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We’ve Got a Thing ’bout The Post-and-Ring

bike_theft_cracks_in_ring.jpgLast 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.

bike_theft_missing_ring.jpgIf a post-and-ring stand is broken or missing, call 416-39CYCLE or email 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.
bike_theft_rack.jpgRegister 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.


  • rek

    I was going to ask why the ring and post are separate pieces to begin with, but apparently it’s so filmmakers can inconvenience cyclists. Smart thinking!

  • Cyclismo Futura

    All good points. 39CYCLE duly enter in my mobile. Have you read Virtual Light by William Gibson? It’s a near-future sci-fi novel featuring… electric shock bicycle alarm systems!

  • Sean Lerner

    Nice post. After having two bikes stolen earlier this year, I’ve switched to the two-lock system — one expensive u-lock and another chain lock. So far so good.
    I like the coloured bike posts a lot. Who’d want to break one of those?
    What are the unscrupulous bike shops? I heard Igor’s bike shop on Queen Street West is notorious for buying and selling stolen bikes.

  • Marc L

    Note that the City will be testing the rings today (Tuesday) to see if this is a particularly significant problem.
    The coloured rings are quite nice, but totally illegal to do. If people start painting the posts willy-nilly, you’re gonna get a whole batch of ugly ones. Sometimes the plain metal looks the best, but I’m not against colourizing them.
    Nonetheless, I love seeing them everywhere. Our bike posts are like the new horse hitching posts, minus the poop (usually).

  • Simon

    I’ve got a neat idea for a tracking system that’s kind-of like a cheap version of Boomerang for bikes. It’s a bit Orwellian actually. The trick is making it viable (ie, less expensive than the bikes).

  • Shawn S.

    Wow, you guys ain’t kidding. Just found these on Blue Jays Way across from Mercer St.
    Hits home as the wife put a lot of effort into researching her bike last year, only to have it stolen from being locked up on Adelaide by one of the office towers on a Sunday, with a construction crew working right nearby…

  • Fen

    I have a ring & post in my place with cement pedestal. :D I lock my BMX to it when i come home.

  • lola

    “often compared to the iconic London Underground logo”

  • Marc L

    Yup. I think it’s less because of it’s recognizability as an icon than because of the ring and bar shape turned on its side. Nonetheless, the posts are becoming a characteristic image of Toronto, and thankfully a positive one at that. The design and implementation has generally been seen as a success, unlike how we’ve been so slow to get the planned bike lanes installed.

  • chris

    oh come on…i like the bike posts too, but find me two people outside of toronto who know what the hell they are and the lollipops are on me.

  • Marc L

    The design has been used in cities like Ottawa and in parts of some states like California and New Hampshire, for example.
    I’m actually writing an upcoming article on what tourists take photos of other than the usual landmarks, and the bike racks are one subject I see constantly attracting interest. On first glance, they might look odd, but they are imprinted with “Lock Bicycle To Post” and a sticker (too politely) asking people to please walk bikes on the sidewalk.
    Considering their utility, I think they look quite nice. The versions in Ottawa have a metal ball at the top of the post instead of a cap.

  • Amy

    Yesterday when I came out of work, my bicycle, locked to a those ingenious ring-and-post lock-ups, was gone. a 2X4 lay on the sidewalk and the ring was snapped right in half. I had a good (NY kyrp)lock on it. so it does happen. more and more.

  • Amy

    By the way, the post and ring stands are made of super cheap steel….which was pretty obvious when I looked at the snapped-in-half ring. If you value your bike don’t lock them to the ring and post.

  • Stolled

    The Designer is a “brain cirurgeon” and ohhh…forget!

  • Alan

    Of course the construction does not inspire confidence. I wouldn’t lock my bike to it.

  • Amy

    I love how the city has a ‘hotline’ to call if your bike was stolen because the post and ring was snapped, but no one ever answers it, or responds to emails. Great job City of Toronto!

  • Veronika

    regarding post-and-ring, I was wondering if anyone ever complained, that they scrub the paint off a bike and damage it’s look, because they’re made out of metal parts and rub agains bikes. my bike is loosing it’s nice look due to that. shall we sign a petition?

  • Pantagruelia

    I’d rather have scratches on my bike than have it stolen.