The FBI says that in the three seconds it takes you to read this, a bicycle is stolen in the US.
With the proliferation of bikes in America, especially the high-end, expensive types, thieves are now constantly checking every bike parking rack and other areas for easy pickings. (Be sure to watch video below).
Many are savvy on how to cut or break a lock quickly and arm themselves with tools that can get through chains, trees or even the most expensive locks.
The inherent problem with bicycle theft is that the loot also acts as the getaway vehicle. Leave a bicycle unlocked in front of a store and it can literally disappear in five seconds.
One major problem is that most bike owners right now are still making it too easy for the thieves. They either don’t lock their bikes to a bike rack or lock them improperly.
It would be great if all bicycle enthusiasts got together and just made bikes an unwelcome target. Here are a few tips on how you as a bike owner can fight back and protect your possessions against these malcontents with no respect for bike owners.
Ways to secure your bike properly to a bike parking rack and other anti-theft tips
– Rule No. 1, always lock your bike to a sturdy bike parking rack. As we said, it takes seconds to steal one and a bicycle conveniently comes ready-made as a way to flee the scene quickly. Read first-hand accounts from thieves. They will tell you they watch locations where people think they can just park their bikes for a second and run into a store. Then they strike.
– Get the right type of lock. Most experts out there will tell you that a U-lock is the best lock and the hardest to break. Crooks have learned how to cut chains and cable locks. The tools they need are easily obtained. They also have learned how to break padlocks. (Here’s a photo of one prolific bike thief in Portland showing off his bolt-cutters. The police know him and continually arrest him).
Be aware, even the strongest U-lock can eventually be cut. That’s something to consider if you are leaving your bicycle attached to a bike parking rack overnight or for a few days. Better to keep it locked inside somewhere.
– Use more than one lock. A thief walks up to a bike parking rack. He’s got a cutting tool. He’s going to be looking for two things – the nicest bikes and the ones that are the easiest to rip off. If you have two locks on your bike and everybody else has one, then your bike is the least likely target.
Also, mix the locks up. Use a U-lock to lock the frame and back tire and a cable lock for the front tire and frame. This way a crook needs two different types of tools. Plus it will take him longer to cut both looks. Time is the enemy of thieves. So make stealing your bike a time-consuming endeavor.
– Find highly-visible bike racks. As we said, just because you locked your bike to a stable and secure commercial bicycle rack doesn’t mean your bike can’t be stolen. The ideal location for a bike parking rack is in front of a busy store or restaurant, out in the public view. Those bike racks should be no more than 50 feet from an establishment.
If there is a store, coffee shop, book store, restaurant, bar, etc., that quite a few bicyclists seem to frequent, talk to the business owner about adding commercial bike racks. Explain to them that there is a great return on investment with bike parking. Studies show consumers who bicycle tend to visit a business more often than motorists and spend more money over the course of a month.
Also, if a business adds a 15-bike wave bicycle rack for example, in essence they are creating 15 parking spots in front of their business. A customer rides a bike to their business or rides a car, doesn’t matter, a customer is a customer.
Tell this to businesses. If you belong to a local bicycle club or have friends who bicycle, let that business owner know you will support that business if they provide a bicycle parking rack. There are also options to add custom bike racks with a business logo or promotional message. That’s like having a mini-billboard 24/7 promoting their business 365 days a year.
– Find a thick bike parking rack. The old-style grid bike racks are generally meant for short time bicycle parking in high-visibility locations. Look for a bike parking rack made with thick piping. This is the popular type of bike rack you now generally see in many locations.
– Try to only lock your bike to a heavy-duty commercial bike rack. You’ve seen it. People will lock their bikes to just about anything. But there can be consequences. For example, if you lock a bike to a tree, a thief with a saw will just cut the tree down. Nobody wants that.
Some people will lock their bikes to railings. Their bike then gets in the way of pedestrians. People can get hurt.
