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"Why should anyone steal a watch when he could steal a bicycle?" ~Flann O'Brien
March 14, 2012 5:03 AM   Subscribe

'Bike Thief' [NYTimes] The filmmaker Casey Neistat conducts an experiment in New York City, where he locks up his own bike and brazenly tries to steal it, to determine whether onlookers or the police would intervene. [More]
posted by Fizz (64 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
[Previously]
posted by Fizz at 5:07 AM on March 14, 2012


It's the daytime theft that confuses people. They expect bikes to be stolen at night. He should really try this experiment again at night. Also, don't be white.
posted by orme at 5:11 AM on March 14, 2012 [14 favorites]


The one comment I read on an older youtube video did make me think:
This entire video is a complete non-event. The reason nobody stopped him is cos they simply assumed he'd lost his key. He hasn't exactly proved how easy it is to steal a bike. When a thief is trying to steal a bike he isn't worried about members of the public, he's worried about the REAL OWNER turning up. All this guy has proved is that it's easy to steal a bike when you know nobody's gonna say "hey that's my bike" and proceed to beat the living daylights out of you.
posted by Fizz at 5:13 AM on March 14, 2012 [23 favorites]


I remember seeing something similar on a TV show (maybe linked on MeFi?) where they set up a bike in a public park and had first a white kid steal it, then a black kid. Some people even stopped to help the white kid (assuming that it was his bike), while a number of people called the cops on and even tried to physically restrain the black kid.
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:14 AM on March 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


I remember seeing something similar on a TV show (maybe linked on MeFi?) where they set up a bike in a public park and had first a white kid steal it, then a black kid. Some people even stopped to help the white kid (assuming that it was his bike), while a number of people called the cops on and even tried to physically restrain the black kid.

It was on "What Would You Do?" Clip here.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:26 AM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Previously.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:36 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the middle of the video they have a black friend steal their bike. Nobody bothered him. This made me happy. I know that it's a small sample size but maybe the world is becoming a better place.
posted by rdr at 5:38 AM on March 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


He should try the same thing with a car, and see what happens.
posted by schmod at 6:01 AM on March 14, 2012


Who wants a car when you can have a bike?
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:06 AM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


He should do the same thing with a COP car, then see what happens
posted by greenhornet at 6:06 AM on March 14, 2012


He should try the same thing with a car, and see what happens.
posted by schmod at 9:01 AM on March 14 [+] [!]

He should do the same thing with a COP car, then see what happens
posted by greenhornet at 9:06 AM on March 14 [+] [!]


I see that we're playing the fun game of "Escalation". Challenge accepted.

He should do the same thing with a baby, then see what happens.
posted by Fizz at 6:09 AM on March 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


He should do the same thing with a baby holding some yellow cake uranium, then see what happens.
posted by Saxon Kane at 6:13 AM on March 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


Hal grades your locking technique.
posted by monospace at 6:18 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


He should do the same thing with a baby, then see what happens.
In that case, it's actually the first step, where he chains it to a railing, which would probably get some attention.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:20 AM on March 14, 2012 [19 favorites]


Oh yes, The Third Policeman is fantastic. Read it form the start, ignore the precis on the back, just get stuck in and see what happens. It is fantastic, the first book where I wasn't sure what was going on until about the last page.

Also, At Swim Two Birds is some of the most beautiful writing I have ever had the pleasure to read.

So +1000 for the O'Brien reference.
posted by marienbad at 6:27 AM on March 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


"I see that we're playing the fun game of "Escalation". Challenge accepted.

He should do the same thing with a baby, then see what happens."

posted by Fizz

He should try it with Airforce One.
posted by marienbad at 6:27 AM on March 14, 2012


He should be chained to a fence, then a bike should try to steal him.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:39 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


He should do the same thing with a baby, then see what happens.
posted by Fizz at 9:09 AM


"You wouldn't steal a baby."
posted by orme at 6:48 AM on March 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


So it took him using an angle grinder in Union Square for 9 minutes to attract police attention. Jesus. And none of the squad of cops who confronted him had EVER caught a bike thief. Ever.
posted by Jon_Evil at 6:56 AM on March 14, 2012


An acquaintance of mine had her bike stolen this past Tuesday. She found it for sale on Craigslist the next day, with a cell phone number and everything, and called the police to ask what she should do -- would an officer go with her if she arranged to meet the guy?

