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Is the juice worth the squeeze?
September 20, 2012 6:18 PM   Subscribe

It seems as if stealing bikes shouldn’t be a lucrative form of criminal activity. Used bikes aren’t particularly liquid or in demand compared to other things one could steal (phones, electronics, drugs). And yet, bikes continue to get stolen. What happens to these stolen bikes and how do they get turned into criminal income?
posted by Obscure Reference (95 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Much as I've grown to love Timothy Olyphant on Justified, that is one unexpected movie reference.
posted by JauntyFedora at 6:26 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a visceral response to bike theft. I feel, counter to all of my politics and beliefs that it would be perfectly OK to execute bike thieves. I do not feel the same way about car thieves, or even for the thieves that recently stole two MacBooks from my home.

But bike thieves, they are, to me, a breed apart.
posted by Danf at 6:40 PM on September 20, 2012 [19 favorites]


Even if you take these strong precautions, your bike may still get stolen.

Followed by picture of someone who locked just their wheel to the rack...
posted by nathancaswell at 6:40 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


But bike thieves, they are, to me, a breed apart.

They used to hang horse thieves, you know.
posted by the painkiller at 6:44 PM on September 20, 2012 [18 favorites]


I'm not seeing how bike thieves are a breed apart, but then I'm a person that has managed to get 5 perfectly working bikes, including an adult one, for well under $100 total. I see bikes as valuable but not expensive, if you see what I mean. Important to have but easy to replace.
posted by DU at 6:46 PM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ugh. I had two bikes stolen within 6 months. One a fairly expensive hybrid that I'd invested in, and was using for commuting since I'd committed to being car free. The second was a much more inexpensive schwinn from target.

I cried for days over that second theft and haven't gotten another bike since. I can't shake the futility of buying a nice lock. Also, even an inexpensive bike costs quite a chunk of change. Every used bike I've looked at is either poorly maintained or suspiciously nice for where it's being sold. I won't buy a bike that I think might be stolen.
posted by bilabial at 6:46 PM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Mandatory soundtrack
posted by goHermGO at 6:49 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks for this post. In many ways, understanding the current bike-theft epidemic is like unraveling a big cable-knit sweater, that someone keeps knitting...

...and knitting...

...and KNITTING...

...AND KNITTING...

...AAAAAAND KNITTING!
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:49 PM on September 20, 2012 [23 favorites]


Also, this post is making me think of Crunch, which I'm currently reading to the older kids. It's kind of smug and self-satisfied but also crammed full of bikes and bike-thieves.
posted by DU at 6:53 PM on September 20, 2012


Buuuuurn on Goldman-Sachs!

Bike thievery is essentially a risk-free crime. If you were a criminal, that might just strike your fancy. If Goldman Sachs didn’t have more profitable market inefficencies to exploit, they might be out there arbitraging stolen bikes.
posted by hot_monster at 6:54 PM on September 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Previously: "There are four main forms of currency in the big city: money, drugs, sex, and bicycles. One of them is often left unattended on the sidewalk."
posted by ovvl at 7:00 PM on September 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


Bikes can cost thousands of dollars; their theft should be treated just as seriously as auto-theft.

Side note: I have actually managed to recover a stolen bike (a friend of mine spotted it and essentially stole it back from the kid who was riding it); the same bike was stolen a couple of years later. This time, I didn't get it back. I haven't had a bike since because I rarely have a few $100 to spare.
posted by asnider at 7:04 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


The trick to not having your bike stolen is to ride shitty bikes.

/hamburger
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:06 PM on September 20, 2012


I saw a bike getting stolen today while driving through downtown. I honked and yelled and tried to get a picture, but my phone didn't start on time.

I didn't get out of the car though. Not sure what else I should have done, but it sure felt like crap afterwards.
posted by cacofonie at 7:07 PM on September 20, 2012


I would love to know the proportion of U-locks versus chain/cord locks used on all bikes that are stolen. I use a U-lock on mine and leave it all over the place, and knowing that my last two bikes were stolen when I was using a cord lock gives me a sense of security I'm not sure I should have.
posted by Defenestrator at 7:09 PM on September 20, 2012


In my neighborhood they get stripped all the time! Handlebars, wheels, seats until there is a bike carcass just chained there. Put your bikes in the apartment kids!
Also there is a bike registry in NYC now.
posted by swooz at 7:09 PM on September 20, 2012


cacofonie: "Not sure what else I should have done, but it sure felt like crap afterwards."

