New York Police Protect Obama from Bicycles

They were afraid that they might contain pipe bombs.

This is the correct reaction:

In any case, I suspect someone somewhere just panicked at the possibility that something might explode near the President on his watch, since the whole operation has the finesse of a teenage stoner shoving his pot paraphernalia under the bed and desperately trying to clear the air with a copy of “Maxim” when he hears his parents coming home.

Seems that it’s legal:

When asked by Gothamist, their precinct contact replied: “No, they just did this because the president was coming and they didn’t want anything on the sidewalks. You’re not supposed to lock you bike to signposts anyway, they have those new bike racks you’re supposed to use.”

I’ll bet you anything that they didn’t leave the bicycles that were locked to the racks.

Posted on April 27, 2010 at 6:27 AM56 Comments


JRR April 27, 2010 7:10 AM

‘Course, that said, I think it’d be pretty safe to only take bikes that had bags on them. I’d guess that would be not more than one in 1000, given that any bike left in that area with a bag on it wouldn’t have a bag on it 20 minutes later.

Champs April 27, 2010 7:31 AM

Alternative theory… bicycle lover that I am: a little housecleaning now and then wouldn’t kill anybody. Bicycles are the one item where lock-up-and-abandon is considered an”acceptable” method of disposal. You couldn’t get away with that if it was a car, a pet, or even a regular piece of garbage.

BF Skinner April 27, 2010 8:02 AM

@Luke Morton “Shouldn’t they of let bomb disposal deal with this?”

Rules to measure bogosity

If they are lying its and whatever they are selling — is bogus.

“Yes we were so afraid they might be pipe bombs that we took them from their rightful owners probably in violation of law and the 4th Ammendment and hauled them back to the police station where they could blow up.”

Uh, officers? FAIL.

freedomofeverything April 27, 2010 8:03 AM

Free bikes anyone? Head on down to Roy’s NYPD Bicycle Depot and take your pick!

Harry April 27, 2010 8:16 AM

It’s SOP to clear the way of extraneous objects when someone extremely important comes to town. These objects – trash cans, bikes, decorations – could hide something in advance and could also serve to obstruct pursuit of a fleeing bad guy.

Where NYPD went wrong was lack of notice. If that were my bike I’d be searching NY law about government appropriation of personal properly without proper notice. Then I’d aim to get actual damages and cost of my time.

Also? If the NYPD had given notice, they’d probably have a lot fewer bikes to clear. Less work for all.

I wonder, though, who was in charge and therefore to blame: NYPD or Secret Service?

Jared April 27, 2010 8:19 AM

So, did they also remove every garbage can, newspaper stand, and postage bin along the street as well? How about lights or other decorative fixtures on the buildings immediately next to where the bikes were? Did they inspect every utility box on every street pole along the way? Did they pry up every manhole and see if something had been taped to the underside?

Juergen April 27, 2010 8:23 AM

@Jared: During such visits, manholes usually ARE inspected, and welded shut – no, I’m not joking.

Also, keep in mind that there HAS been one terrorist incident with a bike-mounted bomb (in Germany, Alfred Herrhausen was killed by the RAF using a bomb attached to a parked bike)

Guillaume Daudin April 27, 2010 8:49 AM

When I was in London in the late 1990s, early 2000s, there was a whole zone around Westminster where parking bikes was forbidden for similar security concerns.

It already sounded strange to me then.

And I had my bike removed from in front of the Sorbonne for a speech by Mitterand in the mid 1990s. The lock was never refund 🙁

kangaroo April 27, 2010 8:55 AM

That Herrhausen story is very interesting.

An actual movie plot in action — interesting that someone with such capabilities would resort to terrorism.

