside and they’re cemented into the sidewalk.

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      • Mark Harmon September 14, 2016 at 1:02 pm

        Why not fill them with mortar? You could pump them full in seconds for Penny’s. It could be done on site though I do not recommend it. It would greatly increase the structural strength and no hacksaw could cut through it. Might cut around but even with a sawzall would require more time more blades a greatly reduce opportunity. Existing model could be improved!

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    • Christopher Sanderson January 6, 2015 at 12:33 pm

      I wonder if it was some cheap Sawmill tool that can be purchased at Harbor Freight. Did you know it is possible to buy a cordless angle grinder there?

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      • Christopher Sanderson January 6, 2015 at 12:34 pm

        Meant to say Sawzall… stupid autocorrect!

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        • diyer January 6, 2015 at 12:54 pm

          link? i can’t find a cordless angle grinder at HF on their site…

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    • Skid January 6, 2015 at 6:33 pm

      Rebar can be cut with a hacksaw, it is a softer steel than the tubing is.

      That staple was cut with a cordless sawzall, looking at the uniformity of the cut and how much material was removed with each sawcut.

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  • yoyossarian January 5, 2015 at 11:54 am

    I’d go check out the camp under the Morrision Bridge in the Central Eastside. I recovered a stolen bike from there last month.

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  • Gary January 5, 2015 at 11:57 am

    Somebody alert the exploding handlebars geniuses– there’s a potential new product line for them!

    Recommended Thumb up 8

  • Eric in Seattle January 5, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    Well, at least this means (presumably) that she was using a good lock.
    Hope she gets her bike back, but not holding my breath.

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  • Thor January 5, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    I wish the Stolen bike registry still listed thefts by zip codes.It was interesting to see how concentrations of thefts seemed to migrate from one area to anther.

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    • bryan hance January 5, 2015 at 12:34 pm

      Thanks for the comment. I can probably roll this back in, if it would help.

      Right now you can do a proximity search just by entering “portland” and then setting the mile radius (“within X miles of”) but if the zipcode display is of particular use I can see about getting it back.

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      • Adam H. January 5, 2015 at 1:28 pm

        Yes, please!

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  • 9watts January 5, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    $80?!
    C’mon PBOT. Let’s keep things in perspective.

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  • David Bosch January 5, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    PJ ‏ on Bike Index Portland responded, “Those racks need to be filled with concrete.” Great idea PJ.

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    • Suburban January 5, 2015 at 12:36 pm

      Saws are for wood and old-time-y jug bands. Pipe cutters are silent and faster, and not slowed by concrete whatsoever. It’s not a bike lock arms-race, it’s high school machine shop 101.

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      • John Lascurettes January 5, 2015 at 4:26 pm

        Look at the closeup. That was not a pipe cutter that did this. It was a saw. Still, point taken.

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      • Mark Harmon September 14, 2016 at 1:09 pm

        Concrete filled square tubing?

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    • JollyDodger January 5, 2015 at 7:26 pm

      And either prestressed rebar or bits of broken bolts and glass to use the element of immenent bodily harm when using a high speed cutting tool.

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      • Stretchy January 6, 2015 at 7:18 am

        Which then exposes the city to liability if someone is injured.

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  • Cory Poole January 5, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    Once the tube is bent, turn it over and pour concrete in. That would stop most saws cheap and easy.

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    • Stretchy January 6, 2015 at 7:23 am

      This would increase the installation cost. The current staple rack is light enough that it can be maneuvered into place by hand. Filling it with concrete will make it heavy enough that it requires some sort of machinery to hold it in place. Also, the added weight on top means stronger anchors are required to hold it in place. Plus, if the anchors should fail and it falls over, it increases the likelihood of damage to property or serious injury.

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    • Christopher Sanderson January 6, 2015 at 12:36 pm

      I was kind of thinking the same thing, but I also wonder if moisture from the concrete might compromise the metal over time. I am not sure, but yes, concrete would definitely “eff” up a blade!

