Last week, the possibility that our beloved bicycle post-and-ring installations were easily vandalized shook many cyclists, not only compounding the fear of theft, but because the devices have become hopeful symbols of a changing Toronto. A local design envied and emulated by other cities, it’s only over the last few years that they’ve reached critical visibility (more than 16,000 are currently installed).
Admired by tourists and often compared to the iconic London Underground logo, the stout post-and-ring debuted in 1984 and has proved to be an ingenious design. Notable for both its brawn and simplicity, it avoids the banes of crowding and wheel-warping rails like other bicycle racks. Our humble ring-and-posts are quickly becoming as indelible an image as our red streetcars, and for that we should be proud.
There hasn’t yet been substantial evidence that vandals brandishing two-by-fours are wreaking mass havoc with the bike posts, but the City says they’re on it. It’s still pretty easy to boost a bike under the best of circumstances, but our “lollipops” have a pretty good track record. Nonetheless, many casual cyclists still don’t know the best steps to take when it comes to preventing theft, other than preparing for the unfortunate likelihood of it.
If a post-and-ring stand is broken or missing, call 416-39CYCLE or email firstname.lastname@example.org with the information. Program the number into your mobile phone. Watch for cracks at the bottom of the ring or missing bolts which might be intentionally pre-weakened to allow a thief to easily slide your bike off.
Do not lock your bike to a sign post or parking meter. It can often be lifted up and over the sign, lock and all. Post-and-ring stands are free for placement on public property. Submit a request form [PDF] and the City will investigate the location and install the devices if appropriate. Best of all, any citizen can request posts for any location, so if you want some outside your workplace or home, your employer or landlord doesn’t have to be the one to call.
Use the City’s post-and-ring stands; they’re your best bet. Fences, trees and simple bike racks are easily cut, pried or lifted. If using a bike rack on private property like your workplace or at a store, look for ones around security cameras and in well-lit views of staff.
Buy the right size U-lock. If the lock is too small, it won’t be able to lock both the frame and front wheel to the centre post. If it’s too large, it can be easily pried open with a metal bar inserted into the loop. A redundant second lock (like a Kryptonite hardened metal chain and padlock) increases the time and number of tools needed to boost your ride, and should be used to lock the other wheel. Point the U-lock keyhole to the inside and facing down, and make sure the chain is tight and high on the frame.
Is there construction or a film crew in the area? The city has been known to remove the ring-and-post stands (along with your bike) to accommodate them. Ask local security guards, concierges, or officers where the bikes would have been stored, or call Transportation Services at 416-39CYCLE.
Register your bicycle serial number with the police [PDF]. Good bike shops will also keep a record of your serial number, and it’s the only real hope for recovery if it gets stolen and pawned. Don’t get your hopes up though: only about 13% of stolen bikes are returned. Be sure to check the Cycling Cog lost & found listings and also register at the Bike Registry Canada.
Report the theft, dammit! Only half of the 7000 annual bike thefts are reported, and although bicycle crime is virtually a nonexistent priority for the cops, the volume of reports is what instigates action. Whether responded to or not, every call to the police is logged and tracked by a computer algorithm to give the police crucial trending information.
Don’t buy a bike at a pawn shop unless you can be sure that it doesn’t accept stolen goods. At least two Toronto pawn shops are suspected to trade in stolen bikes, and the Toronto Police disbanded their special unit investigating secondhand stores. That cheap bike might lawfully belong to a student, environmentalist or courier, and you don’t want to increase your karmic debt when you’ve chosen to share a road with cars.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Be a proud and involved cyclist who fights for change. Bike thiefs couldn’t care less, the cops are focused elsewhere, and city councillors are supposed to work for you, so call, email, blog, document, demonstrate, and educate.
And maybe someone out there will one day invent an exploding dye pack for bikes that are tampered with, similar to what retail stores have been doing for years. I’d prefer a high voltage Taser lock invention, undoubtedly illegal for the same reason they’d be so satisfying. Until then, we regard our charming ring-and-post as an emblem of positive growth as well as a civic detail that Toronto actually got right.