Others will lock their bikes to signposts or parking meters. Well, guess what. Some cities actually have fines for doing this. Forget the thief, city workers will cut the lock and confiscate your bike.
Another sneaky practice is the use of “sucker poles.” This is where thieves pull a sign out of the ground and make it easy to remove. An unsuspecting bicyclist will lock their bike to the sign and walk away. One yank and the sign is out of the ground and the bike is gone.
– Go high-tech with GPS. There are now companies out there that sell GPS devices to track your bicycle should it be stolen. Some of those companies are BikeSpike, Lock8 and Helios. Kryptonite, popular sellers of U-locks, also has a GPS product. LoJack, the GPS recovering device used in cars, once had a product for bikes and motorcycles but discontinued sales. They say they might bring that product back.
– Be prepared if your bike is stolen. Stuff happens. You can have your bicycle parked out in front of a busy restaurant, under a street light, locked to a sturdy bike parking rack, secured in the front and back of the bike. Someone could jump out of a van with a high-tech cutting tool and still rip you off.
But you can be ready for them. For one, get the serial number from your bicycle. There usually is a number at the base of the bike under the crankset where the pedals are located. You probably have to turn the bike upside down to find it.
You can also find a hidden spot to scratch your own identification marks. Another trick is to tape a card underneath the seat or hide a piece of paper inside the handle bars.
Take a photo of your bike. Shoot a photo of the identification numbers. Include photos of any unique characteristics.
Another smart move is to register your bike with local registries. Most police departments now have forms you can fill out that will be stored in their database. Sounds like a pain to do. Not really. Will literally take you less than 30 seconds.
But this will give you tremendous piece of mind. For one, police departments frequently recover a bunch of stolen or abandoned bicycles. Some thieves might just steal a bike for a one night joy ride and then ditch it on the side of the road.
Secondly, if you come across your bike at a flea market, used bike store or a pawn shop, you are going to need proof that you own that bike. Once you can show this to police, they can then yank it out of the hands of the person who stole it, or bought at a steal of a price.
What to do if your bike is stolen from a bike parking rack or elsewhere
If you happen to walk out of a store and find your bike is gone, don’t just grieve and give up (as most people do. Most bike thefts go unreported). Be proactive.
Immediately report the theft to police. They are usually in tune with who is currently stealing bikes to support drug habits or careers as small-time criminals. Also, they will periodically come across bike chop shops where bikes are disassembled and reassembled for sale. If you have the identification marks and the bike registered, you can still recover the frame or other pieces.
If you have a high-end bike that is stolen, be on the lookout. Check out Craigslist and EBay. Visit a few flea markets. Used bike shops. Pawn shops.
Thieves generally have a few spokes missing and are not in the brightest demographic. They might not sell your bike down the street from where it was stolen, but they probably won’t go further than the other side of town.
– Insure your bicycle. There’s a common misconception that bicycles are covered by homeowner insurance policies. That is not necessarily the case. You need to check with your insurance agent to be sure. There might be hidden riders. Get bicycle coverage in writing.
You need to check what your deductible would be as well. A $200 bike might be covered by your insurance policy but if your deductible is $300, you are out of luck.
Also, when you buy a lock see if there is a warranty in the event the bike is stolen. Kryptonite has a bike protection plan. Visit their site for more details.
Finally here’s a bit of advice that is funny and sad at the same time.
Some experts actually suggest you make your bike look ugly or artsy. Paint it with some crazy colors. Add some funky decals or decorations.
This has two purposes. For one, if your bicycle is positioned next to a nicer one at a bike parking rack, then yours is less likely to be stolen. If the thief is acting alone, he can only steal and ride one bike at a time. (Anytime you see someone riding down the street riding a bike and pulling another bike, might be a good time to call the police).
Secondly, a thief is not looking to stand out when they steal a bicycle. If you have an outrageously decorated bicycle, no criminal will want to be seen riding that thing down the street. And no purchaser of stolen goods will want to buy a bike that draws attention like a purple dinosaur.