Call the cops. You never know if there's a patrol officer cruising around the area looking for something to do.
posted by Defenestrator at 7:10 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Squeak... Squeak... everyone needs wheels.
posted by ethansr at 7:12 PM on September 20, 2012


You don't really live in Key West until your fifth bike has been stolen. First, you buy nice bikes, but then you shift to beaters. With good locks. And you lock it even if you're going into Walgreens for one minute. Period.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 7:15 PM on September 20, 2012


I'm not seeing how bike thieves are a breed apart, but then I'm a person that has managed to get 5 perfectly working bikes, including an adult one, for well under $100 total.

Goodness, DU-- didn't you see how tempting it would be for someone to come along and say something like 'huh, I can see they're not a breed apart for you; you must know some pretty well, as a matter of fact.'

It's like you left that comment leaning up against this post unlocked on purpose, or something.
posted by jamjam at 7:16 PM on September 20, 2012 [27 favorites]


The trick to not having your bike stolen is to ride shitty bikes.

I once had a shitty bike- I mean, the shittiest bike- and I didn't want to deal with it anymore. So I stuck it on the bike rack at a Walmart with no lock, hoping someone would steal it. I checked back three days later, and, not wanting to litter, chucked it in a dumpster.
posted by Jpfed at 7:17 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Three things:

1) One of the neat(?) Things about my time in Montreal was seeing bikes locked on the street in the fall, then barely recognizing them in the spring as they revealed themselves through melting snow, usually mangled and bent by uncompromising assualts by snow removal equipment. There is one behind my house right now that has been strapped to a telephone pole since I moved in 3 years ago.

2) When a friend of mine got his bike stolen (in Montreal, on the McGill campus) he was approached on his walk home to buy a stolen bike for $30. He accepted. That bike was stolen a few weeks later but yet, again, he was offered a stolen bike on his walk home. By that point he figured $30 every month or two was fine, and since he didn't care how nice the bike was as long as it got him from A to B, this worked for him.

3) A friend of mine who went to UCSB was appalled at the lack of care students there gave their bikes. They'd be riding $2000 bikes and just lay them around campus without even bother to lock them. My buddy got all his bikes from some weird (German?) Homeless guy that apparently had hundreds of bikes in some secluded spot in the woods. He would "acquire" them, fix them up, and sell them cheap. Last I heard he got deported and my buddy made one last pass through the bike graveyard to pick a few nice bikes before it all disappeared - cleaned up by the city, most likely.
posted by mbatch at 7:23 PM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I once had a shitty bike- I mean, the shittiest bike- and I didn't want to deal with it anymore. So I stuck it on the bike rack at a Walmart with no lock, hoping someone would steal it. I checked back three days later, and, not wanting to litter, chucked it in a dumpster.

There's a bike coop around here that charges about 50-100$ for a refurb road bike. They use the proceeds to give homeless guys bikes for free. Every time i get one stolen, it doesn't really bother me all that much b/c I'm just paying 50-100$ to make sure that desperate people get better bikes, legally. That said, I usually only lose a bike every couple years.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:24 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The bikes might all be loaded en masse onto a freighter and taken to Africa, Carib, or Asia. "Freighters loaded with stolen bikes confiscated"
posted by surplus at 7:26 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Police and prosecutors don't take any crime perpetrated against a bicyclist qua bicyclist seriously.

If you want to kill someone and don't mind spending a few weekends picking up trash along highways, just give them a bike and run them over when they're riding it one day.
posted by jamjam at 7:26 PM on September 20, 2012 [34 favorites]


My university has a huge problem with bikes being stolen. It's gotten to the point where if the campus police see a bike that isn't locked down, they'll take it and hold onto it because otherwise it definitely will be stolen. The bike owner calls the police to report the bike missing, the police return the bike. No problem, right? But apparently not everybody is aware that the cops do this, since some bikes go unclaimed. The bikes that go unclaimed after a year are donated to charity.

At a recent meeting of the school's independent newspaper, an article was assigned to investigate this. Is there a giant room in the campus police's basement filled with bikes? What charity do the bikes get donated to? Etc.

So on one hand, we have an article about what happens to bikes when criminals take them. On the other, we have an article (coming soon!) about what happens to bikes when cops take them. Irony is excellent.
posted by The Girl Who Ate Boston at 7:28 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


You don't really live in Key West until your fifth bike has been stolen. First, you buy nice bikes, but then you shift to beaters. With good locks. And you lock it even if you're going into Walgreens for one minute. Period.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 10:15 PM on September 20 [+] [!]


Lived in key west a long time, never had a bike stolen there. Though, those bikes never anywhere approaching nice. They also were almost always in a fenced yard (in Bahama Village, where thieves were skipping straight to your coin jar) or chained up where I could see them turtle kraals, blue heaven, I guess waterfront market doesn't fit that description.)