Rick April 27, 2010 8:58 AM

@Juergen – I had to check the story to discover why the RAF were dropping bicycles out of aeroplanes rather than plain bombs.

n8han April 27, 2010 9:16 AM

Manhole covers are not welded shut in New York every time the president drives by. We would notice that. Possibly they are supposed to lock them, and somehow “secure” every construction site along the entire route, etc. Given the NYPD’s well known ulterior motives, they will slack on those boring tasks that don’t harm people they view as “anarchists” and leap at any chance to destroy bicycle locks and seize and damage bicycles with no notice.

This is unacceptable, regardless of whatever other measures are taken and even if they deign to give notice in the future. If a president coming to town means New Yorkers can not lock their bicycles outside, let the cowards stay away from our city. I wonder if anyone in government has even bothered to test their paranoid bicycle bomb fears by blowing up one near an armored cadillac, before committing what must by now amount to millions of dollars of property damage.

Also, I’ve ridden in the same subway car with Bloomberg. Man up, Obama!

Schnorkel April 27, 2010 9:25 AM

This is ridiculous on so many levels. A bike is not a threat to the presidential armored tank “beast”. If that vehicle can take directed rifle fire from say a .308 and RPG rounds at 2500 – 3000 FPS as advertised, the best pipe bomb in the world isn’t going to be able to direct the necessary energy, nor would the shrapnel have the mass or aerodynamics to impact a target to make any effect… unless they were really worried about scratching the friggin paint.

I want to believe this wasn’t a secret service requirement. They usually have an advance team take care of loose ends well in advance and smartly; as in not half-witted. I would think this is most likely an overzealous, overpaid, unintelligent, over-pensioned and overweight cop or civil-“servant” at NYPD, that got the brilliant idea to ruin several hundred peoples’ day’s commute to work, and not even give 2 thoughts about it.

I hope someone gets fired over this! Friggin Jerk!

Adrian Lopez April 27, 2010 9:27 AM

There’s no real justification for the removal of bicycles and other private property without proper notice, but try convincing the legal system of that when national security or the president’s security is brandied about as an excuse.

Schnorkel April 27, 2010 9:29 AM

One more thing to my above comment… Secret Service would know that a pipe bomb is not a threat to the protected president, they know the specs intimately of their gear, and I’d guess the wouldn’t think twice about this particular movie plot threat. They really do have enough other valid threats to worry about.

Jym Dyer April 27, 2010 9:35 AM

=v= If the NYPD actually thought there bicycles were explosive, they would’ve sent out the Bomb Squad. Instead, they sent out regular uniformed officers who grabbed these bikes and threw them up onto a pile on the truck.

There are thousands more bicyclists than bike racks, and it is NOT illegal to lock them to lampposts and other street furniture, so long as they aren’t in the way. See this NYPD publication for details:*/

Even so, the NYPD has been cutting locks and seizing bikes since the Republican National Convention in 2004, using a Giuliani-era “abandoned property” law as their pretext.

DanK April 27, 2010 9:38 AM

Maybe they should have removed those metal fences as well, they look like they could house explosives within their frames.

nik April 27, 2010 10:01 AM

The Alfred_Herrhausen bomb was in a SADDLE bag. It was a heavvy coppy plate backed by a lot explosives. – NOT something that can be concealed IN a bike.

nik April 27, 2010 10:16 AM

The RAF was composed of a lot of university students that were quite interlligent. Not smart – because positical assasination is not any effective tool – plus the man had a family (there is avery intersting documentary about this where his widow gets interviewed).

The intersting things is how the german authorities handled the domestic terrorist threat with the judicial systems and with the existing laws quite effectively. And nowadays this group is no more and a lot of the members were caught, sympatisants and others changed their ways and many truly regret their misguided actions. It’s a sad example how intelligent people can follow bad ideas.

Excellent police work of hard working state & federal agents along with the BKA & BND was the key.

I’m sure that this “remove the bikes” actions did not come from the Secret Service or any compentent Law enforecement agency. They do not want to annoy people, just do their work effectively.

