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City of Portland’s new bike rack design aims to thwart thieves

Posted by on February 26th, 2016 at 12:26 pm


The new design includes a half-inch diameter wire rope and a crossbar.

Bike parking coverage on BikePortland is sponsored by Huntco.

The City of Portland’s ubiquitous blue “staple” racks are simple (one piece of steel pipe formed into an inverted U and bolted into the pavement) and highly functional — but they’ve also been targeted by thieves.

Now PBOT has engineered a new rack that should be much harder to compromise (PDF of official design specs here). The new design includes a steel crossbar, a wire cable that floats inside the steel pipe, and a stronger method for anchoring the rack to the ground.

The changes come in response to Portland’s bike theft epidemic. Not only are thieves stealing more bikes these days, but they’re doing it more brazenly than ever. The problem has gotten so bad that some people have given up cycling due to fears of losing their bike, especially in the central city where most thefts occur. As we’ve reported here on BikePortland several times over the years, thieves tactics include unscrewing the bolts that hold the racks in the ground and sometimes even sawing right through the pipe. They’ll do just about anything to get a bike free.

Just this morning we learned about a new tactic: Thieves in the U.K. cut through the pipe of a staple rack and then put tape over the cut to hide it from unsuspecting riders.

To thwart these nefarious plots, PBOT has been working on getting a new design on the streets for over a year now. At our Bike Theft Summit in December 2014, PBOT Bicycle Program Specialist Sarah Figliozzi alluded to the new design during a panel discussion. PBOT then worked with members of the Bike Theft Task Force last spring to brainstorm design ideas. Here’s a video presented to the BTTF that shows city maintenance crews testing the new rack with a power grinder…

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“While very few of the 6,500 city-maintained bike racks in Portland are damaged intentionally, we did see a spate of sawed-through racks about a year ago,” Brady told us yesterday. “In order to increase security, we decided to see how we could simply and affordably prevent some of the more common ways bikes are stolen by damaging or removing a rack.”


It’s rare. But it does happen.

The new design was a collaboration between staffers from PBOT’s Maintenance Operations and Active Transportation divisions. A key feature of the new design is a floating wire rope inside the pipe. PBOT staff tested it with various cutting devices and Brady said the results “were very encouraging.”It took much more effort to cut through the new design, principally because the floating wire rope creates another barrier that drains a power tool’s battery.” The other key feature is the steel bar welded inside the rack about 10-inches off the ground. The crossbar has two purposes: It makes it harder for thieves to slip a u-lock through the top (via a cut in the pipe) or the bottom (via bolts that have been removed). The City of Seattle’s standard bike rack design also utilizes a crossbar.

This new rack will also be tougher for one reason you can’t see. As per the official specs, PBOT instructs installation crews to construct 18-inch deep concrete foundations if the rack is installed on paving stones or concrete less than three inches thick (see image below).


Brady added that despite the new features, the new rack design is just a few dollars more expensive the than old one. That means the racks cost about $85 a piece. With so many of these racks being installed, price is a serious consideration (we highlighted a private company’s design last January that was significantly more expensive).

PBOT hopes to take delivery of their first batch of 300 new racks in a few months. They won’t replace existing racks but every new rack installed from here on out will have the new design.

And while these new racks will keep your bike safer, it’s not time to let your guard down. “It will take much more effort, forethought, strength, and tool power to defeat this new design,” Brady said. “But the best bike theft prevention is still education about the correct lock to use and locking techniques.”

In other Portland bike theft news, a new intern for the Bike Theft Task Force reported for his first day of duty today. Stay tuned to learn more about what he’ll be working on.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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  • TonyH February 26, 2016 at 12:37 pm

    Great news! As it is now, the worst part of biking somewhere is being there, and worrying about my bike.

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  • Chris I February 26, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    And fill a few of them with gunpowder, and make it widely known that they are out there, somewhere. But you have no way of knowing which one it might be. Might make some people think twice before they turn on that disc grinder.

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    • John Lascurettes February 26, 2016 at 12:58 pm

      And make some sociopaths all the more likely to go looking for them for the thrill of it.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty February 26, 2016 at 5:14 pm

        I am NOT a sociopath!