They told her it was petty theft and she should deal with it on her own.

She decided that walking into a potentially dangerous situation with no protection wasn't worth it, and the best she could do otherwise was have the listing then down.

I have done Grand Jury in Brooklyn and seen dozens of kids dragged in for stealing each other's iPods, but NYC cops could not give less of a shit about cyclists or their gear, unfortunately.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:02 AM on March 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


taken down. ugh.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:03 AM on March 14, 2012


It was his menacing walk that held off people.
posted by stormpooper at 7:04 AM on March 14, 2012


He should do the same thing with a bike, then see what happens.
posted by joecacti at 7:44 AM on March 14, 2012


These cops have important things to do. Like stopping and frisking people!

Also, I wonder how much
This entire video is a complete non-event. The reason nobody stopped him is cos they simply assumed he'd lost his key. He hasn't exactly proved how easy it is to steal a bike. When a thief is trying to steal a bike he isn't worried about members of the public, he's worried about the REAL OWNER turning up. All this guy has proved is that it's easy to steal a bike when you know nobody's gonna say "hey that's my bike" and proceed to beat the living daylights out of you.
How does that make it a 'non-event'? It doesn't matter why people don't do anything, obviously people assume you're the owner. But the fact that they made that assumption doesn't make your bike come back It's still gone, regardless of why they didn't do anything.

It's kind of like saying "I got punched at the club last night!" and someone else saying "It's non-event, that guy only punched you out to impress a girl." It... has nothing to do with it.

Basically, this guy is saying that if you don't want your bike stolen, you have to either check on it every 5 minutes yourself? Kind of impractical.

Although I did think of one way you could maybe use technology to protect yourself. Maybe get a lock with an alarm on it or something. So long as it's charged up it could make noise if someone tries to cut it. Since camera modules are so small and cheap you could even add a security camera, and have it upload real time video if someone tries to steal it.
posted by delmoi at 7:45 AM on March 14, 2012


Why hasn't anyone created "Find my Bike" like they've created "Find my iPhone"? There's an obvious, overlapping market there.
posted by desjardins at 7:54 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


How conspicuous was the camera-man filming him?
posted by James Scott-Brown at 8:04 AM on March 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


They told her it was petty theft and she should deal with it on her own.

They want the statistics to show less crime so they try and discourage complaints.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:07 AM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, all this proves is that it's easy to steal a bike in random parts of NYC at random times of the day.

And that other people, who really honestly shouldn't give two shits either way, won't try to stop you. Would you try to stop someone with a crowbar or bolt cutters that is trying to steal a bike you have absolutely no concern for? No. You wouldn't.

I hate things like this video that take a miniscule sample size of something incredibly not important and try and draw large conclusions from it.
posted by Fister Roboto at 8:18 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


He should try it with the USS Nimitz, then see what happens.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:27 AM on March 14, 2012


What I got out of this is that Casey Neistat thinks that cops and random passersby should thoroughly interrogate anyone seen removing a bike by any method save that of obviously unlocking a lock--whether they lost their key, forgot a combination, or are simply removing an abandoned bike--because he found it inconvenient to carry his bike up a few flights of stairs at night. (This is also the same guy who did a video with his brother on the supposedly "user-nonreplaceable" iPod battery because he ruined an iPod while trying to replace the battery himself, an easy operation that I've done myself more than once with 100% success.) There are numerous ways of disguising the methods that he used to snap a chain--hiding the bolt-cutters in the sort of long bag used for bottles of wine or loaves of bread, for example--but never mind that.

Also, he should try it with the USS Enterprise--the starship, not the aircraft carrier--then see what happens. (Handy instructional video.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:34 AM on March 14, 2012


What this guy has proven is that if you really don't want your bike stolen, you need to use a fucking massive lock a thief would need a cutting torch to get through.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:38 AM on March 14, 2012


I think the issue is he is fucking with bikes in areas where nobody is really responsible. Parks and what looks like a parking lot. If he was fucking with a bike in front of someone's house , a store, or an apartment building someone would at least stop to talk to him,
posted by Ad hominem at 9:06 AM on March 14, 2012


in university, I had a bike chained to a tree through the winter. When move-out day came, I couldn't find the key, so I set to with a hacksaw. Everyone walking by understood what was going on, except for one old guy waving his hands in the air going "isn't someone going to do something? this is how it always happens".
The best defense is a good lock, because there is no solid way to tell thieves from people who lost their key.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:21 AM on March 14, 2012


All this guy has proved is that it's easy to steal a bike when you know nobody's gonna say "hey that's my bike" and proceed to beat the living daylights out of you.