Dave April 27, 2010 10:25 AM

We know how precious the security services are when it comes to protecting their beloved president, but if I was a cop, I am not sure if I would be happy collecting bicycles on the pretence that they may be a pipe bomb in disguise.

Obviously there is a precedent that requires that life of an NYPD cop is considered expendable where the life of a president is not.

ted April 27, 2010 10:31 AM

Did they remove the mailboxes, lamp posts and street lights? How about the trees? Did they prohibit pedestrians. All of these are as dangerous as a bicycle.

The incompetence of the NYPD knows know limits.

Davi Ottenheimer April 27, 2010 10:47 AM

Seems to me someone in enforcement had a sidewalk cleanup agenda that benefited from the “elevated” risk event.

The key appears here:

“You’re not supposed to lock you bike to signposts anyway”

Probably nobody in the force was allowed the time/resource luxury to deal with this sort of thing (bike abandonment and signposts, etc.) until sidewalk cleanup became legitimately the top priority.

Lessons from this could be 1) need proper notification and warnings prior to bike enforcement, like cars 2) improve and clarify bike parking options. Why not design signposts to double as bike racks?

kangaroo April 27, 2010 11:00 AM

nik: According to the Wall Street Journal, it wasn’t the RAF at all. Way too sophisticated — it was the Stasi using the RAF as a cover for an assassination (with unclear motivations).

When you see a movie plot — it’s probably not random “terrorist” but the really crazy folks.

mcb April 27, 2010 11:49 AM

OTOH taking precautions to keep the Secret Service from being startled is probably a good idea. They’ve come a long way from packing an Uzi in a briefcase. You do not want to be present when the doors and hatches on the Suburbans pop open…

peri April 27, 2010 12:54 PM

Well this would never have happened in Boston because the police there know that you can tell a bomb because it has large numbers counting down and a mess of differently colored wires.

Cameron April 27, 2010 1:15 PM

I was in NYC Thursday during this event. I saw the bikes getting cut from bike racks by NYPD. There were signs posted along the route that said “no bike parking today”. I took a pic of one of the notes with a cut lock on the ground in the background:

JRR April 27, 2010 1:54 PM

I’d like to see them come along at 6AM sometime and put hokey-looking laser printed pieces of 8.5×11 paper saying “no car parking today” then towing cars away 20 minutes later. That’d go over well.

Adrian Lopez April 27, 2010 2:01 PM

  1. Look for a parked bike.
  2. Affix note that reads “no bike parking today.”
  3. Break lock.
  4. Take bike.
  5. Dump onto truck.

NobodySpecial April 27, 2010 2:35 PM

Note for non-USA readers:
Just to add to the irony – the president was in New York to celebrate “Earth day”.

So apart from the existing bad press of the president and vice-president flying from Washington in separate planes and driving in with separate motorcades the city responds by destroying the one Earth Day appropriate form of transport.

Jim A. April 27, 2010 2:57 PM

JRR well in DC what they do is tow them to side streets and park them there. Illegally. So that if you’re out of town when the president decides to go out to dinner, you come back and your car is gone. You report it stollen and don’t have any idea that they’ve moved it until it is towed to lockup for being abandoned and having a ton of parking tickets.

BF Skinner April 27, 2010 4:13 PM

“You’re not supposed to lock you bike to signposts anyway”

“Supposed to” in whose mind?
Should does not equal shall.

Even if there were enough bike racks and garages in the city is it illegal? No? then they are making stuff up.

The law has few absolutes–it’s what annoys people with little tolerance for gradations in reality.

Stuart: Sheldon, I’m afraid you couldn’t be more wrong.
Sheldon: “More wrong?” Wrong is an absolute state and not subject to gradation.
Stuart: Of course it is. It’s a little wrong to call a tomato a vegetable; it’s very wrong to say it’s a suspension bridge.

John April 27, 2010 5:44 PM

@BF Skinner

I think I would have quoted Wolfgang Pauli instead…..

