Bike Theif
February 14, 2005 12:28 PM   Subscribe

How easy is it to steal a bike in NYC? (qt mov) New York City is home to nearly 112,000 bicycle riders, unfortunately it is also home to some of the worst bike thieves in the country. A bicycle is stolen in NYC every 68 minutes. The Neistat Brothers decided to find out just how easy it really is.
posted by splatta (57 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Watched the video -- the bolt cutters looked suspicious, but I think if I saw someone using a hacksaw for over 5 minutes on a lock in broad daylight I think I'd assume they lost the key to their own lock...

Nice ending to the video, tho!
posted by Robot Johnny at 12:38 PM on February 14, 2005

This is called hiding something in plain sight. It almost falls into a kind of social engineering, just acting like you know what you're doing fools the herd.
posted by kuatto at 12:39 PM on February 14, 2005

A bicycle is stolen in NYC every 68 minutes

That must be one sweet bike. I can't believe they can get it back so quickly but not hang onto it. Can't they buy a lock or something?
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 12:39 PM on February 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

The best bike thieves in the country, surely?
posted by bonaldi at 12:47 PM on February 14, 2005

Do all lampposts in NYC have an opening which reveals a plug in? (in the angle saw section)
posted by smcniven at 12:50 PM on February 14, 2005

smcniven: I don't know, but I would imagine they do to enable city workers to hook up equipment. Obviously they're supposed to be locked but it would seem these guys chose that particular lamppost because the door was open.
posted by splatta at 12:57 PM on February 14, 2005

About a year ago I locked my bike in downtown Palo Alto. I came back to it to find the U-lock jammed, and I couldn't get the lock off for the life of me.

I went back to my lab and retrieved all the implements I thought could help me break the lock to get my bike back: A ball-peen hammer, liquid nitrogen, and a scissor jack.

"Freezing" the lock with nitrogen and attempting to shatter it with the hammer didn't work, but likely raised some eyebrows of incident observers. By the time I was working the scissor-jack into the U-lock to break it, the Paly Police pulled up.

I explained to the policewoman that it was my bike, that the lock was jammed, and that I was trying to get the lock off. Could she help?

She asked me to prove that the bike was mine. I said that it was registered in my name with a California bike license, and it was also registered with the UT Austin campus police in my name. The police woman shook her head at both suggestions, asking me for better proof.

Then I remembered that when I registered my bike at UT-Austin, the stamped my driver's license number into the bottom bracket. My driver's license in 1995 was my social security number. So I told the cop that my SSN was stamped into the bottom bracket. She asked me for the last 4 numbers of it, and looked with a mirror at the bracket. It checked out.

Then I asked the cops to help me remove the jammed lock. They wouldn't help. They said what I was doing would work. Then they sat down on a park bench and watched me finish the job.

It must be nice to be a cop in palo alto.
posted by u2604ab at 1:03 PM on February 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

Yay for Palo Alto cops.

This reminds me of the thread about picking u-locks with a bic pen, which I'm too lazy to link to.

It's surprising; I know how to pick locks, but if I was ever to actually steal something I wouldn't bother. Other methods are much quicker.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:06 PM on February 14, 2005

Anyone else notice that the "police" van that passes while he's using the hammer & chisel has the standard-issue NJ license plate KFA-19X? What sort of cops are these, exactly?
posted by rxrfrx at 1:08 PM on February 14, 2005

This video is too high-concept (or something) to have any crediblity.
posted by ParisParamus at 1:09 PM on February 14, 2005

Direct link to the Quicktime file.
posted by nicwolff at 1:13 PM on February 14, 2005

Picking a U Lock with a bic pen. This also works on any circular key lock.
posted by splatta at 1:19 PM on February 14, 2005

rxrtrx: I think those are Port Authority cops; they're right outside the WTC PATH station. Which would partially explain their ignoring the bike theft - no-one's paying them to stop crime outside the station.

