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Just how prevelent is bike theft?

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View Poll Results: Just how bad is bike theft?
unbearable
3
13.64%
bad
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27.27%
tolerable
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27.27%
relatively non-existant
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31.82%
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Just how prevelent is bike theft?

Old 12-20-09, 03:35 PM
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Just how prevelent is bike theft?

Inspired by the Sheldon Brown locking method thread, I've been thinking. I know theft is a problem, but just how bad is it?

I just did a bit of checking and I've found reports that say the Vancouver area has about 17,000 cycle commuters and about 1600 bikes stolen each year. Almost 95% of bicycle riders do so recreationally, so those 17,000 commuter bikes on the street only represent a possible 5% of the bikes out there. So (and I'm sure my math is wrong here - but -) that means 1600 out of 340,000 bikes go missing. That's less than one half of a percent of the total, isn't it?

Most of the thefts are near the downtown core that has a large population of druggies with bolt cutters looking to cut a lock and sell a bike for $20 so they can buy a rock. I'll bet the next largest contingent of thefts belong to thefts from homes where other items were stolen. I'd imagine the next largest group of bikes stolen are those where the bike was locked up poorly, or not at all, and some kid comes along and wants to go for a ride.

Police recover about half of all bikes stolen but return only a small portion due to owners either not showing up to check if their bike has been found but also because almost no one has a serial number for their bike. The unclaimed bikes go on sale at auctions.

Of course, I wouldn't expect a bike to last for long if it isn't locked up, but I see so many examples of bikes that are locked ineffectively using the worst quality locks, that I wonder how these last at all.

Just how bad is this problem if you're careful, park in a relatively secure area, and lock it up right? (considering there are relatively few pros out there and there's not much you can do to stop them)
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Old 12-20-09, 03:40 PM
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Why would it matter if the thief was a pro or amateur.
When it is gone, it is still gone.
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Old 12-20-09, 03:54 PM
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It matters as to how and where your bike is secured.

I don't think there is much you can do to stop a determined pro if he/she wants your bike. An amateur, on the other hand can be not only deterred, but often stopped, from the thievery they attempt.
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Old 12-20-09, 04:14 PM
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It's out there, but easy to prevent.

A good U-lock will defeat amateur thieves. Professional thieves laugh in the face of locks, so the solution is to keep them far away from your bike.
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Old 12-20-09, 08:32 PM
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Around here, virtually nil as far as I can tell. I notice bikes unlocked in various yards when walking the dogs. The bikes are still there after about a year and a half.
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Old 12-20-09, 09:01 PM
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There isn't a week that goes by without someone posting about a stolen bike on midnightridazz, but most of the time the bike was poorly locked (cable lock) or unlocked, even for the shortest amount of time. There have been a few reported instances of u-locks having been cut, but these are rare cases and there is nothing you can do. The most frightening thing is when the thief breaks into a home just to steal a bike.

With the whole fixed gear craze it seems Sheldon's method is valuable because everyone wants fixed gear wheels. The thieves probably want the wheels more than the frames because wheels will sell easily. If you have a nice bike all around, track or road, I guess lock it as well as you can or never let it leave your sight.
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Old 12-20-09, 09:07 PM
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These two bikes at the University of Texas have been locked there for at least 10 months (well, the blue one has, though the other has been there for months too.) Of course, they're not exactly desirable bikes.

One thing that's probably wrong with closetbiker's math is that I'm guessing the stolen bikes figure is based on those reported to the police? Many people don't report their stolen bikes to the police -- perhaps because they figure it's a lost cause, the bike isn't worth anything, because they don't have a serial number or receipt (not that they're needed, but they're certainly nice), perhaps because the bike was stolen originally? Dunno.

I also doubt that the police really do recover half of the stolen bikes -- that seems way too high. Though perhaps Vancouver police are different than Austin police?

And quite often people steal parts off of bikes rather than whole bikes -- if they steal your wheel rather than your bike, it doesn't count as a stolen bike, even if replacing that one wheel costs you more than the the entire bike did.
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Old 12-20-09, 09:20 PM
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depends entirely on where you live.

bike theft is rampant in Toronto and New York compared to other places with less interests in bikes as a means of transport.
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Old 12-20-09, 09:29 PM
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^ what he said.

Where I live now, relatively non-existent to tolerable.
5 miles south of here, bad.
10 miles south of here, unbearable.

vaguely ties in with the proximity to downtown mentioned in the OP.
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Old 12-20-09, 11:31 PM
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I think where you leave your bike is as important or maybe more important than the manner in which it's locked.

It seems this is a crime of opportunity, so if you leave temptation in the path of someone looking for an opportunity, it's going to be gone.

Use a little common sense, remove a temptation, you'll probably keep your bike for a long time.
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Old 12-20-09, 11:47 PM
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Originally Posted by dougmc
... I'm guessing the stolen bikes figure is based on those reported to the police? Many people don't report their stolen bikes to the police -- perhaps because they figure it's a lost cause, the bike isn't worth anything, because they don't have a serial number or receipt (not that they're needed, but they're certainly nice), perhaps because the bike was stolen originally? Dunno.

I also doubt that the police really do recover half of the stolen bikes -- that seems way too high. Though perhaps Vancouver police are different than Austin police?