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    • K'Tesh February 27, 2016 at 4:02 pm

      I thought of that too… However, perhaps filling them with paint and/or dye packets that will ID the thief, and let future users of the rack know that it has been compromised would be a more “socially acceptable” alternative.

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. February 26, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    This new design looks great! It’s also smart that the design calls for the crossbar to be low to the ground. I’ve used racks with the crossbar much higher, and they always seem to interfere with locking.

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  • igor stravinsky February 26, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    What does the crossbar do to prevent theft?

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. February 26, 2016 at 1:36 pm

      It prevents a thief from removing the bike rack off the pavement and slipping the lock through the bottom of the rack. It also adds stiffness to the rack that makes it harder to bend the rack after a single cut.

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    • Keviniano February 26, 2016 at 1:37 pm

      One thing it does is prevent separating the bike from the staple just by detaching the staple from the ground. You’d have to also cut into the tubing somewhere.

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    • John Lascurettes February 26, 2016 at 1:39 pm

      I imagine it makes it harder to separate the tube, even if cut – it would give the U more rigidity. To quote the article:

      The crossbar has two purposes: It makes it harder for thieves to slip a u-lock through the top (via a cut in the pipe) or the bottom (via bolts that have been removed)

      What I’m curious about is how are they mounting these. Is there anything different about the bolts themselves?

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. February 26, 2016 at 1:46 pm

        Mounting the crossbar? I assume it will be welded to the main rack, not bolted on.

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        • John Lascurettes February 26, 2016 at 3:21 pm

          No, how is the entire rack mounted? Is there a change in the bolts?

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          • Adam H.
            Adam H. February 26, 2016 at 4:10 pm

            Oh, I gotcha. The current racks use high-security star bolts. However, they’re only “secure” by obscurity – a thief can still purchase the drill bit. Looks like the same bolt is being used:


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            • John Lascurettes February 26, 2016 at 4:29 pm

              Only info about the bolts themselves in the PDF specs are this:



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              • John Lascurettes February 26, 2016 at 4:31 pm

                The copy-paste from the PDF did weird things to the dimensions of the bolt. That was supposed to be 1/2″ Dia. x 1 1/4″ long

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  • Rob Chapman February 26, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    These new racks look like a significant upgrade. Thanks PBOT people.

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. February 26, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    Btw, just noticed the article was sponsored by Huntco. They’re a terrific local company that makes all kinds of bike racks. I ordered some racks from them for my garage, and they even delivered it right to my door! I highly recommend them!

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 26, 2016 at 2:04 pm

      That’s great to hear Adam! Yes I sort of sneaked that in. Our partnership doesn’t become official until March 1st but figured it couldn’t hurt to mention it now.

      I’ll make a larger announcement on March 1st. We’re excited too! It means we’ll be doing more coverage of bike parking and rack design in general. It also means that BikePortland has a better chance of surviving because we need their financial support!

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  • B. Carfree February 26, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    This is good news indeed. Bike parking has been the one feature of cycling that seems to continuously improve. I still remember during America’s second bike boom of the ’60s-’70s seeing entire bike racks with forty or more bikes on them on flatbed trucks being hauled away in Berkeley. The scoundrels are still going to do what they do, but anything that makes their efforts less rewarding and more work are wins.

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  • Gerald Fittipaldi February 26, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    This new rack does look like a significant upgrade. My only question is, why don’t they go with a square tubing? NYC, as well as other cities with bike theft problems worse than Portland’s, have long done away with circular tubing. The square tubing they use cannot be cut with pipe cutters, etc. I can’t imagine that the wire rope is more of a deterrent than square tubing. I’m all for the crossbar though.

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    • Todd Boulanger February 26, 2016 at 3:03 pm

      Great question – I immediately just assumed they had adopted the square tubing as part of this update…until I read your post.

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  • Eric Leifsdad February 26, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    Looks good. Did they try filling it with concrete?