I hear the buses pick you up now if you flag them down while you're standing at a bus stop. That warms my heart a bit.
posted by bilabial at 7:33 PM on September 20, 2012


My aunt tells the story of her riding her shiny, brand new bike around the campus of Indiana University back in the late 70's. She locked her bike to the bike rack, went to class, and while she was in class apparently some guys pulled up a truck and just lifted the rack and the bikes into it and drove off.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:33 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Folding bicycle. It comes inside, it doesn't get stolen. Hard to use at the movies or the grocery, great for going to work, coffee shops, some restaurants. Pittsburgh has hills but it hasn't mattered much, and when the weather's bad you can take it on the bus. It's a compromise; what isn't?
posted by tss at 7:35 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have four bikes, and one of them was supposed to be a mediocre town/coffee bike that I didn't mind too much if it got stolen--an old Bridgestone mtb from Craigslist that I converted to single speed. But then I started buying vintage high-end parts on eBay and swapping out things from my parts box and stuff (Clark-Kent Ti stem, American Classic Ti seat post, Suntour XC Pro pedals, Paul's cantilevers and Kooka levers, etc.), and now I have a bike that looks like a shitty old mountain bike if you don't know bikes and like a carefully-curated labor of love if you do. And if it ever got stolen, I'd be heartbroken. Just like with all my other bikes.
posted by box at 7:36 PM on September 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Having just begun riding my bike again after about 8 years of letting it sit dormant in the basement (oh god my baby I am so sorry), and now living in an urban environment, I am beyond paranoid that my bike will get stolen. I've yet to leave it outside. I'll carry it up the 6 flights of stairs to my office if I have to. I've had it since high school.

I was wondering about this just the other day--it never seemed to me like it would be worth it really, but considering how little effort there is to catch bike thieves... ugh.

Thanks for the post.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 7:55 PM on September 20, 2012


It's perfect if you think about it - loot & getaway vehicle all in one!
posted by squalor at 8:02 PM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thanks for this. When my bike was stolen, I was told (by a pawn shop owner, I believe) that stolen bikes get sold up this chain of acquisition to a central distributor, who then sent them out throughout the rest of the country to be sold elsewhere. I believe he said the central distributor - the Bike Thievery Kingpin, in the article's parlance - was in Idaho.

I was always skeptical of this information. I mean, it came from a source who ought to know about things like that. But it seems like the percentage on a stolen bike just isn't enough to justify shipping it across the country to sell on Craigslist in some distant state.
posted by ErikaB at 8:09 PM on September 20, 2012


This is probably the place to mention bhance's stolen bike registry.
posted by zamboni at 8:12 PM on September 20, 2012


But bike thieves, they are, to me, a breed apart.

Something about it.... stealing a car vs. stealing a bike feels like the difference between shooting someone a little ways away with a gun vs. killing them with a hatchet. It's just a very specific, very direct crime that's personal.

It's been 32 years since I walked out of the store after being in there for 2 minutes and my world caved in at the space where my bike was.
posted by jscott at 8:14 PM on September 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


The bikes might all be loaded en masse onto a freighter and taken to Africa, Carib, or Asia. "Freighters loaded with stolen bikes confiscated"

Latimer Keyser Soze!
posted by mannequito at 8:15 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I believe he said the central distributor - the Bike Thievery Kingpin, in the article's parlance - was in Idaho.

Can we find out more and. like, organise a posse to take care of this?

And by "posse" I mean "army of thousands". And by "take care" I mean make headlines along the lines of "Nuking from orbit no-longer world's most terrifying weapon!"
posted by anonymisc at 8:15 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Additional bike theft soundtracks:
pro: Bike Thief
con: There Goes An Asshole

Last time I was in NYC there was a guy walking a bike down the sidewalk while trying to hawk it. That was slightly sketchtastic.

ok time to rtfa now
posted by savagerose at 8:19 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am actually tempting fate with this comment, but. . .I have a 30 yo bike. . . a Reynolds 531 with all Campy components, other than Modolo brakes, and it has not been stolen. It looks like shit. . .dirty, paint chipped, etc. But I would be devastated if it ever got stolen.
posted by Danf at 8:21 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I told this story recently over in Metatalk:

After I cleaned up my act, I lived in a halfway house in Dallas - a place that cost 8 bucks a night for a small locker, a mat on the floor, and a bowl of beans a day. Other than the clothes on my back and the few possessions in my locker (which for some reason was mainly filled with books - go figure), my only possession was an ugly purple yet really nice 20-year-old Specialized road bike a friend had given me. I had no money for the train/bus (or food), so that bike was my lifeline to finding a job and getting back on my feet. The place wasn't in the best part of town but still the management there wouldn't let me store the thing inside. I only had a mid-range U-lock, not the best protection but all I could muster. I did the best I could to secure it in the most out of view spot I could find.

