Written by Noah Manion
Having your bike stolen can be awful, especially during a pandemic when you’re trying to avoid public transportation. The number of people biking has increased recently and bike shops are oftentimes selling out of their available stock. This has caused the used bike market to get hot and thieves are taking advantage of quick sales of stolen bikes.
Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to make it not so bad.
Unfortunately, if someone wants to take your bike, they’re going to be able to do it. An angle grinder can make it through a U Lock or strong chain in about 10-20 seconds. The key is to make your bike as unappealing to steal as possible.
Before You Bike
The best thing you can do is use two forms of protection and to lock the frame and a wheel (or ideally, both wheels) to a solid object. You can use a combination of a U Lock and cable or chain to get both wheels and your bike all at once. Consider replacing quick release components with locking nuts. Replacement wheels can start between $80 and $120 for a front wheel and at least $120 for a rear wheel, so locking skewers can be a good investment.
A former coworker wrote his contact information on pieces of paper and stuck them into the seat post, seat tube and labeled the rim tape on his wheels. Keep pictures and serial numbers handy in case you need to prove ownership.
Where to Store Your Bike
The best place to store your bike is a place indoors where you can see it. If storing your bike in your home isn’t feasible, keep in mind that basements, bike rooms or garages are generally good places, but you should still lock your bike. However, these places aren’t 100% safe. There was an incident in Chicago recently where an employee of a large property management company was caught using property management keys to steal bikes from the buildings he managed. A quiet room, basement or garage could invite someone with power tools to cut as many locks as they want without fear of being caught.
How to Lock Your Bike
Just as important as the lock is what you lock your bike to. City installed bike racks are your best bet since they’re usually bolted into the sidewalk. Parking meters are good too, but check to make sure they’re solidly installed and can’t be removed. Here in Chicago, Bus Stop signs are iffy. Some can be removed with a simple wrench and it’s good practice to give a wiggle to anything you’re going to lock to.
Locking up far away from the street is better as thieves in vans will swoop a bike (or a whole rack of bikes), if the target bike is sitting by the edge of a sidewalk and easy to reach from the road compared to 25 feet from the street.
Scaffolding is always a bad idea. It can be removed at any time by anybody with a wrench. Same thing for fences as property owners can and do occasionally cut bikes from their fences.
I use the Sheldon Brown Method to lock my bike. When I was working as a messenger, this was my standard way of locking my bike while making deliveries. The beauty of this method is that I can use a Mini U Lock and lock up to just about anything. Additionally, even if the wheel is removed, the lock keeps it within the rear triangle. In order to steal your bike the thief has three bad choices on what to cut: The frame (rendering most of the bike useless), The wheel (with wire or kevlar bead, this can be very hard to cut) or the lock (which is difficult to cut without damaging other components. I use locking skewers on my wheels, so my front wheels are protected when I use this method.
F#&K! My bike got stolen, now what?
First, file a report with your local police department. They may be hesitant to do this or make you jump through hoops, but be persistent. Renters or Homeowners Insurance may cover you if you have a police report. You should start by listing your bike on Bike Index and marking it as stolen. Some shops that sell used bikes will check Bike Index to ensure that the stock they’re buying isn’t stolen. (Special note: Bike Index offers the ability to pre-register bikes before they are stolen. We have received reports that police departments have used sites like this to identify protesters whom they themselves have stolen bikes from.)
A reason people steal bikes is that they’re relatively easy to sell and the internet makes it even easier. Craigslist and Flea Markets were traditionally places that stole bikes were sold (Swap-A-Rama in Chicago used to be notorious for having stolen bikes for sale). Facebook Marketplace is a good place to start looking for your bike in the digital age. OfferUp is a mobile app that some people use to sell bikes as well. To go one step deeper, there are a lot of Facebook Groups where people buy and sell bike parts. Start searching your city name and “Bike Selling” or “Bike Market” to see what groups operate in your area. Bikes are sold within hours and many bikes sold in big towns like Chicago were actually stolen from nearby college towns, like Lafayette (Purdue), Madison (UW), etc.
If you do find your bike on an online marketplace, don’t spook the person selling it by mentioning that you think they have your bike. Sometimes simply bringing proof that they’re selling your stolen property is all you need. Set up a meeting in a public and well trafficked place and bring another person along. If you feel comfortable, you can ask the police to get involved.
Replacing your bike
If you're replacing your bike with a used bike you find online, be sure to check the serial numbers on Bike Index beforehand. You don't want to inadvertently support the stolen bikes market.