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    • 9watts February 27, 2016 at 12:18 pm

      Or persuading people to stop using crappy cable locks or just locking the front wheel that is attached by quick release…

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      • Eric Leifsdad March 1, 2016 at 7:39 am

        If you’re coming at it with education, teach recording and reporting serial numbers. That will make a bigger impact than discouraging shoelace-grade lockups.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu February 26, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    Are the racks made of mild steel or hardened steel?. Hardened steel is difficult to cut. Pipe tubing cutters won’t do it. You’d have to use a power grinder or other power tool.

    I don’t know about filling the rack with explosive, but it would be interesting if the tubing could be coated, perhaps on the inside, with something that would emit a lot of noxious or stinky smoke when heated, say by a power grinder disc. Suppose that a thief cutting through a rack started breathing capsicum smoke. I think he’d stop.

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  • gutterbunnybikes February 26, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    It seems silly to use anchor bolts if you have to use the 18″ footings. I’d be much stronger to extend the legs a foot into the cement pour and a couple pieces of round stock welded perpendicular to the vertical tubes to better secure it in the cement and remove the possibility of simply unscrewing or cutting the bolts.

    Also wouldn’t the cable be more effective if it was slack but secured?

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    • Gary B February 26, 2016 at 4:09 pm

      True, but when damaged the replacement would be significantly more effort.

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      • 9watts February 27, 2016 at 12:20 pm

        Precisely. In inner SE, people in cars keep backing into the racks. I guess they (the racks) weren’t wearing high-viz!

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  • JeffSnavely February 26, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    Sounds good.

    That “test” seems pretty half-hearted though. Someone loan them a sawzall.

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  • Jon Gove February 26, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    Two words….Bait Bike

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  • Rob Chapman February 26, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    I don’t think that I’d want to hit wire rope with a sawzall or a grinder. Sounds like a good way to get bloody. Especially if the wire rope is anchored as gutterbunny suggests.

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  • Ed Trotter February 26, 2016 at 6:08 pm

    If the goal is to slow the process fill them with high strength grout as well. It can go thru a small hole in the tube.

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  • Mark smith February 26, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    How about this? Offer any police officer an additional $1000 for any arrest of a thief caught in the act?

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    • John Liu
      John Liu February 26, 2016 at 10:09 pm

      You mean making them into, like, commissioned salespeople? Paying police officers cash bonuses for arresting people has many problems that should be pretty obvious.

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    • JeffSnavely February 27, 2016 at 7:42 pm

      Forget that.

      Offer any DA $1000 for a thief that does multiple year in prison.

      Yes, I’m aware that there are some ethical issues with this proposal… I’m just pointing out that sentencing is the deterrent here, not getting caught.

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      • John Liu
        John Liu February 29, 2016 at 9:10 am

        I think there are huge issues with paying law enforcement and prosecutors bounties for arresting and convicting particular types of criminals and not others.

        Why, then, shouldn’t DA’s get bonuses for securing convictions for rapists, child abusers, home invaders, etc etc? Is bike theft a more serious crime than other crimes? Is a bike more important than a woman, a child, a home?

        Maybe it is inherent in this being a single-issue blog, but there is a lot of myopia here, a lot of self-importance.

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  • dan February 26, 2016 at 10:35 pm

    Nice! How about running some high voltage through the interior wire rope, with warning signs?

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. February 27, 2016 at 12:13 am

    I’m a bit disturbed by all the comments talking about blowing up or electrocuting people stealing bikes. Sure, bike thieves suck, but they don’t deserve a death penalty. In making these comments, even in jest, are we no better than the people who “joke” about running over cyclists? Instead let’s work together to prevent bike theft and address the issues that force people to turn to stealing bikes.

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    • JeffSnavely February 27, 2016 at 7:53 pm

      This is the kind of response that pushes people down the road to conservatism.

      The… if we only gave them more money they wouldn’t victimize us mentality.

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    • dan February 28, 2016 at 5:50 am

      What? I did say “with warning signs,” after all.

      No different from locking your bike to a natural gas pipe.

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      • gutterbunnybikes February 29, 2016 at 2:06 pm

        My personal favorite bike rack. That and the tension cables on power poles,

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  • eddie February 27, 2016 at 4:46 am

    It sounds like at least some theft could be prevented by just welding crossbars on existing staple racks as well.