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  • Eric January 5, 2015 at 12:37 pm

    This is not a new phenomenon.
    http://instagram.com/p/uydQMaug55/
    More interesting is this winter’s theft of a Salsa Beargrease carbon bike in SE PDX… thieves cut the seat stay through which the frame was locked, made off with a repairable frame and $2k in parts, no need to hack the lock off.

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    • Skid January 6, 2015 at 6:28 pm

      Repairable? Do you know how much a framebuilder would charge to replace a seat stay? Then it needs to get painted. A mickey mouse repair like just welding up the cut in the tube would make the frame worthless.

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  • rain panther January 5, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    They have over 6,000 racks installed throughout the city and they typically only see about 1-2 of them getting sawed through each year. Of those, “This is the first actual theft we’re aware of,” says Dulken.

    Can’t we just assume that each dissected rack represents a stolen bike?

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  • Joe January 5, 2015 at 3:36 pm

    help find this bike! so crazy downtown under ground parking areas seem to be a hot spot to steal lights and other idems lately.. * don’t trust my bike locked up where can’t see it. * should places offer indoor parking? *

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  • Todd Boulanger January 5, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    The “rack attack” approach is just the type of theft that we will be seeing more of as the “easy” nice bikes locked with just a cable lock, poorly locked (locked wheel) or no lock. This assumes the thief wants the whole bike: frame and parts.

    ‘The City’ [as it is aware] needs better long term public bike parking and more secure bike parking for high bike theft areas. Portland is not the only US City with this problem…but it has more riding on it than others:

    Sadly every bike stolen is one less rider and one who may decide to not adopt the bike mode for good…this then undermines the city’s long term 2030 bike mode objective.

    Todd Boulanger
    VP of Operations
    Bikestation

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    • Todd Boulanger January 6, 2015 at 2:00 pm

      I missed typing a word above:

      “The “rack attack” approach is just the type of theft that we will be seeing more of as the “easy” nice bikes locked with just a cable lock, poorly locked (locked wheel) or no lock [disappear from the ‘market’]. “

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  • Eric January 5, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    10 relatively thin aircraft cables wrapped around cardboard tube to keep them separate, fill the whole thing with concrete. You can’t stretch the cables enough to get cutters into them, the concrete dulls the saw blade, etc.

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  • q`Tzal January 5, 2015 at 4:53 pm

    Fill the metal tubes with quick or instant room temperature vulcanizing rubber/epoxy mixed with industrial kevlar scraps. When I did fiber optic line installation ultra fine scrap kevlar fibers in many varying lengths were a persistent waste product.

    Extremely strong and hard to cut in mass if combined with a gooey, rubbery, stretchy liquid/solid you could easily destroy any tool other than high explosives.
    Saws and grinders would bog down and choke after potentially sucking in a hardening rubber/epoxy mixed with kevlar possibly making the tool permanently broken.
    A cutting torch will make short work of the physical impediments but the plastic & chemicals in the Kevlar and rubber/epoxy will kick out such voluminous smoke and fumes that even if the erstwhile thief doesn’t asphyxiate themselves someone will at least call the fire department.

    You’d have to seal both ends of the filled pipe to keep the rubber/epoxy from curing (staying liquid until the pipe is cut) but this is trivial.

    OR you could fill the tubed with those anti-shoplifting exploding UV and florescent dye packets.

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  • gutterbunnybikes January 5, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    Cement with quartz aggregate. Quartz is nearly as hard as diamonds.

    Likewise titanium cables ran inside the pipe would help too if left a little slack.

    Though I’m still sticking to locking up to gas meters….thank you very much.

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    • mh January 5, 2015 at 10:01 pm

      I often argue with myself about gas pipe. Are the thieves smart enough to know not to cut into a live gas line? Is the joy of a suicidal, exploding thief enough reward to compensate me for the loss of my bike? No for the favorite, but maybe the backup bike…

      Recommended Thumb up 3

  • John Liu
    John Liu January 5, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    Why bother with the uber racks? Two racks a year sawn through isn’t enough to justify that kind of expense. I would rather see the money used for more bike corrals.

    If someone leaves an expensive bike locked up overnight, they are being very careless. It is on the same level as using a thin cable lock.