Das ist nicht nur nicht richtig, es ist nicht einmal falsch!
“Not only is it not right, it’s not even wrong!”

TheDoctor April 28, 2010 3:24 AM

When the US president is concerned security goes hyperbolic.

On 23. February 2005 Bush visited the city of Mainz, Germany and most of the inner city was effectly denied to the local population.

Same happens now in the US itself.

I’m sure it will get worse.

Anonymous Coward April 28, 2010 4:21 AM

If you are a bit handy, you can certainly introduce a lot of explosives(a few pounds?) into a parked bike, preferably a mountain bike with thick, masculine tubing. Grind the tubing in half, fill the tubes with explosives – C4 or whatever you have available – rig the detonator making sure the bike is the antenna. Then seal by adding a new layer of tubing; if you have the tools weaken the inside of the tubing to encourage fragmentation. Spraypaint the entire bike in a neutral color. Park the bike at a convenient location. Wait.

Bryan April 28, 2010 10:22 AM

@Anonymous Coward

I’m guessing the NYPD person behind this brilliant move had the same active imagination. That still doesn’t justify how this was handled.

Bike owners could have been notified in advance and given a chance to move their bikes off the street.

If police actually believed there was a threat, they would have had bomb squad handle the removal of every single bike. Or, alternatively, use a bomb sniffing dog (if that exists?) to decide that none of the bikes are a threat.

If they were being at all reasonable, they would also have decided that the chances of any bike actually being a bomb are statistically non-existent. Or, the chances of anything else on or near the street being a bomb are equal and they would have to remove EVERYTHING.

Nothing is gained by reacting to one imagined plot in an illogical way and there aren’t enough resources to react to every imaginable plot.

This was handled wrong in about every way possible.

Kingsnake April 28, 2010 11:01 AM

The president smokes. Might want to remove the cancer sticks from his pocket lest he come to harm.

Oh, and if anyone tries to offer him a cigarette? Blow the SOB away. Obviously it’s an attempt on the president’s life.

LMayer April 28, 2010 12:54 PM

Could the Blog post please mention that the “afraid” link is NSFW? I work at a government facility, and pulling up sites like this can be dangerous for your career…

Tim April 28, 2010 1:07 PM

Not sure how fact based that part of the book was, but Graham Greene’s The Quiet American had bicycle bombs being used to kill civilians in Saigon. I won’t say what country was behind them though, in case of spoiling an excellent read for anyone.

jm April 28, 2010 3:30 PM

A month or so ago I went to the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, but it was a Tuesday and it was closed. But not to VIPs. I’m pretty sure that Michelle Obama and kids were there. There were plenty of large police and other unmarked vehicles. A crowd gathered on the opposite side of the street to watch. Pedestrians coming from the (way more dangerous) west side were told to turn around. Pedestrians from the (way less dangerous) east side appeared to arrive without much hinderance. Traffic down the street was not blocked. Parked cars were not moved. Every few minutes we were moved another 30 feet further down the block. Eventually there was no way to see the entrance to the museum and most of us gave up. The cops who in charge of preventing pedestrians from walking up the block would mill around and wander off and so new pedestrians would walk up the block where we had been told not to go.
One had the impression that a) not all cops who end up on this detail are actually trained for this sort of event b) the people in charge of assigning cops to this detail don’t get enough lead time to assign experienced cops, and c) in a ‘if you see something, say something’ world, pretty well anything can be something, especially if you’re plunked into a situation which is both tense (it’s the first lady!) and boring (pedestrian duty).