Paris: huh? "High-concept" just means "easily described." The guy stole his bike from different places all over the Village and no-one stopped him. What's not credible about that?
posted by nicwolff at 1:20 PM on February 14, 2005

rxrfrx: Wow, good catch, I didn't notice that the police van had NJ plates. What do you mean standard-issue? Is it possible that they were NJ cops, and were out of their jurisdiction? Or were they hired by the film makers?
posted by splatta at 1:23 PM on February 14, 2005

It's a little blurry, but the plates don't say "police," they're just the regular civilian NJ ones that are black on yellow and say "Garden State" on the bottom. Though there is some sort of seal painted on the side of the van.
posted by rxrfrx at 1:29 PM on February 14, 2005

maybe no one stopped him b/c it was his own fucking bike.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:29 PM on February 14, 2005

"High-concept" just means "easily described."

What I mean't is that the video is more about the creator than bike theft. Whatever.
posted by ParisParamus at 1:31 PM on February 14, 2005

The brothers should have one brother steal both their bikes at one time. As that would have turned head, bike rider w/ an extra bike. As it would have been more obvious, since it more common to have one bike. Also the experment w/o a camera near by may have worked better. They looked more like Candid Camera show than thieves.

My driver's license in 1995 was my social security number. Huh? Are you sure, Texas issues their own #.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:32 PM on February 14, 2005

meh, excuse the poor grammar, damn "back" button.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:34 PM on February 14, 2005

You can see the same seal and "POLICE" typeface on this Port Authority Police truck. And all the trucks on this page seem to have normal NJ or NY license plates.

The only other seal that I can think of that looks anything like that on law-enforcement vehicles in NYC is the Federal Protective Service and they wouldn't be chasing videographers out of the traffic lanes on Church St.
posted by nicwolff at 1:42 PM on February 14, 2005

maybe no one stopped him b/c it was his own fucking bike.

And how would people know that without asking?
posted by DieHipsterDie at 1:47 PM on February 14, 2005

I'm certain that if he had worn a mask, a striped shirt, and carried a bag with "loot" written on it he would have aroused suspicion. They appear to have gone to a lot of trouble but they never made their point.
posted by milkwood at 1:54 PM on February 14, 2005

If he wore such a getup, milkwood, people probably would have thrown him loose change.
posted by Captaintripps at 2:00 PM on February 14, 2005

b1tr0t: Not everyone has a bike in NYC, there are over 100,000 bike riders in the city, and the number of bikes stolen is 8,000 a year. That's 8% of the population, I'd say it's pretty high.

milkwood: I believe their point was to show that a bike could be stolen in broad daylight in front of many people, and I think they did a good job.
posted by splatta at 2:01 PM on February 14, 2005

four words: clean cut white kid

you put a black kid wearing a bandana out there, he'd have been in the back of a cop car (or ambulance) within 12 seconds. sad, but true.
posted by AaRdVarK at 2:05 PM on February 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

So far -- in six years of owning one -- I've yet to have my bike stolen here in NYC. Tip: spray paint it crappy black and wrap some duct tape around the frame (makes it look like a delivery bike). Oh, and don't leave it unattended for more than 30 seconds without a big, honkin' lock. (My chain + lock weight about as much as my bike. But I hardly use them, because I don't use my bike for transportation, just for recreation and exercise. Which, of course, is probably why I've never had my bike stolen.)
posted by papercake at 2:07 PM on February 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

It looked like they were just using a generic padlock, so they probably would have been better off using a set of padlock shims. They work wonders in seconds.

splatta: The bic pen trick only works on poorly machined tubular locks (common in bike locks and laptop security locks). Trying it on something like an Ace II or another high-end commercial lock is pretty futile.
posted by PantsOfSCIENCE at 2:09 PM on February 14, 2005

So u2604ab, was it the scissor jack that did the trick? My bike has been sitting out for months now because I can't open it with its keys. It jammed somehow when I was locking it. Its a U-lock with the circular key.

I saw the Bic pen story a while back and gave it a try, but I sure as hell can't open that lock with a Bic pen.

I've already proven to the local authorities its my bike, so they won't hassle me if I'm seen with a scissor jack breaking the lock open.

I assume you put the jack between the U part and the straight part and then crank the jack til it opens?
posted by MiddleSea at 3:05 PM on February 14, 2005

If you can't get the movie to load from the original site, try the coral cache.

we don't have karma so you can't accuse me of karma whoring
posted by grouse at 3:07 PM on February 14, 2005

Aardvark, I'd be interesting to see them test your black kid/white kid hypothesis. It'd make for an interesting study.
posted by craven_morhead at 3:21 PM on February 14, 2005

The police are not The Citizens' Free Labor Force.