Within a week, some assholes came along in the middle of the night and cut every single lock on every single bike (and a lawnmower) outside. I'd had bike yanked before that, but because of the situation I was devastated. Later that day, I got a ticket for riding the train without paying. If I'd gotten my skinny little hands on the methheads that jacked my bike, I'd probably end up in prison.

I'm over it now, all is good in my life. But I miss that bike.
posted by item at 8:38 PM on September 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


Ugh. I had two bikes stolen within 6 months. One a fairly expensive hybrid that I'd invested in, and was using for commuting since I'd committed to being car free. The second was a much more inexpensive schwinn from target.

I cried for days over that second theft and haven't gotten another bike since. I can't shake the futility of buying a nice lock. Also, even an inexpensive bike costs quite a chunk of change. Every used bike I've looked at is either poorly maintained or suspiciously nice for where it's being sold. I won't buy a bike that I think might be stolen.
It's always possible to steal a bike, so the key is to make stealing your bike not worth their time. My strategy is to make sure my bike is always a) more secured than the bike next to it and b) less expensive-looking than then bike next to it. I figure that thieves are lazy and only want to rob high-value, poorly-secured bikes.

So far so good – I've had my bike for almost four years, and during that time I've had only a few partial thefts:

- A front light
- A rear light
- The big one: Some thief managed to steal my whole rear wheel along with the gears, derailleurs, everything... The frame and the front wheel were locked up, but not the rear wheel, which means the thief had to actually unbolt the rear wheel and pull off the chain. This was in an alley in Chicago during winter!

My bike is not a performance machine but it's no junker either. I do maintenance and I've upgraded it "beneath the hood" quite a bit so despite the ancient Schwinn frame that propels thieves, it is pretty nice to ride. I'm looking to invest in a nicer "real" bike for training purposes and long-distance riding but this one works great for riding around the city. I ride to work (~6 miles each way) almost every day, even during winter, and it has held up remarkably well.
posted by deathpanels at 8:41 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hello, very low opportunity cost magnified by fact stolen good is untraceabe get away vehicle.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:45 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


My secret defence is to be teh hardcorz.
No-one steals a bike in the freezing-cold pouring rain, way out in the 'burbs, surrounded by tough hills, in an area where no self-respecting denizen would be caught dead in anything less than four wheels, and everything is too distant from everything else for foot traffic (such as penniless junkies in search of a fix) ...assuming there is even a sidewalk.

Ok, I usually also use a lock :-)
posted by anonymisc at 9:03 PM on September 20, 2012


Went thru 19 bikes in 19 years. Other than my first Peugeot, never got too attached. Bought mostly used bikes – functional junkers – but they got me around the city. Tried virtually every type of lock but nothing worked until I changed my strategy and got a Strida. Been riding those for about 10 years now. Never lost one (but never locked one either). But that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize your bike is not where you locked it is something I wont miss. Never really thought too deeply about the economics behind the theft. Just thought some fuckstick wanted something I had. Oh, and those numbers dont include a moped, a scooter (x2) and a cutlass supreme!

And what can the cops do? Well, as you might expect, not much. Except for this brilliance where they (undercover, of course) walk down the street and ask people (delivery guys mostly) if they want to buy a cheap stolen bike. If they bite, they're arrested.
posted by pmaxwell at 9:22 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Both bikes were stolen while I had the seats indoors with me. The punk who took them couldn't even ride them away.

The second time, it was raining on a Sunday after the buses had stopped running. I'm going to stop visiting this thread, because I can feel myself standing in the download, calling around for a ride, explaining over and over what I'd just discovered, couldn't afford can fare, buses done for the night. Crying again at just about the same part of the thing. Eventually an octagenarian coworker and her husband came down to get me.

Bike theft does feel like a crime apart, I couldn't reasonably afford to replace them. And then, kids' bikes are, man, who steals from kids? That letter from the mom tore me up.
posted by bilabial at 9:32 PM on September 20, 2012


It won't help when your bike's already been stolen, but here's a little 911-call cantrip for getting police to respond to calls they'd otherwise like to ignore, such as the guy with bolt cutters and a pickup working his way down the bike rack:

"Hello, my name is and I'm at . I'm currently witnessing . I'm aware that it's my right to use minimum necessary force to interrupt this crime in progress, but I'd strongly prefer to avoid doing that. Can you please send an officer as quickly as possible to take control of this situation, before it escallates?"

Three warnings that should be obvious. One, be damned sure there's actually a crime happening. Two, be even more sure you know your local laws about the use of force. "Minimum necessary force" and "crime currently in progress" is the tightest standard I know of, but I certainly haven't checked everywhere. Three, don't actually do a thing. The law may give you the right to use violence to break up a non-violent crime, but that make it a good idea, or even a morally justifiably one. Twisting the arms of the 'keepers of the peace', OTOH? Make your own decision.

posted by CHoldredge at 9:38 PM on September 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


I use a U-lock on mine and leave it all over the place, and knowing that my last two bikes were stolen when I was using a cord lock gives me a sense of security I'm not sure I should have.

