Dude, Where’s My Bike!?

Where's my bike?
Worst example of how to NOT lock your bike. Click pic for more. Photo courtesy: http://lockyourbike.wordpress.com/page/3/

‘How to recover a stolen bike and reduce your chances of being a victim’

Being a busy bike shop in the middle of a campus of 20,000+ bicyclists you can imagine that we’ve fielded a few emails and stories about stolen bikes and given this topic A LOT of thought.   Most people  ask, “what do I do now?”.   Some, unfortunately give up on bicycling altogether after getting one or more stolen.

Our best advice for AFTER-THEFT action:

1.  CRITICAL!  Assuming the bike is worth the effort, always report it to at least one police department so that the serial number and other key features are on file in their database(s) which pawn shops and others also refer to state wide and sometimes nation wide.

Stripped bike on campus
Don’t let this happen to your bike!

2.  BEST IDEA! To avoid spending countless hours scouring eBay and Craigslist, etc. to find your bike,  create a Google Alert which means you give Google some key words and your email address and anytime Google finds something online that matches your keywords you’ll get an email! Google search-bots will do it for you!

3.  Stop by the area pawn shops to check their inventory and leave them a flyer with a photo, serial number, etc. so that they’ll be aware and put on notice if someone comes trying to sell it.  Often times serial numbers are very hard to find and/ or difficult to read for numerous reasons, so some pawn shops may unknowingly have stolen bikes for sale.

4.  Post your stolen bike info. incl. photos and all other unique identifying items (serial number especially) to a new Facebook group recently created (http://www.facebook.com/groups/michhatesbikethieves/ ) and get some other eyeballs out there for you as some thieves will likely stay offline to launder stolen bikes.

For those of you reading this BEFORE a theft, here’s my best advice:

Anti-theft skewers for wheels to replace the 'quick release' type that require no tools to loosen.
Anti-theft skewers for wheels to replace the ‘quick release’ type that require no tools to loosen.
  1. Secure any components that have quick-release mechanisms with anti-theft type mechanisms that require a special tool to loosen.  Seats and wheels are commonly stolen when they have quick releases as well as lights and other nice accessories.  Anti-theft skewers for wheels to replace the ‘quick release’ type that require no tools to loosen. Anti-theft skewers for wheels to replace the ‘quick release’ type that require no tools to loosen.
  2. Take detailed photos of your cherished bikes NOW before anything happens to them and record your serial number!  Be sure to document any unique features especially certain scratches (aka your bike’s ‘birth-mark’) that would prove your ownership.  While you’re at it put a rider on your home/ renters insurance with that information.  Keep your receipts of purchase too.
  3. Use the best lock you can afford (U-shaped locks are generally the strongest when used correctly) if you want to prevent theft of your bike.
  4. Lock your bike correctly (for examples of both good and bad locking techniques see pics in this gallery) to a good bike rack or, lacking a good rack, to something that’s not movable and/or easily cut.
  5. Lock your bike in an area that’s highly visible; more secluded areas tend to have more theft as fewer people can potentially catch them in the act; thieves prefer to work when it’s dark and where it’s dark.
  6. If your bike is flashy (i.e. newer, bright colors), and expensive it’s best to NOT lock up outside at night ever; bring your bike inside at night to avoid potential thieves/ vandals.
  7. If you have the option on a large rack park your bike in the middle somewhere and not on the ends.  Bikes on the ends tend to attract thieves and drunks who apparently enjoy kicking bike wheels.  Maintenance trucks, mowers, etc. also tend to hit the bikes on the ends.

More anti-theft tips:

Ever forget your lock and need to lockup for a quick visit to a store or cafe?  Here are a few quick tips:

  • Take your whole bike inside with you; if the staff protest remove (and take it with you) just your front wheel and that will deter most would-be thieves.
  • For older bikes open the quick-release on your rear wheel; as soon as the would-be thief tries to ride off the rear wheel will shift in the frame and lockup (only works on bikes without vertical drop-outs).
  • If you have a newer bike you can remove the front wheel quick-release skewer and pull the wheel out of the fork and set it next to the bike to make it appear broken/ unrideable.
  • Use your helmet and strap it thru one of your wheels and frame; it will deter someone trying a quick ‘grab and ride’ theft.
  • This one is more complex, only works with certain brakes and requires some forethought: adjust one of your brakes with the release in the open position then close it when necessary to lock your brake much like a parking brake on a car.  The bike won’t roll until the brake release is opened.
  • Check out the late Sheldon Brown’s page of additional clever anti-theft tips.
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Author: Tim Potter

Sustainable Transportation Manager, MSU Bikes Service Center; member of the All University Traffic & Transportation Committee (http://auttc.msu.edu); founding member of MSU Bike Advisory Committee (https://msubikes.wordpress.com/volunteer-donate/msu-bac/); advocate for local & regional non-motorized transportation issues thru the Tri-Co. Bike Assn. Advocacy Committee (http://groups.google.com/group/tcatc); board member of the Ride of Silence (http://www.rideofsilence.org); year-round bicyclist of all sorts; photographer; soccer player; father of 3; married 30 yrs. to Hiromi, Japanese national (daughter of former Natl. Keirin Champion, Seiichi Nishiji); Christ follower.

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