    Recommended Thumb up 8

    • Scott Diamond January 6, 2015 at 8:50 am

      I’d rather see the money used for enforcement.

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      • Scott H January 6, 2015 at 11:49 am

        Enforcement of what? Even if a thief were charged they’re back on the street the next day, we need the prison cells for violent criminals.

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        • Todd Boulanger January 6, 2015 at 1:56 pm

          This happened in Vancouver (WA) this week with a known bike thief (and thief of other property too)…caught redhanded and prosecuted but only given community service and released to do….

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    • Todd Boulanger January 6, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      Bike corrals, as retrofitted by Portland, are one step better in security than their staple racks without the steel bars added.

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  • Champs January 5, 2015 at 6:30 pm

    This technique is all but defeated by an extra shackle on U-locks. Think of it as a separate U-lock with eyes at each end, so the main U-lock feeds into it. It’s two locks in one, and if the rack is defeated, the bike remains immobile.

    Kryptonite sells complete locks (Messenger Mini Plus) with the feature. It’s a shame you can’t buy them as a retrofit.

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    • davemess January 6, 2015 at 12:39 pm

      the bike remains immobile.

      This is not always a major problem for some more sophisticated thieves and they sometimes work with vans. Don’t need to ride the bike away if you’re throwing it in a vehicle and then dealing with the lock in a private location.

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  • Jeff January 5, 2015 at 6:31 pm

    Fill the tubes with thermite?

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    • q`Tzal January 5, 2015 at 10:12 pm

      Muah-HA-Ha-ha!

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    • nuovorecord January 6, 2015 at 11:10 am

      “We had to destroy the bicycle in order to save it.”

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    • Spiffy January 6, 2015 at 11:43 am

      too much liability when a car crashes into one…

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  • My Magic Hat January 5, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    Is there something you’d like to share with us Amazing Larry?!?!?!!!

    It’s like you’re unraveling a Biiigg cable-knit sweater . . . and someone just keeps knitting . . . AND KNITTING . . . And knitting . . .

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    • Eric January 5, 2015 at 7:25 pm

      and knitting…and knitting ..ah-hand knitting…ah-hand knitting!

      “Pee Wee, Snap out of it!”

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  • Josh Chernoff January 5, 2015 at 9:42 pm

    I want to start a company that provide secure bike lockers for the city. I know there are some out there we just need more…

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  • Twistyaction January 6, 2015 at 7:29 am

    The fish are biting, but no one’s willing to fish. Where are the stings? If thieves had anything to fear it would be so much more of a cost effective measure against theft. I wish this city would collectively wake up to that. As things are currently, we are effectively encouraging bike theft by generating an unending supply with little to no deterrents against harvesting.

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    • lyle w. January 6, 2015 at 9:34 am

      I’m trying to be objective, and here’s the thing: What part of the PPB’s bizarre apathy towards bike theft is a passive acknowledgment that the people out there stealing bikes to support their drug habits would just transition into more ‘in your face’ means to get the money they need? We all know if the city made it impossible to get away with bike theft over night (or at least orders of magnitude more difficult) the vast majority of people involved in bike theft would not throw their hands up and resolve to live a more just, honest, respectful life.

      Much more that they’d just think, ‘Well, I guess burglary, robbery, identity theft, etc… is on the table now.’

      The reality is that bike theft is really lucrative, fairly easy, and has a pretty low risk of being truly prosecuted fully (even if you are arrested).

      That’s where it becomes obvious that this is an issue of treating drug addiction/mental illness, and the problem of bike theft is just a symbol of our inability to tackle those things.

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      • Todd Boulanger January 6, 2015 at 1:52 pm

        The Dutch used to have a similar approach (high tolerance) to bike theft, as the one you describe …back in 1997 when my locked bike was stolen in Amsterdam. It was cheaper for the authorities (and my hostel clerk) to have a policy to ‘recommend’ I seek other remedies such as go to the market and look to buy it back from the “druggies” who fenced bikes versus filling out paperwork. They were right…it showed up in minutes after I arrived at the location for sale…minus my destroyed lock.