Part of orientation as a first year law student in a decidedly sketchy part of San Francisco was a little video the campus security department had made, in which they demonstrated how easy it is to defeat a U-lock. Kryptonite had kindly provided them with a sample lock, and it took less than ten seconds for them to pop it open.

When I rode in SF I carried around three locks for my bike. I knew I couldn't stop a determined thief, but I didn't want to be the low-hanging fruit.
posted by ambrosia at 10:15 PM on September 20, 2012


living in amsterdam I found that the bast way to ensure the safety of my bikes was to have 3 different types of lock on them.

9 years, no thefts. My friends lost a bike every year on average.

Whilst bike theives are scum, I gotta wonder about the people who leave $1000+ worth of anonymous resaleable cool bicycle chained to a pole downtown ... I mean, seriously, are you going to chain a $1000 watch or diamond ring to a pole?
posted by jannw at 11:48 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Previously, the time my roommates stole a bike.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:50 PM on September 20, 2012


Whilst bike theives are scum, I gotta wonder about the people who leave $1000+ worth of anonymous resaleable cool bicycle chained to a pole downtown ... I mean, seriously, are you going to chain a $1000 watch or diamond ring to a pole?

If you don't use a machine, then it's a worthless onament.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:59 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


ornament, even
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:59 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have to say, one of the reasons bikes are such tempting targets is, contrary to the framing of the post, they are quite liquid. The other reasons are that they're there, and there's apparently low (or no) risk of getting caught.

Think about it, you're an average hoodlum bumming around town. Steal a bike, it will get you where you wanna go, and once you get there, you can sell or trade it. I read an article somewhere that called stolen bikes the criminal's currency.


Now, that said, we should kill bike thieves with fire. I had a bike stolen out of my backyard when I was a kid. They had to jump a fence, then take the bike with them back over the fence. Assholes. Barely had it a month, too.
posted by malapropist at 12:01 AM on September 21, 2012


Oh wow, good timing, justsomebody. The first link in the FPP you just linked to is the article I referenced above. I figured I must have read it on Metafilter.
posted by malapropist at 12:05 AM on September 21, 2012


Why do people steal bikes?

People who have asked this question never contemplated the thought process of someone in the throes of a meth/crack addiction.

"Why did you steal my bike!?"

"Because, I'm a junky?"
posted by alex_skazat at 12:07 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bicycles are stolen because riders are parking very tempting pieces of easily snatchable stuff on the streets and providing the thieves with the transportation to escape. If there is nowhere secure (guarded) for you to leave your fancy ride, you have to convince businesses and local governments to provide that parking, or you have to start something yourself. You also need to be insuring your bicycles for the replacement cost.

Our local shopping malls offer guarded bicycle parking. People lock their bikes there and then are free to wander around that part of town (shops, restaurants, banks, etc.) or hop a tram, bus, or tram to go somewhere else, knowing some rent-a-cop has his eye on their bikes.
posted by pracowity at 12:27 AM on September 21, 2012


jannw: "I gotta wonder about the people who leave $1000+ worth of anonymous resaleable cool bicycle chained to a pole downtown ... I mean, seriously, are you going to chain a $1000 watch or diamond ring to a pole?"
You haven't seen the worst of it! I swear, people are leaving huge, expensive machines up and down my street, some of them look like they've cost more than €20,000, and they don't even chain them to anything!
posted by brokkr at 12:46 AM on September 21, 2012 [10 favorites]


Are there any security systems that try to "brick" the bike - automatically damage it somehow - if it's stolen?
posted by XMLicious at 12:55 AM on September 21, 2012


It'd be nice if someone would do something about bike theft. Should be easy to make a small cell phone/gps transceiver that fits within the frame (and uses it for an antennae). Stick them in some bait bikes, wait for them to move, and then track them down and nab the thieves. I realize the cops don't think they have time for this, but I think undermining the criminal 'minor leagues' would really help a lot to reduce crime, and probably a lot of those bike thieves know about worse crimes and could be used as informants.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:05 AM on September 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Should be easy to make a small cell phone/gps transceiver that fits within the frame (and uses it for an antennae).

I wonder if GPS or other tracking signal works well in the city, on a frame made of materials that can't act as an antenna. Plus you need to feed these systems with power, so they'd add to the weight of the bike and be easier to spot and disable.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:32 AM on September 21, 2012


I swear, people are leaving huge, expensive machines up and down my street

Cars are generally hard to steal unless you have lots of experience. It's easier to break into homes than to get into and away with cars. But with no experience at all, I know I could walk outside right now and steal a bicycle.

