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Bike Theft Task Force returns with popular u-lock exchange program

Posted by on July 22nd, 2016 at 9:44 am

After receiving a new u-lock, this woman learned how easy it is to cut her old one.(Photos: Portland Police Bureau)

After receiving a new u-lock, this woman learned how easy it is to cut her old one.
(Photos: Portland Police Bureau)

Last month’s inaugural U-lock? U-Rock! exchange was so popular that the Portland Police Bureau’s Bike Theft Task Force (BTTF) ran out of locks within the first hour.

“Before we even got set up, there was a line. We could not keep up with the demand,” Portland Police Bureau Officer Dave Sanders wrote in a debrief. “At one point, there was a line of cyclists a block long and so many people congregating around our tents, that it was interfering with other organizations.”

Officer Sanders and a crew of volunteers (more are needed!) and city partners will be prepared for the onslaught this Sunday when the program returns for Sunday Parkways Northeast.

The idea behind the exchange program is simple: Sanders and his partner on the bike theft beat, Officer Dave Bryant, have seen way too many bikes stolen due to the use of cable locks because they’re easily snipped by thieves. Using a good quality u-lock is one of the best things riders can do to prevent bike theft.

To receive a free u-lock, participants must bring in a used cable lock and their bicycle. Registration with Project 529 (free) can be done at the event and is also required to get a lock. As a bonus, anyone who exchanges an old cable lock will get the chance to cut it with a pair of bolt cutters.


Officers Sanders and Bryant said about 600 people came by their booth and they’ve received national interest for the program with several other cities wanting to implement something similar.

U-lock recipients also learn proper locking technique.

U-lock recipients also learn proper locking technique.

The Task Force gave away 50 u-locks and registered 350 bikes at June’s Sunday Parkways event — all of which was made possible thanks to a partnership with Project 529 (whose CEO, J Allard, is a founding member of the task force) and ABUS, the lock maker. They plan to continue the program until they run out of locks (they were only able to afford 300 of them, purchased at a reduced price).

If you missed out they’ll have another batch of locks to give away at Sunday Parkways Northeast that opens this Sunday at 11:00 am. The Bike Theft Task Force booth will be at the southwestern tip of NE Oneonta Street adjacent to Woodlawn Park.

Due to the popularity of this program, the BTTF needs some help! Please consider giving us a hand on Sunday. If you can volunteer just drop us a line and we’ll get you set up. Or, you can just show up at the booth at 10:00 am on Sunday morning.

Learn more about the U-lock? U-Rock! program on the Bike Theft Task Force website.

Disclaimer: BikePortland is a (proud) member of the task force.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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Caitlin D

I’m glad they’re able to do this again. It’s a great idea!


Awesome that bike registration is part of this program.


This is a win-win. A great example of helpful government.


Last Sunday I rode through the Rose Quarter to downtown. When I was coasting down the pedestrian bridge and path that leads from Peace Memorial Park to the Eastbank Esplanade, a 30-40 year old African American male on a bike in front of me was loudly telling everyone he passed that he “ain’t go no brakes” and was using his foot to slow himself going down the ramp.

With a quick glance I confirmed the fact he was on a fixie, which led me to believe the ride was stolen. (If it was his bike, he would know it had no brakes.) I observed him for a bit and sure enough he stopped two teenagers on the Steel Bridge and offered to sell it to them for $60.

I feigned interest in the bike and said I needed to find an ATM. I was frustrated when I realized that I had no way to inform anyone about this encounter so they might recover their wheels. And yes, the thought crossed my mind to call the police, but I did not.

Todd Boulanger

Thank you Project 529 AND PPB (Officer Dave Bryant)!!

Kyle Banerjee
Kyle Banerjee

Getting more people to use U-locks is great, but what the city really needs is more secure bike storage since bikes get stripped regardless how effective the lock is.

A lot of people would happily pay for bike lockers or other mechanisms. I would guess that the reason some people don’t commute is they don’t want to leave their bike locked outside all day.

Though if such conveniences were offered, it might become less acceptable to bring bikes in buildings…


I was at the North Sunday Parkways with 100s of people in line thinking that they were going to get a new lock.

It turns out that the police failed to mention that
1. They only brought 50 locks to an event with tens of thousands of people at it
2. That you had to have a smart phone with you that can download their app
3. That you had to have a bicycle with you that has a serial number.

Needless to say, there were loads of frustrated people who wasted their time. Don’t get me wrong, I love this program. I hope the PPD improves their social media communications.


If they only have fifty locks per event, they need to proceed to spread out the give-away over a course of hours.

This isn’t rocket science. Pretty much all the other vendors with a free give-away have you listen to their pitch or “register for a chance to win!” Or enter the drawing or spin the wheel or whatever. Pretty sure the police could do the same type of thing.

You know what would be really great? Have the first five winners present for a demonstration at noon. They lock their bikes with old lock, and police get to proceed with their demonstrations and easily steal the biked. Crowd cheers. People learn. Police proceed to get more publicity and info out to people — and it just works way better.

Paul Johnson

While I wholly advocate the U lock, and one as small as you can stand to fit around everything, there’s one thing that smacks me as odd.

I really haven’t felt paranoid about where I park in Tulsa. The city proper is about the same size, except we have far fewer attached suburbs. But it feels like a much larger city than Portland. Personally, I blame the insane skyscrapers that would totally violate pretty much all of Portland’s zoning laws, unique and interesting to look at architecture, and the fact something’s going on every weekend, whereas Portland is the generic city to film in because it looks like everywhere that has pine trees and there’s not really anything going on except for Rose Festival, which just needs to stop (Oaks Park does it better, cheaper, any week of the year, anyway; and I’m not just talking the midway; literally the whole thing). But feel pretty confident in just rolling up, drop front wheel off and lock through front, frame, rear, staple in Tulsa, and not worry about people stealing my cheap flasher taillight or my fenders here. Or even just to run in and get something at a shop or cafe that doesn’t have a staple nearby, through the front and the frame, essentially as a poor-man’s cafe lock, to keep someone from making off with it while I’m inside for 25-30 minutes.

I really can’t say the same as my hometown, in which a screwdriver is pretty much requisite to park. So that mountable items such as lights and a computer can be removed and taken with. Because yes, if you can put it on a bike frame, it’s been stolen off my bike, within an hour, in Portland. Sometimes while parked in an indoor facility requiring a key to access.

So, this whole “trade your lock” thing rather than spending police time on sting operations and removing thieves from the streets smacks me as on the same level as police offering women to trade skirts for jeans. Or as Transit Police told me after I was assaulted on the blue line between Washington Park and Sunset for holding hands with my boyfriend, to “not be gay.”

I guess Portland’s gotta Portland…

Ron G.
Ron G.

You can make the demo about the ease of cutting cables even more dramatic with a Felco or similar cable cutter. You can slip it in your back pocket, and it will cut any cable it can get its jaws around. That’s what I use for similar demonstrations, and people’s jaws drop when they realize a tool that’s so easily concealed, unlike the big bolt cutters in the photo, can snip a lock in a motion that doesn’t look much different than using a key.