Baybe not, but they USED to be Civil Servants..

"To Serve And Protect" was one of their mottos once.

Notice how protect was second?

Cop cars USED to have enlarged bumpers, so they could use it to push a car stuck in the snow, etc.. Now they tell you to call a tow, and be quick about it before they cite you for creating a hazard.

Who here still trusts police? Who here fears police?

(I fear them.. It has been shown to me that it's best just to stay under their radar, and not to draw any attention to yourself.)
posted by Balisong at 3:29 PM on February 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

I meant Maybe not, Baby!!
posted by Balisong at 3:29 PM on February 14, 2005

DieHipsterDie: Ever been to NYC? You don't ask questions. It's nicer than it was in the 80s, or worse: the 70s. But it's still not social hour.
posted by Eideteker at 3:33 PM on February 14, 2005

But then? After the bicycles have been stolen? What happens to them then?
Poor little abandoned bikes...
posted by miss lynnster at 3:36 PM on February 14, 2005

be scared blah blah blah don't use your own transportation blah blah stay in your apartment because the city is so so bad!

give me a break, people, if you use prudence here in ny you have just as likely a chance of your bike being stolen as in some small "heartland" town.

this is yet another american anti-urban myth propogated by the right interests (gee, i wonder what interest kryptonite has by calling cities really bad for bike crime?? especially really populated cities with many bikers??)
posted by yonation at 3:39 PM on February 14, 2005

I've been through about a dozen bikes in twenty years in NYC. (Stolen, that is).
But then I keep my street-use bikes on the street all the time. The convenience of having a bike on the street is worth the expense of occassional replacement.

It also justifies having locks worth three times what the bike is worth.
posted by HTuttle at 3:46 PM on February 14, 2005

Bike theft in Amsterdam puts NYC to shame.

To shaaaaame. Yearly, 16% of the number of bikes in the city are stolen.

And I'm sure China's got all the country beat just on raw numbers.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:04 PM on February 14, 2005

I've had three bikes stolen from me. One was in a garage. One was in my basement. I have bad luck with bike theft.
posted by drezdn at 4:21 PM on February 14, 2005

b1tr0t - "The police are not The Citizens' Free Labor Force."

Indeed, police are not free. I pay income tax, property tax and sales tax. I pay parking tickets. Indeed the police are not free.

And that's why I was a little perturbed at being harassed and then, having proven my mettle, simply observed, rather than helped.
posted by u2604ab at 4:24 PM on February 14, 2005


U-locks are designed to be very difficult to saw through. The design trade off, then, is that the metal of the U is brittle.

Thus, if you put a scissor jack (or small hydraulic jack) between the "legs" of the U lock and crank the jack open, the legs will snap. This would be rotating the jack 90 degrees from the position you describe as between the U and the base.

The legs are pretty strong, too. I'm no weakling (30 year old male, large frame, 6 feet tall, reasonable physical shape), and it took most of my strength toward the end before the lock snapped.
posted by u2604ab at 4:30 PM on February 14, 2005

All bikes weight 40 lbs. A 40 lb. bike requires no lock, and weighs, you guessed it, 40 lbs. A 30 lb. bike requires a 10 lb. lock and ends up weighing, yes, 40 lbs. A 20 lb. bike requires a 20 lb. lock.

I don't leave 'em out of my sight, take them inside whenever possible and try to ride my fixie as much as possible since that discourages casual thieves. You could also undo a brake cable, put it in the big ring/small cog, etc.
posted by fixedgear at 5:03 PM on February 14, 2005

fixedgear: why does a 40lb bike require no lock? Couldn't the theif just ride off with it?

I guess I'm not clear on why the bike + lock needs to add up to 40lbs...
posted by splatta at 5:06 PM on February 14, 2005

Well, for starters, no modern bike weighs 40 pounds unless you add 10 pounds of ballast.
posted by u2604ab at 5:22 PM on February 14, 2005

Hey, waitaminit—

Did those guys have a film permit?
posted by Eideteker at 5:30 PM on February 14, 2005

Hey, u260..., I used to own a Schwinn that probably weighed around 40 lbs. The thing was a tank.

why does a 40lb bike require no lock? Couldn't the theif just ride off with it?