Komori April 28, 2010 4:01 PM

@Anonymous Coward

You could do it to a street-light, too. Or, to be really snide about the whole thing, one of those poles with the police camera on it they have in Chicago and the like.

inetlocksmith April 28, 2010 11:10 PM

Bad terrorists make pipe bombs that look like bikes. Better ones make pipe bombs that look like bike racks.

thinker April 29, 2010 4:02 AM

successful terrorists use the reflectors of the bike to trigger the foto sensor of a bomb placed on the carrier of the bike.

cf. the death of the chairman of Deutsche Bank

Of course this also required some ground work for the wires of the laser but this was easily done and even after weeks the abandoned traffic cones for redirecting the traffic around the small ditch for the wires where still on site.

bob April 30, 2010 7:28 AM

The Herrhausen bomb wasnt BUILT INTO a bike – it was in a “bag” hanging all over a bike – it had a bigass copper plate in it as a penetrator – it weighed almost 50 pounds; if one of THESE was unattended along the side of the road it wouldn’t simply look suspicious it would scream “BOMB!” at you from a block away.

If I was a presidential assassin I would be tempted to build a bomb into the frame of a city bike RACK just to be funny. Waaaay more room for explosive; you can even develop a shaped charge along the spine.

If they are actually worried about bike bombs instead of just trying to flaunt their power and cow the citizens by destroying private property without warning, then the city should cut down/remove anything that is both metal and cylindrical – light posts, street signs, traffic lights.

This is just an example of being lazy by only focusing on small, easily portable, innocuous objects instead of the real threat, which is this: Anything that has weight and occupies space COULD be a bomb (just like it COULD be an alien in disguise) – including roadway concrete and manhole covers (do they weld these shut along the presidential route? – they would make a great penetrator with a shaped charge underneath), little dogs that arent moving much, hotdog stands (for that matter hotdogs themselves look a LOT like dynamite, especially the deadly “movie dynamite”), apartment buildings, SWAT trucks, people on street corners selling fuzzily labeled DvDs out of coolers. They should get rid of all those things too. What the heck, collect and destroy bankers too just on principle.

Dr. T May 2, 2010 7:31 PM

“So, did they also remove every garbage can, newspaper stand, and postage bin along the street as well?”

Postage bin? What’s a postage bin? Do you mean those blue boxes for dropping-off mail? The ones that no longer exist anywhere but outside Post Office buildings themselves? Ever since the movie Speed, they were considered to be bomb hiding places, which gave USPS an excuse for removing them. (After all, the USPS unofficial motto is “Much Better Pay for Us, Much Worse Service and Higher Prices for You.”

Mark May 3, 2010 12:49 PM

The Alfred_Herrhausen bomb was in a SADDLE bag. It was a heavvy coppy plate backed by a lot explosives. – NOT something that can be concealed IN a bike.

Nor is it something which needs a bike.

Alfred Herrhausen was killed in 1989 whereas Eduard Shevardnadze survived an attack from at least 10 well armed paramilitaries in 1998. Both attacks involve Mercedes Benz armored cars. No doubt that lessons are learned every time such a car is attacked so a repeat of an attack like that which killed Alfred Herrhausen or Giovanni Falcone (in 1992) is unlikely to do so today.

Mark May 3, 2010 1:05 PM

This is ridiculous on so many levels. A bike is not a threat to the presidential armored tank “beast”. If that vehicle can take directed rifle fire from say a .308 and RPG rounds at 2500 – 3000 FPS as advertised, the best pipe bomb in the world isn’t going to be able to direct the necessary energy, nor would the shrapnel have the mass or aerodynamics to impact a target to make any effect… unless they were really worried about scratching the friggin paint.

Being able to survive driving over a bomb in the road is also a requirement of any modern armored passenger car.

Looking at the spec of “The Beast” about the only thing which could seriously hurt it would be a helicopter gunship.

Tree May 3, 2010 2:13 PM

@Dr. T
If you had been to NYC (or paid any attention) you would have seen Blue drop-boxes all over the place. You would also see green drop boxes meant for the delivery people.

Also, stop whining.

Boxer May 17, 2010 12:57 PM

Great job! Next time the President comes to town do not forget to remove the underwear from everyone along his route since the “underwear bomber” proved this to be a successful medium for “package delivery”. Good Grief!

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