It's a sad sight - and all too familiar. But before we get into the matter at hand, I'd just like to tell you how it reminds me of leaving a pub in the countryside in South Africa many years ago, and finding my friend's car at a strange angle - the wheels had been stolen as we were drinking the night away! - South Africa's like that!
Believe it or not, bikes are now the focus of serious criminal gangs in the United States, and not just casual criminals. Why...? One reason is the risk-reward ratio - because bike theft is low on the police list of priorities, most thefts are never solved and the criminals get away with it almost every time. Here's a graph from treehugger.com that explains that:
The graph really speaks for itself! Steal enough bikes and you can make decent money at almost zero risk to your liberty.
About Half of All Cyclists Have their Bikes Stolen at Some Time
That's astounding, isn't it? It's a figure based on research done in Montreal in 2015, and I have no doubt at all that the figure applies equally well to the United states.
Here's some facts from Portland:
Bike City - A Thieve's Mecca
This quote is from Oregonlive.com : "Portland thieves last year took more than 2,100 bikes worth well over $1 million combined, according to an analysis by The Oregonian/OregonLive using Portland Police Bureau data. That number, reflecting only those thefts reported to police, is nearly two times what it was in 2007." - and arrests were made only in about 2% of cases.
It's Not Just Expensive Bikes
So what's the average value of a stolen bike.. replacement value - $1,000 - or maybe $3,000? No - in fact, 76% of stolen bikes cost less than $500! So if you think that your bike won't be stolen because it's an inexpensive model - you're wrong!
Regular Riders are At High Risk of Theft
Another alarming statistic coming from the Montreal study was that riders who use their bikes year-round are 90% more likely to be theft victims than weekend riders or occasion riders. You might expect this to some extent - but 90%?! And most of these thefts occur within 2 miles of home - which seems to indicate that either criminals are looking for regular riders and targeting them, or that regular riders are far more careless with security than occasional riders - or both!
Will I Get My Stolen Bike Back?
Sorry, but that's extremely unlikely. Fewer than 3% of stolen bikes are ever recovered.
Busy Areas? - It Doesn't Help
For some reason, passers by simply ignore the site of criminals stealing bikes - even when they spend many minutes hacking away with saws, hammers and chisels! This video illustrates this problem all too well:
The Top 10 Bicycle Theft Zones in the United States
This list is from a site promoting bike locks:
- Philadelphia, PA
- Chicago, IL
- New York City, NY
- San Francisco, CA
- Tucson, AZ
- Portland, OR
- Denver, CO
- New Haven, CT
- Cambridge, MA
- Austin, TX
It's hardly surprising that these cities also have very high rates of bicycle usage!
College and University Campus - Very High Risk
I find this really surprising - I know there are a lot of bikes on campus, but who's stealing them? Here's a report from Stanford:
"Bike theft was the number-one reported crime on campus last year, with a total of 329 bikes reported stolen, according to the Stanford Department of Public Safety’s (SDPS) annual Stanford safety report released last month."
Here's another example from a large university:
"Around 300 bike thefts are reported stolen each year at UC-Santa Barbara, according to the university’s bicycle program officer Matt Stern. And 500 to 600 are reported stolen annually at UC-Davis, according its bicycle coordinator David Takemoto-Weerts."
There's No Such Thing as a Theft-Proof Lock
No matter what the manufacturer's say - even the best ones - there's no such thing as complete security. Here's the bad news:
"Of the 136 bikes reported stolen during this time frame, 48 were reported to be U-locked, 43 were cable-locked, 23 were unlocked, seven were chain-locked and 15 were categorized as locked in a miscellaneous manner."
Protecting Your Bike: The Two Lock and Alarm Strategy
It's clear that we are all at high risk of bike theft, particularly at college campuses and in the larger cities - so what can we do? I believe that there is one simple, easy and inexpensive action we can take to drastically reduce our exposure to this risk:
- ALWAYS LOCK YOUR BIKE WITH TWO DIFFERENT LOCKS - GOOD ONES
Why...? Because to remove two different locks requires two different types of equipment and most thieves will not have that available - it will also take them twice as long - they will almost always choose another bike to steal!
Types of Lock - Your Options
Although there are a plethora of locks available, 90% of them are of three basic types:
- Steel Cables
How Thieves Break Them
- Chain links and U-lock shackles with diameters of less then 13 mm can be cut with medium-sized bolt cutters, which are cheap to buy and very popular with thieves.
- Locks with diameters between 13 and 15 mm are tough to crop and can only be broken by very big bolt cutters. This makes the thief's life harder, but the professional thieves will have these too.
- 16mm chain links and U-lock shackles become almost impossible to cut with any manual bolt cutters.
That's a pretty good guideline, but of course, the overall quality of the lock matters as well as the type of steel. Few of us want to spend time becoming lock experts, and too many online reviews are biased for one reason or another - so our bottom line is:-
Use two good quality locks of different types - this will have deterrent value as well as making it harder for the thief, even when the locks aren't the most expensive.
A Final Word - Bike Theft Alarms
As the video shows, most people walk on by when they see even the most obvious evidence of a theft in progress in a busy place. However, an alarm can make a huge difference because no-one can pretend that they haven't heard it and many will feel compelled to at least shout out loud about the matter.
An alarm can also unnerve a thief or even prevent him/her from even trying. So we're going to modify our final word on security as follows:
- ALWAYS LOCK YOUR BIKE WITH TWO DIFFERENT LOCKS - and fit a loud anti-theft siren!
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