I would go to a good hardware store (ten minute walk) and buy the best chain cutters they have, throw them in my backpack (if I had a backpack), then go find a bike that has a cuttable chain or cable. There are lots of walkable places around here with bicycles locked up outside. Some of them will have flimsy locks. Clip, stow cutters, hop on bike, and quietly pedal away. No figuring out how to get in. No figuring out how to hotwire the thing. No locked steering wheel. No alarm. No LoJack. No engine noise. No broken glass. And no problem hiding the thing once I get to my destination; I could walk it right through my front door.
posted by pracowity at 1:42 AM on September 21, 2012


I had a bike stolen a few years back. Got to chat with someone familiar with the bike thief ring in West Philadelphia, who told me that a car jack is used to quickly and quietly pop U-locks. Apparently Volvo car jacks are the thief's favorite, because they are small enough to be portable.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:49 AM on September 21, 2012


I called the cops once when a bike I gave my fiancee was stolen from thr ground floor of my locked apartment. They showed up to take a statement, but wouldn't even bother to knock on doors once they were already there to ask questions.

I did some work on my own, and recovered the bike. I have never bothered calling the police again on this stuff.

I support pretty harsh penalties for theft overall, but think bike theft is pretty terrible, because you're taking someone's transportation.
posted by corb at 4:31 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I mean, seriously, are you going to chain a $1000 watch or diamond ring to a pole?

Every September, I have to deal with a student who is shocked, SHOCKED! that the $400 they left sitting on a table unattended while they wandered away for 30 minutes was not there when they returned. Usually, the $400 is in the form of an Apple product. Sometimes it is gone because another student found it and turned it into me saying, "Some idiot left this on a table" but more often it's already been whisked away just down the street to that most scummy of pawnshops, Gamestop.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:58 AM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Are there any security systems that try to "brick" the bike - automatically damage it somehow - if it's stolen?

<evil>loosen the front nut and open the brake calipers</evil>
posted by zippy at 6:30 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


that most scummy of pawnshops, Gamestop

It really, really is. At least they don't trade in bikes.
posted by asperity at 6:47 AM on September 21, 2012


I had a fun experience once with a would-be opportunistic bike thief sometime in the late '90's:

I'd rode over to the much-loved local business where I worked to pick up/drop off something or other. There was a side entrance that was really just another front entrance right behind the front counter of the shop, and the entire front of the building were made up of mostly unobstructed plate glass giving anyone inside a panoramic view of the sidewalk in front. I'd pulled up to that entrance on my bike and, since there was nothing to chain it to, I'd stuck my u-lock locked my front wheel and locked it free-standing, right in front of the door. My thinking was that if someone wanted to steal my bike they'd have to pick it up and run with it, since there was no way to ride it locked like that and the parking lot wasn't easily accessed from that spot, meaning no throwing it in the bed of a pickup.

So I'm standing inside with the side door wide open, talking to someone or other, when a guy comes running by, hops on my bike, and prepares to effortlessly flee with their stolen loot, probably through the labyrinth of apartment complexes behind the store. Unfortunately for him, the unnoticed lock through the front wheel had other plans for the bike's future and Mr. Incompetent J. Thief went sailing over the handlebars, propelled by his own desire to make a powerful launch-off for a quick getaway. He landed face-first on that type of asphalt that's made with large, dime and quarter-sized stones. Though my co-workers and I got a full view of the whole thing, we were typically slow to react and though obviously quite stunned (and bloodied - very, very bloodied - he left a nice sized streak of gore along the asphalt), the fella's adrenaline undoubtedly kicked in and he was able to pick himself up and take off though the sketchy aforementioned apartments before we could do much of anything. We were, after all, doubled over with laughter.

That was a nice bike, an early 80's 12 speed that I'd tricked out. I'm glad I got to keep it for several more years, though come to think of it I honestly can't remember what its fate ended up being. It wasn't stolen, however. I do know that.
posted by item at 7:02 AM on September 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


I've been given leave to liberate them from the pickup corner (suburbanites with more disposable income than storage space), I've had them stolen from bike racks at the commuter station, and given them away on freecycle. One of my kids just picked out their first bike, a purple pedal pusher not unlike my first ...

I've gotta go find the pump so we can all ride this weekend.
posted by tilde at 7:17 AM on September 21, 2012


The Chicago model of cost-benefit for human behaviour (no matter how driven by greed you may think) is generally regarded as a little too simple to explain complex behaviour like this.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:57 AM on September 21, 2012


Bike theft is a special sort of evil because bikes often are personal. If you care the least bit about it you have adjusted it to fit, or gradually your body has adapted to suit the bike, and it just feels right. So when some jerk steals it they have taken not only your possession, they have taken away something that only you felt right sitting on. Nobody else will swing their leg over the top tube and feel the way it feels to you. It is like someone else is wearing your underwear. You puzzle over why they would want to do this and then it occurs to you that they never bothered to know what it feels like to be one with the bike, not entirely sensing where the foot ends and the pedal begins.