In the middle of the video they have a black friend steal their bike. Nobody bothered him. This made me happy. I know that it's a small sample size but maybe the world is becoming a better place.

I tend to think that the thought process of the average (white) person seeing a black guy obviously stealing a bike would be if I say "hey that's [someone's] bike" he, perhaps with the assistance of nearby comrades, will proceed to beat the living daylights out of me. Because to most people black guy = potentially violent criminal.

In other words, I drew the opposite conclusion as you. I also think this applies, less racially charged, to the case of a white guy stealing a bike. In other words, someone brazenly attempting to steal a bike in broad daylight, armed with random metal tools, and likely a bit jumpy? Not to be approached.

The discussion seems to be mainly about this question of most people wanting to assume that the bike-stealer is legit in some way, but I'm really not sure that holds true. Especially in a big city like New York, best not fuck up my day is often a key consideration.
posted by dhartung at 9:27 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Most of the video appeared, to my eyes, to be some idiot who has lost his bike key trying to bust his own lock. This is because it's

(a) brazen,
(b) confident, and
(c) daytime.

Seeing this happen on the street, my brain would perform the following exercise:

Is this fellow trying to
(a) liberate his own bike, or
(b) steal a bike?

If (a), no action required.

If (b), what would happen if I confront the bike thief?

(c) Bike thief runs away.
(d) Bike thief claims it's his bike.
(e) Bike thief, who is a pretty big-looking dude, murders the shit out of me.

If (c), good job me! I have temporarily kept a guy from stealing a bike. He'll never try that again. Hang on, he probably will. In five minutes. In the same damn place.
If (e), that was a poor decision on my part.
If (d), and the guy claims it's his bike, what are my options?

(f) Argue with him, and hope to delay him until the owner arrives (if he is in fact not the owner)
(g) Call for the police
(h) Give up and walk away

Option (g) is pretty much a dead end. The police likely won't care, and I have no more proof that this guy is a thief than he has that he's the owner.
Option (f) may result in (e), which is again a bad thing, or significant distress and hassle to the guy if he is indeed the bike owner. If he isn't and the bike owner shows up, we're on to another confrontation, which may still result in (e) all 'round.
Option (h) is basically acknowledging that the whole exercise was a huge waste of time.

So -- without proof that this isn't the owner -- there are very few paths that lead to actual productive, crime-fighting actions, and a lot of actions that lead to false accusations, wasted time, heated arguments, and possibly my bloody death at the hands of a crowbar-wielding maniac.

I think I'd walk on by, and add this to the ever-growing list of ways in which I am inferior to Batman.
posted by Shepherd at 9:29 AM on March 14, 2012 [17 favorites]


If the police did stop him, it would be interesting to see him try to prove that he owned the bike we has stealing.
posted by smackfu at 9:30 AM on March 14, 2012


He should try it with the USS Nimitz, then see what happens.

He should try it with the USS Missouri, then see what happens.
posted by Gelatin at 9:36 AM on March 14, 2012


One time my bike was stolen when I had a job putting up movie posters. There really wasn't any way I could get around enough to do the job without it. None of the bystanders would help me stop the guy. I went to the police but they didn't really take the report seriously and there isn't much they can do anyway. I searched for it on my own and asked people for help but no one seemed to care. I thought I saw the guy who took it once and tried to get the police to help but there really wasn't any evidence and his friends backed up his story.