Bike theft is a stark reality in these times. Thefts are on the rise. It is estimated one million bicycles are stolen in the US every year. Crooks actively check a bike parking rack or other locations for a quick score. Don’t let them make you their latest victim.
Finally, here’s a YouTube video of a woman who is not going to let anybody steal her bike and puts the hammer down on a theft in progress.
Is it possible we are seeing the end of the automobile as a popular mode of transportation? Will we see more self-driving cars instead of SUVs, more bicycle parking racks than parking garages and more people on buses than in BMWs?
Look around. Put your ear to the ground. What do you hear? It’s not car tires. It’s the sound of bicycle tires, light rail and footsteps walking to the curb waiting for an Uber.
This car-less preference is definitely taking place now in cities. There’s been a flurry of articles or newscasts recently about Copenhagen or Amsterdam and how those cities have replaced the car with the bicycle. Other cities around the world are taking notice.
They had to. Metropolitan areas are choked with too many cars. Commuters are sick of all the congestion. Residents are sick of the pollution.
To put a twist on an old Yogi Berra saying, “People aren’t driving there anymore. There’s too much traffic.”
Many are opting to pedal instead. According to the American League of Bicyclists, from 2000 to 2013, the number of people bicycling to work has increased by 62%.
In bike-friendly cities, that amount rose by a whopping 105%.
Millennials prefer bikes and bicycle parking racks
But here’s the real trend that will mean a sea-change in America when it comes to automobiles. It all has to do with Millennials, the iPhone generation, the next generation to take the reins.
Driving by young people dropped 23% between 2001 and 2009. From 2007 to 2011, the age group most likely to buy a car was not newcomers to the work force, but people in the 55 to 64-age group.
According to a University of Michigan study, in 2010 only 69.5% of 19-year-olds in the US had a driver’s license compared to 87.3% in 1983.
What happened? Getting your driver’s license used to be a rite of passage. Now, not so much. That milestone has been replaced by one’s purchase of the newest iPhone or smartphone.
Young people are more interested in technology than they are in automobiles. They’ve see the long commutes their parents drive, they see the escalating cost of buying and maintaining a car, they see how hard it is to find a parking space.
“Meh,” they might think. “I’ll hop on an Uber instead.”
Or, if there is an adequate bicycle infrastructure with bike lanes and bicycle parking racks, “I’ll just ride my bike there.
That’s because there’s an attitudinal shift with young people today regarding transportation. They just want to go from A to B and they don’t particularly care if they do it in a $40,000 Lexus or someone else’s $25,000 Prius.
In 15 years the market for self-driving cars is expected to hit $87 billion. It’s not just Google looking at this technology; all the big automakers are jumping on board. They have to.
Another trend that is monumental is the Millennials shift to the cities instead of the suburbs. In the cities, you don’t need a car at all.
Last year Americans took 10.7 billion trips on mass transit modes of transportation such as trains and buses, up 37% since 1995.
Stung by the Great Recession, Millennials are moving to the cities because that’s where the jobs are. Once there (and paying skyrocketing rents), they will forego the idea of a car. A bicycle is more appealing – healthier, quicker and creates less pollution.
And a big plus, it’s cheaper – there’s no car insurance, expensive gas, costly maintenance, exorbitant parking fees or rising tolls.
Finally, consider this: an automobile is a very wasteful investment; it’s a huge metal appliance that sits idle for most of the day and night. Fills up an entire space in a garage.
If anything, the younger plugged-in generation is all about efficiency. Why write a letter when you can email? Why call when you can text? Why contact a friend when you can tell all your friends what you are up to all at once on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. Why own a car, when you can bike or hop on a train?
People in bike-centric cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam not only own bicycles because they like to ride. They own them because it is the quickest and cheapest way to get around.
Americans had a big love affair with automobiles. But we’ve peaked. The next century will be a period of mass transit, bicycle parking racks, bike lanes, bike sharing, car-sharing and driverless cars. People prefer to spend less time driving and more time doing something else. The world is changing to meet that demand.