Having a bike stolen involves a series of sad revelations about nature of humanity and leaves you feeling like last Roman among the Barbarians.
posted by dgran at 8:32 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


U-locks can be sliced through in a few minutes with a cordless angle grinder (thieves in Chicago carry these). I figure two U-locks makes my bikes less likely to be stolen by a pinch. My brand new beautiful cross bike worries me every time I lock it up. I know I should make it look ugly to make it less desirable but I can't bring myself to do it. I've been bringing it into stores as often as possible. Small shops don't mind me bringing it in and it gives me piece of mind. My other around town bike isn't being made anymore and it would be difficult to replace so having it stolen would be heartbreaking.

There are national and local bike registries in the U.S. and I've heard a number of stories of bike shops returning stolen bikes to their owners after years when they end up in their shop and they check it against the registry.
posted by Bunglegirl at 8:59 AM on September 21, 2012


Blazecock Pileon: I wonder if GPS or other tracking signal works well in the city, on a frame made of materials that can't act as an antenna. Plus you need to feed these systems with power, so they'd add to the weight of the bike and be easier to spot and disable.

A metal frame should be able to act as an antenna, and a non-metal frame won't block a conventional antenna mounted inside the frame.

As far as power, that really is the downside of this system, since it's so difficult to implement. I've always imagined the system as locking into the downtube with an expansion bolt that relied upon a keyed lock (so you would lower the transceiver into the downtube and turn the key to expand the bolt so it locked itself into the tube). However, it's tough to get a charging cable out. You could run it up the seatpost and out through the seat, but that would be visible (although still difficult to for thieves to deal with, since cutting the cable wouldn't disable the device). A non-metal bike could charge inductively through the frame, but you would probably have to have some visible charge-point on the frame to attach the charger.

It's tricky, but it should be workable as a bait-bike for law enforcement and possibly as a personal security device as well. It would only weigh as much as a cell phone (maybe a little more, if you used a larger battery) and should stay charged for a week or more.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:24 AM on September 21, 2012


When a friend of mine got his bike stolen (in Montreal, on the McGill campus) he was approached on his walk home to buy a stolen bike for $30. He accepted. That bike was stolen a few weeks later but yet, again, he was offered a stolen bike on his walk home. By that point he figured $30 every month or two was fine, and since he didn't care how nice the bike was as long as it got him from A to B, this worked for him.

The problem with this is that your friend is supporting the very system that makes stealing his bikes worthwhile in the first place.

Frankly, buying a cheap bike at all is likely supporting the system unless it's a Wal-Mart special. I'd love to go into a pawn shop and bike up a decent bike for $20 - 50, instead of paying $300 at my local bike shop for something that's probably still not quite as good, but I have to assume that the vast majority of bikes being sold at pawn shops are stolen.

Even reputable pawn brokers who do their due diligence to avoid selling stolen goods really have no way of proving that a bike wasn't stolen. At best, they can refuse to take a bike that has had the serial number scratched off, since they can't check it against any of the stolen bike registries (and, if they do check the registries, odds are pretty good that the bike was never registered and, therefore, can't be proven as stolen property).
posted by asnider at 9:33 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


That should say "pick up," not "bike up."
posted by asnider at 9:35 AM on September 21, 2012


When I was a freshman in college (Delaware, 1992-93), I worked on a group project with a dude who had just spent the summer stealing bikes. He said he quit his regular job to steal bikes full-time because he did the math and it was more lucrative.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:45 AM on September 21, 2012


I didn't get out of the car though. Not sure what else I should have done, but it sure felt like crap afterwards.

I can think of something you could have done with that car to get the thief. And, as pointed out elsewhere in the thread, you wouldn't have had to worry much about prosecution.


They used to hang horse thieves, you know.

Yeah, I've long held the opinion bike thieves deserve the same treatment as horse thieves used to receive.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:46 AM on September 21, 2012


He also said he voted for Perot.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:47 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


rabbitrabbit: When I was a freshman in college (Delaware, 1992-93), I worked on a group project with a dude who had just spent the summer stealing bikes. He said he quit his regular job to steal bikes full-time because he did the math and it was more lucrative.

Why would you just reveal something like that? Best-case scenario, you destroy the trust of whomever you are working with, and maybe you get reported to the college or the police.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:50 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


... some guys pulled up a truck and just lifted the rack and the bikes into it and drove off

Years ago, when I worked in SW London, there was a gang cruising round in a truck, guy in the back with a pair of huge bolt-cutters. Didn't matter what kind of lock you had, one snip of those and your bike's gone in five seconds.