I was short on money and I really didn't think I could find another job with the economy the way it was, so, much to my shame I stole a bike from someone else. In a stroke of bad luck a police officer saw me and I was caught red handed. Luckily the owner decided not to press charges, but it was humiliating anyway and I think I learned my lesson. Two wrongs don't make a right.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:37 AM on March 14, 2012 [12 favorites]


furiousxgeorge: What a horrible story. I just hope that your son wasn't there to see you humiliated in front of him.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:41 AM on March 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Let me know where you found a place to pawn your bedsheets, furiousxgeorge. All the pawnshops in my neighborhood are koo-koo about bedbugs, and I really need a bike!
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:50 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I recall a similar video stakeout where they had a cyclist ask specific people to "watch his bike," then a different person walk up later and try to make off with it. The bike was not secured and each person agreed to watch over it. The clips showed an even split of people who protected the bike and those who ignored it. I think it was older than a "What Would You Do?" segment, but I don't really remember.

For what it's worth, I think I'd have the same reaction and thought process as Shepherd if I were a passerby in that situation.
posted by CancerMan at 9:50 AM on March 14, 2012


I am not sure why, but that video pained me to watch. I think it was because I just did not like the owner/thief guy. Seemed kind of douchee to me.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:52 AM on March 14, 2012


One time my bike was stolen when I had a job putting up movie posters. There really wasn't any way I could get around enough to do the job without it. None of the bystanders would help me stop the guy. I went to the police but they didn't really take the report seriously and there isn't much they can do anyway. I searched for it on my own and asked people for help but no one seemed to care. I thought I saw the guy who took it once and tried to get the police to help but there really wasn't any evidence and his friends backed up his story.

Dat's de sica-est story I ever heard.

(sorry).
posted by yoink at 10:02 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think trolling people with the plots of 40s era Italian cinema could be a meme native to metafilter.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:02 AM on March 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


I hate theft, and I especially hate bike thiefs, but as a former New Yorker my thought process of seeing someone stealing a bike in NY would be "Why is your shitty lock and bike worth stealing (that's parked on the street!!) my problem for confrontation with the two people I want to avoid most: criminals and cops."
posted by wcfields at 10:04 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I performed this experiment (though my intention was simply to go for a nice bike ride) in college a couple years ago when I couldn't find the key to my bike lock (naturally I found it a few days later). I grabbed my trusty Leatherman and went down to saw my way through the lock, which took about 20 minutes. It was the weekend of fall break, which meant the campus was pretty deserted.

During this process, Bill Nye––yes, the Science Guy––happened to walk by. He was an alum and visited periodically to give lectures. We nodded at each other and I carried on with the physical destruction of the lock.

Soon enough, the campus police roll up. Two cars naturally, because this was obviously the most activity they had seen all month. "Somebody said there was a suspicious person" the first officer said. Me: "I can't imagine why." I show my school ID, explain the situation and that I live in the building, and the cops are nowhere near satisfied. I point out that I'd have to be the worst bike thief in the world to spend 20 minutes painstakingly cutting this lock when there's a nicer bike sitting unlocked immediately next to mine. This argument also has no weight. Fortunately, I had registered my bike with the school when I bought the thing freshman year. Unfortunately, the police had no record of said registration. Finally, I drag the police up to my room, pop open my files, and produce the manual and receipt for the bike, which I have conveniently stored in a manilla folder because I'm anal like that. One would think this would be enough, but the cop is upset that the receipt has no serial number for the bike on it and proceeds to call the bike shop to ask about their receipt generation practices. They convince him that they don't put serial numbers on their receipts, and the police reluctantly agree to let me go with a warning that they are taking down my information and will be in touch if anyone reports my bike as stolen.

So I'm glad they took the situation seriously compared to most, but it seemed like a bit of overkill. I'm pretty sure he had nothing to do with it, but I've always liked to think that Bill Nye is the one who called the cops on me, because the whole thing is really just much cooler that way.
posted by zachlipton at 10:06 AM on March 14, 2012 [15 favorites]


I live in a big european city and I have a bike stolen about every 2.5 years. It's annoying when it happens but I don't cry about it too much. Mine typically get ganked when I get sloppy and don't chain it to something substantial enough or leave it in a semi-public location for several days.

My solution is to stick to cheap bikes. For the price of a monthly travel card you can buy a new (used) one. Some friend or neighbor always has a fixer-upper in the basement somewhere that they are willing to get rid of for 50 yoyos.

Also, a bit of shabbiness, poor painting or dorky decoration works well as camouflage.
posted by mr.ersatz at 10:31 AM on March 14, 2012


I wonder if pink "girly" bikes get stolen less.
posted by desjardins at 10:40 AM on March 14, 2012


Do not try this experiment in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, or Texas.
posted by bukvich at 10:49 AM on March 14, 2012


I wonder if pink "girly" bikes get stolen less.