And quite often people steal parts off of bikes rather than whole bikes -- if they steal your wheel rather than your bike, it doesn't count as a stolen bike, even if replacing that one wheel costs you more than the the entire bike did.
Well, my numbers are more about the general ball park of how big the problem is. I'm sure there are lots of bikes out there that have been stolen but not reported, but even if there are lots more bikes stolen than reported, it still doesn't seem like that many bikes in consideration of how many bikes are out there.

I have read a couple of reports on bike thefts that do say police do recover that many bikes and have been at a number of police auctions that sell non claimed items and let me tell you, there are tons of bikes for sale, so by seeing them, it's be pretty hard to say cops don't find a lot of stolen bikes.

As for parts being stolen off bikes, I'm sure it happens and considering how many parts cost so much money and how they can be so easily and quickly removed, it speaks to how small a market there must be for a professional thiefs services that it doesn't happen more often.
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Old 12-20-09, 11:55 PM
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It certainly exists, and depends a lot on where you ride and how you secure your bike. Between my wife and I, we always have at least one bike locked outside in the downtown core of a moderately sized city (about a million). My grand total theft experience...I had a $10 mini pump removed one night. I know from the tracks in the snow that people do frequently walk over to check out my bike, but are apparently deterred by nothing more than a low-end U-lock. Indeed the only theft that I've known amongst friends was two fairly new and mid-range bikes ('07 Jamis Auroras), which were secured only by easily clipped cables (one was also wheel locked using a U). The thieves made enough noise to wake a neighbour, and the bikes were recovered on the other side of their parking lot, where the thieves had apparently abandoned them while they went to fetch a vehicle.

Anecdotal, of course, and the situation in a more bike oriented city (where there are more professional thieves who aren't so easily deterred) would be different. But at least here, it seems that a few very basic steps to secure your bike are enough to keep it safe.
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Old 12-21-09, 12:06 AM
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Originally Posted by dougmc
One thing that's probably wrong with closetbiker's math is that I'm guessing the stolen bikes figure is based on those reported to the police? Many people don't report their stolen bikes to the police -- perhaps because they figure it's a lost cause, the bike isn't worth anything, because they don't have a serial number or receipt (not that they're needed, but they're certainly nice), perhaps because the bike was stolen originally? Dunno.
There's no way to know how much crime goes unreported, and anyone who pretends like they've done some research and come up with a number is clearly bull****ting you. But I suspect report rates for bike theft wouldn't be too small, provided that bike thieves are mostly smart enough to target bikes that will fence for enough money to make it worth it. Most home insurance policies will cover stolen bikes, and I would expect that people owning valuable enough bikes to be worth stealing would also be fairly likely to have insurance. You need a police report to make an insurance claim, therefore I'd expect a large portion of bike thefts to be reported.
Originally Posted by dougmc
I also doubt that the police really do recover half of the stolen bikes -- that seems way too high. Though perhaps Vancouver police are different than Austin police?
This you're probably right on. I imagine the number is arrived at based on "number of recovered bikes / number of bikes reported stolen." Missing not only unreported thefts, but also the reality that a large number of recovered bikes auctioned off by the police are simply abandoned, not stolen.
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Old 12-21-09, 10:15 AM
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Originally Posted by dougmc
...I also doubt that the police really do recover half of the stolen bikes -- that seems way too high...
Originally Posted by neil
...This you're probably right on. I imagine the number is arrived at based on "number of recovered bikes / number of bikes reported stolen." Missing not only unreported thefts, but also the reality that a large number of recovered bikes auctioned off by the police are simply abandoned, not stolen.
the number of abandoned bikes recovered would explain why, at police bike auctions, that the number of bicycles sold often exceed the number of bikes stolen
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Old 12-22-09, 02:25 PM
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I know this may sound stupid and reckless to some, but I never use anything other than a cheap cable lock. BUT I ALWAYS lock it. I figure that anybody who came over to my bike with TOOLS will eventually defeat all but the best locks. And a pro will get your bike even if you parked it in wet cement that is now hard! All I'm trying to do is prevent someone from easily hopping on my bike and using it as a ride home. Of course I live in a low-crime suburban area.
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Old 12-22-09, 11:24 PM
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Originally Posted by fredgarvin7
I know this may sound stupid and reckless to some, but I never use anything other than a cheap cable lock. BUT I ALWAYS lock it. I figure that anybody who came over to my bike with TOOLS will eventually defeat all but the best locks.
Locked with a $1 cable lock is infinitely better than not locked at all. Even a wheel locked to the frame so the bike isn't rideable is far better than nothing -- it will prevent somebody who walks up and hops on your bike and rides off while it's six feet away from you but you looked away for a second.

But a cable lock can be cut in seconds -- literally. A U-lock is usually broken with a jack, which takes a minute or two. If you get a mini U-lock, they probably don't have space to get the jack into it. An angle grinder will still work, but that takes time and isn't stealthy.

But ultimately, the way to prevent the pro from stealing your bike is to make your bike a lot more trouble to steal than that bike next to it. If your bike is locked with a U-lock, and the other with a chain lock, and both look similar, guess which one they'll take? It's not foolproof, but it certainly makes a huge difference.
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