Their other trick on good bikes that might be in an exposed position was to add their own lock to yours so you couldn't remove it, then come back later to claim it...
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 10:04 AM on September 21, 2012


My foolproof method: paint your bike pink. A few years ago thieves cut through the lock that chained both my partner's and my bike up to the railing- tossed my ugly pink bike aside and took hers.
posted by arcticwoman at 10:05 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


College freshmen are dumb?
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:05 AM on September 21, 2012


(responding to Mitrovarr, my Recent Activity is apparently not that recent)
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:06 AM on September 21, 2012


Hah, fair enough. Hopefully he was dumb enough to get caught at some point.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:15 AM on September 21, 2012


I do understand it hurts to have things stolen and bikes do feel personal, but I really dislike the characterization of bike thieves here. That mom's note was sad but obnoxious. Theft arises out of need and bad circumstances, like poverty and drug addiction. Doesn't make it less shitty when it happens, but a bike thief isn't necessarily a bad person and they certainly don't deserve calls for their death. I know I'm speaking against the tide.
posted by agregoli at 12:35 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Then there's the rum-slave-molasses theory.
posted by jonp72 at 1:33 PM on September 21, 2012


All I know is that as a former thievin' junkie, I never stole a bike.

Why would I have when there were all those precious and easily ganked catalytic converters to be had for the taking?
posted by item at 2:25 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


the Bike Coalition ... reminds all you happy cyclists out there to secure your bikes to a U-lock -- a cable lock is not enough.

Good article. I'll never forget having my first adult bike bike stolen on a college campus ... *it'll be ok, I'm just going inside for 30 seconds*. This article raises the idea that local "find your bike" blogs could help take a bite outta crime, and reunite owners with their rides.
posted by Twang at 5:37 PM on September 21, 2012


I'm a cyclist and I love my bike. But I'm definitely with agregoli in that the calls for capitally punishing bike theft really is just off the rails.

I'm fully entitled as the next MeFite, sure, but I hope I never find myself arguing on the side of killing people for stealing something I consider to be an irreplaceable thing.
posted by mistersquid at 6:55 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rather than capital punishment in rare cases of perp apprehension, I'd settle for a lot more perps getting apprehended and a lot less money being paid for stolen bikes and a lot more hassle and risk to fence them.

Widespread affordable GPS trackers can't come soon enough.
(I know people who are working on them. They will happen)
posted by anonymisc at 10:57 PM on September 21, 2012


In all the world travelling I've done, the biggest most profound bit of culture shock was my first time in Tokyo and seeing unlocked bikes everywhere. Kind of gives you a little bit of faith in humanity.
posted by billyfleetwood at 11:38 PM on September 21, 2012


Widespread affordable GPS trackers can't come soon enough.

Affordable GPS jammers are already here, if the sites I just Googled up are to be believed. If bicyclists all get GPS trackers, won't a thief just have to snip the chain, turn on the jammer, ride to a safe area, and remove or disable the tracker before turning off the jammer?
posted by pracowity at 6:16 AM on September 22, 2012


A followup from the author (Rohin Dahr) of the second linked article:

The Proper Way to Lock Your Bicycle
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 6:40 PM on September 22, 2012


The Sheldon Brown locking strategy that Dahr semi-advocates there (lock the rear wheel through the frame, because the tension of the wheel will trap a hacksaw if they try to cut through it) is the one time Sheldon was wrong.
posted by mendel at 1:50 PM on September 23, 2012


But Dahr's updated version addresses this on the same page - he recommends securing the wheel and the frame with a u-lock. In the video you linked to, only the wheel is locked up.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 7:59 PM on September 23, 2012


The best bike lock advice I've seen (or at least the most plausible) is to use both a U-lock and a cable. For non-professional bike thieves, they require different tools to cut; U-locks will defeat smaller bolt cutters and cables can't be popped with auto jacks, and most petty thieves will only have one or the other. It won't stop a professional, though (who might have both, or something like a heavy bolt cutter or an angle grinder that can defeat anything), so you probably still shouldn't park an expensive bike outside. There's an added advantage in that you can often run a long cable through both wheels and maybe the seat.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:06 PM on September 24, 2012


A reasonable used bike in the Bay Area is a few hundred bucks (if you're not willing to buy from the fences at the flea market which I'm not). So last time my bike was stolen (out of my locked house), I gave up.

I really miss having a bike.

If you happen to have an old road bike gathering dust somewhere, a really nice, underemployed single mom would love to take it off your hands!
posted by latkes at 8:41 PM on September 27, 2012


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