As an ex-Torontonian, I can assure you no, all bikes get stolen.

In the late '90s there was a trend among university students to try to deter bike thieves by making their bikes as unappealing as possible. One friend painted her bike -- every non-moving part -- with some sort of "instant stucco" spray, in a vivid pink.

It looked like she was riding a giant wheeled tumour. It was ghastly.

It lasted a week before somebody smashed the Kryptonite lock, cut the chain, and stole it from her balcony, 10' above street level.
posted by Shepherd at 10:50 AM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I once took the wrong set of keys for my bike's lock (I had my wife's keys, and she had mine) and no less than three onlookers walked over to me and asked me what I was doing as I fumbled to get the lock off. Perhaps San Francisco is better about this kind of thing than New York is?
posted by maize at 10:51 AM on March 14, 2012


The problem with cheap bikes is it's difficult to find them in your size if you're not an average-sized male. If the only way to ride without taking a huge financial hit from theft is to ride awful bikes that don't fit you and cause you pain, why bother riding at all?
posted by asperity at 10:53 AM on March 14, 2012


greenhornet: "He should do the same thing with a COP car, then see what happens"

Boy, my neighborhood was tough. Kids used to steal hubcaps. Off of police cars. While they were moving.
posted by Splunge at 11:11 AM on March 14, 2012


It lasted a week before somebody smashed the Kryptonite lock, cut the chain, and stole it from her balcony, 10' above street level.

The problem is that she only executed the first step of what is actually a pretty effective theft-prevention strategy. Once you have your super-ugly bike, park it next to nice shiny bikes all the time, especially if those shiny bikes are secured with cable locks.
posted by invitapriore at 11:20 AM on March 14, 2012


As an ex-Torontonian, I can assure you no, all bikes get stolen.

As an ex-Torontonian, I can assure you that no, not all bikes get stolen.

I had three bikes stolen when I was a kid in Hammond, Indiana, one from my backyard, one from my garage, one when my sister borrowed it and left it in a friend's yard.

As a grown-up I've ridden bikes in Portland, Madison, Lexington, Toronto and Calgary and I've never had a bike stolen. I've had lights stolen, that's it.

Most bikes don't get stolen most of the time. I'd always assume that somebody cutting a lock off in broad daylight is rescuing her or his own bike and I'd be correct probably 99% of the time.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 11:38 AM on March 14, 2012


He should try and steal an election and see what happens. If he does it right, he gets the Nimitz, etc. along with.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:51 PM on March 14, 2012


Hasn't this been done a million times before? And the same guy did it back in 2006, right?

What's new? As YouTube commentators astutely note, "why it works is because i wouldn't say shit to a dude with bolt cutters, hacksaw, and a plugged in angle grinder who has the balls to steal a bike in broad daylight."

Is it the same video?
posted by mrgrimm at 1:18 PM on March 14, 2012


ah, followup, ignore me.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:19 PM on March 14, 2012


smackfu: If the police did stop him, it would be interesting to see him try to prove that he owned the bike we has stealing.

He could presumably convince them quite quickly by producing the key to the lock from his pocket.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 1:58 PM on March 14, 2012


zachlipton, are you by any chance black?*

* Just joking. I know black people don't post to bicycle theft threads on MetaFilter.
Just joking. I am myself black and I am posting to this thread.
Just joking.§
§ Again.
posted by mistersquid at 4:56 PM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bike Thief in Bucharest. Different city. Same results.

My favorite part is when a security guard comes up to him and offers to help him steal his own bike.
posted by adso at 6:52 PM on March 14, 2012


He should try it with the characteristic impedance of vacuum and see what happens.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:55 PM on March 14, 2012


He should try it with the USS Eldridge, then see what happens.
posted by deborah at 10:24 PM on March 14, 2012


"He could be stealing a bike, or it might be his bike. If he is the kind of person to flout the law like that, there's a non-trivial chance he's also the kind of person who would bludgeon me with those bolt cutters for pointing it out. Also, I'm thirsty for a drink that's only sold several blocks from here."
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:54 AM on March 15, 2012


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