Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bike theft threat real, and preventable

Image of bike wheel locked to pole, evidence of theft of bicycleBike theft is a real bummer. Any lock can be defeated with enough determination on the part of the thief. No lock provides absolute protection. (For every higher wall, there's a taller ladder.) Two articles this week in Northern California publications illustrate the challenges of defeating bike thieves.

On Wednesday, the San Francisco Bay Guardian featured "Chasing my stolen bicycle" by Justin Jouvenal:

Bike theft may seem like petty street crime, but it's actually a humming illegal industry. Consider this: thieves steal nearly $50 million worth of bikes each year in the United States, far outstripping the take of bank robbers, according to the FBI. And in San Francisco's rich bicycling culture, thieves have found a gold mine. About 1,000 bikes are reported stolen in the city each year, but the police say the actual number is probably closer to 2,000 or 3,000, since most people don't file reports.

"It's rampant," Sgt. Joe McCloskey of the San Francisco Police Department told the Guardian. (Read more.)
The article's author explores the seamy underworld of stolen bikes: chop shops, fencing networks, steal-to-order thieves, addicts, poverty. Police claim they don't have the resources--or the interest--to aggressively target bike theft. So bikes are easy to steal and exchange.
"Bikes are one of the four commodities of the street--cash, drugs, sex, and bikes," (bike guru Victor) Veysey told me. "You can virtually exchange one for another."

In the wide world of illegal activity, bike thievery seems to occupy a criminal sweet spot. It is a relatively painless crime to commit, and city officials do little to stop it. As McCloskey readily admitted, bike theft is not a priority for law enforcement, which he said has its hands full with more serious crimes.
If bike theft is rampant in a major urban area such as San Francisco, it also plagues bicyclists in smaller communities such as Davis, California. Also on Wednesday, the California Aggie at UC Davis published "Bike theft: what to do if it happens to you":
With more than two bicycles for every resident, Davis has often been dubbed the bicycle capital of the United States. For locals, biking is not only a mode of transportation; it's a way of life. Yet hundreds of bikes are stolen from Davis residents each year, making the frustrating reality of bike theft a serious problem.

(UC Davis bicycle program coordiantor David) Takemoto-Weerts said he thinks the number of bicycles reported stolen is not representative of the real number missing.

"I'll bet in terms of the actual number of bikes stolen on campus annually, it's probably somewhere between [600 and] 700 and 1,000 bikes," he said. (Read more.)
I've been fortunate (knock wood) so far. I've had parts stolen, but never lost a bike in 15 years of everyday riding in San Francisco. I agree with the suggestions for bike theft prevention in both these articles, and offer similar advice on my bike commuting tips website. My own technique is to use a relatively low-value bicycle for everyday commuting--the famed "urban beater bike"--and lock it securely, usually with two locks.

I have no illusions. I've been very lucky to avoid bike theft. But no locking technique is completely, absolutely secure. The best you can do is reduce your risks. And the suggestions in these articles are very helpful.

Image: Web capture.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

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