Um, sure, they could. Though I can't see any reason why they would want to.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:31 PM on February 14, 2005

u2604ab, I used to ride a 25kg (55lb) delivery bike. Built somewhat stronger than a tank, and virtually zero maintenance. Too heavy to bring when I emigrated ...
posted by scruss at 6:04 PM on February 14, 2005

(annoying) splatta: 'thief'. thanks. (/annoying)
posted by benh57 at 7:53 PM on February 14, 2005

posted by splatta at 8:03 PM on February 14, 2005

Heh... it's all about riding a beat-up fixie with huge-ass "Macho Taco" stickers all over the frame (it's a night club in Rosarito, Mexico my then-g/f went to) and using one of these bastards. A ten-pound lock wrapped securely around the frame and both wheels to an obviously-immobile hunk of public utility will prevent the vast majority of thefts. Plus you get a nice training edge carrying 10 lbs. around with you.

And seriously, who's going to go out of their way to stop some potentially armed dipshit who's stealing a $200 bike with a $100 angle grinder? What would distinguish, to the average passer-by, a legitimate owner who has lost his keys from a ne'er-do-well bike rustler? The bike thief can say "Oh, I lost the key" just as well as the legitimate owner. Knowing this, why would the average passer-by even bother?

As much as I love my bike, and as low as I think bike thieves are, wake me up when someone's getting hurt. Then I'll get indignant.
posted by Coda at 8:42 PM on February 14, 2005

Wow, that's amazingly few bicycles that are being stolen...the odds are your bike would never be stolen if that rate was really true!

However, how many unreported thefts are there? Oh. yeah. Duh!
posted by Kreylix at 10:35 PM on February 14, 2005

Amsterdam has 150,000 bike thefts a year (about 1 every 3.5 minutes in FPP unit equivalence) against a population of about 730,000, and that's just the ones that are reported. All of the Dutch people I know take bike loss as a fact of life, they generally have an old, wellworn 'sit up and beg' bike which they assume will go sooner or later. A Dutch friend of mine from Delft says that when you have a bike stolen you go to a particular area and there will be people (read junkies) riding bikes, you hold out 10-20 euros and one stops gets off the bike and walks away leaving you with the bike.
posted by biffa at 2:20 AM on February 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

A close freind of mine from Amsterdam said the same thing... Bike theft is so freakin rediculous, that if you get yours stolen, you just purchase another one off some junkie riding around in the park for the equvalent of $20 USD or so.

He also said that you see vintage, aging no-gearing mechanism piece-o-shit bikes swathed in state of the art, massive locks the likes nobody out of amsterdam would be familiar with. Bizzare.
posted by Thoth at 2:58 AM on February 15, 2005

You know, the guy in the video is indeed a clean cut looking white kid, but let's not forget that when you see someone operating a hacksaw or hand held electric saw in what is most likely an illegal fashion, most people don't want to possibly get maimed trying to protect some other dude's bike.

Not me, of course. I'm a hero of the streets. The clip they didn't keep in the video is the one where I come around and beat the guy up, then fly away having successfully saved the day once again.
posted by shmegegge at 5:19 AM on February 15, 2005

That woman smoking in the video is the quintessential smoker: indifferent to everything around her--ever try to make eye contact with a woman smoker on the street? It's impossible!
posted by ParisParamus at 5:45 AM on February 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

Oh come on, people! It's not like stealing a bike is a crime. Bikes are common property, like pens or lighters. You see one, you don't ask whose it is, you just take it.
posted by sour cream at 6:08 AM on February 15, 2005

NY bike thieves should come here to Oxford. There's so many bloody bikes everywhere that nobody even locks them to anything!
posted by dmt at 7:49 AM on February 15, 2005

I don't agree with the 'mess it up' defense. I've had both clean and 'messed' bikes stolen just as quickly. Best is to use a variety of strong locks/chains. Try to make it too much work to steal. And if your bike is worth more than $500 forget about ever locking it up anywhere.
posted by HTuttle at 10:53 PM on February 15, 2005

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