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  • ricochet January 6, 2015 at 7:55 am

    milkshake
    Los Angles bike racks have a length or chain inside and they’re cemented into the sidewalk.
    Recommended 2

    Can we add a live wire, too?

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    • q`Tzal January 6, 2015 at 10:50 am

      “Anti squirrel bird feeder deterrent made from bug zapper”:
      An educational search at the very least, questionable entertainment if you despise squirrels.

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  • invisiblebikes January 6, 2015 at 9:19 am

    “Dulken added that PBOT is considering ways to update the design of their standard-issue racks to make them more theft-proof.”

    Its easy just drill a whole in them and pump them full of quick cure cement or epoxy… thieves will go through multiple saw blades before they realize what their trying to cut through!

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  • Vladislav January 6, 2015 at 9:35 am

    Why in the world do these racks cost the city $80/each?! Surely they can get them shipped in from overseas for $10/each.

    The problem is they’re using unionized labor probably and paying through the roof, and thus essentially fleecing the taxpayer.

    The bottom line is the taxpayer gets less for their money; and in this case, we get bike racks that don’t even properly work to secure the bikes!

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    • 9watts January 6, 2015 at 9:40 am

      “The problem is they’re using unionized labor”
      You forgot Henry Ford’s insight. You have to pay your workers enough so they can afford to buy your product. If we just ship all manufacturing overseas to save a buck, in what way does that represent a win?

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    • soren January 6, 2015 at 11:03 am

      It would be even more “efficient” to import the labor. Although we would have to build camps and employ some guards, the long-term tax payer savings would be huge!

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    • Todd Boulanger January 6, 2015 at 2:27 pm

      $80 per unit is a pretty good retail price point for a powder coated large diameter bike rack with flange ends (only type allowed per code)…given the cost of the raw product, finishing, non union labor and profit. Schedule 40 pipe is not too cheap at home depot / lowes etc. [Retails for $45 for 10 feet of 2″ sched 40, and you need at least 8 feet for 1 standard staple].

      Staple bike racks are a “commodity” item in the bike parking fixture business now, though I doubt you could get your hands on one and shipped to the US for $10 per unit (at the City’s annual purchase volumes). [Alibaba does have a Chinese vendor offering a staple type rack for $10 to $20 per unit in quantity…before one adds shipping, handling, US import duties, international payment cost, etc.]

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    • Todd Boulanger January 6, 2015 at 2:41 pm

      The City (and other cities) regularly buy these racks from private manufacturers…many are in right to work states…and I am not aware that these companies expressly use union labor for fabricating them in the US. (If they did I would expect them to mention it on their web site, but I have not seen this noted in the past.)

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    • Mick Orlosky January 6, 2015 at 2:45 pm

      That kind of thinking is what created the bike thieves that we already have.

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  • Dan January 6, 2015 at 11:42 am

    Lockers.

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  • Skid January 6, 2015 at 6:19 pm

    I do not see how square tubing would be any less difficult to cut. This staple was likely cut with a cordless sawzall. A cordless grinder with a cutoff disc would work too and would also work on a U-lock.

    What would slow down the cutting process would be a switch to stainless steel. It tends to wear out tooling FAST if you try to cut faster than intended. The blade or cutoff wheel would be more to break or wear out before the cut is completed. The staple would also never need to be repainted and graffiti and sticker removal would be easier.

    I can’t believe how thinwall the tubing is that’s being used.

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    • El Biciclero January 9, 2015 at 9:34 am

      Square tubing eliminates pipe cutters and forces use of a saw-like implement, which would then be subject to any of the countermeasures you suggest. Although running a cable or chain through the inside of the tubing, anchored at both ends so it holds the tubing together might do the same thing.

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    • Mark Harmon September 14, 2016 at 1:04 pm

      Fill them with concrete/mortar. What do you think?

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  • Alan 1.0 January 13, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    A couple more recently cut staples/racks:

    https://twitter.com/BikePortland/status/554174400392470529 – 10 Jan, 28th & Burnside, cut staple

    https://bikeindex.org/bikes/38249 – Between 9 Jan and 12 Jan, NE Stanton & MLK (behind Scrap Annex), two racks cut, bike stolen

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