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  • Mike Quiglery February 27, 2016 at 5:13 am

    All this talk about bike racks and they still haven’t come up with a bike lock that can’t be hacked in seconds.

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    • John Liu
      John Liu February 27, 2016 at 5:27 am

      How do you get through a typical U lock in “seconds”?

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    • JeffSnavely February 27, 2016 at 7:44 pm

      Sure they have. You just don’t want to carry it around with you.

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  • kittens February 27, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    Glad we live in a place where they are actively perusing solutions. It ain’t perfect but its progress!

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  • Justin February 28, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    The new design looks a lot like these racks in Britain that still suffer same problem…?


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  • ablejack February 28, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    This rack seems a fine improvement. But Japan has the best solution; Don’t steal bicycles.

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  • Dan A February 29, 2016 at 8:38 am

    If they wanted to thwart thieves, they would look like this:


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    • John Liu
      John Liu February 29, 2016 at 9:03 am

      Bike boxes take up far too much room to be broadly used around the city. They are also expensive, and have ongoing administrative costs. They might have a role at MAX stations as part of a multi-modal commute.

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      • Dan A February 29, 2016 at 10:22 am

        Suppose you want to park 10 cars vs 10 bikes. I read an article that put the average price of a car spot at $4K, so that’s $40K for 10 cars. You can fit 5 lockers (10 bikes) in a single car spot, and you can buy lockers at around $2K apiece. That’s $14K for 10 bikes, even if you give the storage away for free.

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        • Dan A February 29, 2016 at 10:28 am

          If you want to hide the storage underground, these systems cost $1.5 million for 200 bikes ($7500 apiece), and charge users $15 a month.


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        • John Liu
          John Liu February 29, 2016 at 10:56 am

          A staple rack probably costs <$100 and can be placed on sidewalks, oriented whatever way fits. Once installed, they don't need maintenance or labor/systems to manage usage and collect fees. They don't get vandalized (well, hardly ever), and can have higher utilization than a reserved bike locker.

          The underground system is a non starter. Portland can hardly find $1.5MM to pay for bike lanes, much less elaborate motorized underground bike storage. The economics of a $1.5MM automated parking facility for 200 bikes also doesn't make sense. 200 bikes x $15 mo/bike x 12 mo/yr = $36K/yr. 6% interest on $1.5MM cost = $90K/yr. The system won't even pay for interest on its initial capital cost, much less pay for principal and operating cost.

          If there is a need for secure centralized bike parking, the city could take 10 spaces in each city parking garage and create fenced bike corrals. Each auto space can hold, let's guess, 32 bikes (hanging, two rows). At $15/mo that would be $58K/yr. Assume 1 minimum wage attendant for 18 hours/day, M-F, that's $49K/yr. Creates 1.5 jobs. Essentially no initial capital cost. This has a chance of paying for itself.

          That assumes Portlander commuters are willing to pay $15/mo to park their bikes in a central location and then walk to their workplace. Are we?

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          • Dan A February 29, 2016 at 12:19 pm

            I happily pay $15 a month for a locker right now. No lock to carry and everything is still ON my bike when I get back.

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            • Dan A February 29, 2016 at 12:31 pm

              I also like storing my bike stuff in there. Helmet, shoes, etc. The downside (for me, anyway) is that there are so FEW of these around.

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            • steeplechase3k February 29, 2016 at 1:24 pm

              They are available in many parking garages downtown. $95 for a key deposit, and $95 for 6 months of rental (I think they also offer a 3 month rental for slightly more than half that cost). I’ve had one across the street from my office building for 4 years and use it every day I’m at work and sometimes on the weekends.

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            • Dan A February 29, 2016 at 2:04 pm

              And I’d pay more per month to have access to them all over the place, instead of just my one locker. Maybe a phone app to let me know where there are available lockers. That’d be sweet.

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              • steeplechase3k March 1, 2016 at 1:55 pm

                Ah, Like Car2Go. That would be pretty cool…

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    • soren March 1, 2016 at 8:45 am

      my work had that model and the flimsy doors were an incredibly minimal theft deterrent.

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