Note that I wrote this article for the Santa Cruz County Cycling Club, so it refers to locations in Santa Cruz, California where I live. To learn safe and dangerous locations in your town, and which are the best locks for your bicycle and how you use it, please discuss how to lock and where to lock your bicycle with your favorite bicycle dealer or fellow cyclists.
I’ve owned approximately fifty bicycles, but I’ve been lucky enough to only have one stolen. It happened in 1990 in Italy while I was on a ten-day tour of Italian bicycle factories sponsored by the Italian Bicycle and Motorcycle Trade Association. On the first day, we stopped near Lake Como for lunch and while we were eating, thieves broke open the van and stole my ride, a nice Specialized Allez I’d customized with hydraulic brakes and super-light pedals.
Our hosts were as dismayed as we were, but there wasn’t a thing they, or the carbinieri (police) could do. So we returned to the hotel in Milan, and I spent the evening bummed that I probably wasn’t going to be able to pedal through the incredible Italian countryside. I needn’t have worried.
Bianchi blows me away
The first visit in the morning was to Bianchi, one of the oldest bicycle manufacturers (click to view the ad, right), and located in a sprawling multi-building complex. We entered via the company’s well-stocked retail store, which had Bianchi everything, from socks and shoes to water bottles, toe straps, pumps, hats, bags, wheel covers — you name it.
Before we could reach for our wallets, however, we were introduced to a tall, handsome, well-dressed and very fit-looking man, who I recognized as Felice Gimondi, one of the greatest roadies ever and a celebrity in Italy.
He greeted us in Italian (while the interpreter translated) and then looked directly at me and apologized for my bicycle being stolen. He then explained that by the end of our factory tour, he’d have a new Bianchi ready for me to take back to America, which he did. And I rode that Celeste full-Campy beauty out to Monza and back the next day in my new Bianchi socks and shorts.
Bicycle theft is bad news
Unfortunately, most stolen bicycle stories don’t have such happy endings. And while I’ll never forget receiving that new Bianchi, I’ll also always remember and miss my stolen Allez. It had special meaning, too, as all bicycles have to their owners.
That’s the saddest thing about bicycle theft. You get attached to your machine and when it’s stolen, you feel violated, lost, depressed. In fact, plenty of people have given up bicycling because their bicycles got stolen, which made them feel violated, unsafe and at risk. Rather than suffer these feelings again, they take up other activities that seem safer.
It’s sad, too, that kids are afraid to ride to school for fear that their wheels won’t be there when they get out. And that a lot of people who might consider biking around don’t do so, because they feel like there’s no way to keep their bicycle safe while they’re in a store or restaurant. Hopefully, the tips in this article will help you learn how to lock your bicycle and keep it safe and sound.
Recognize the risks
There are two main points every cyclist should keep in mind. The first is to recognize that there are thieves out there and that they know how to steal bicycles, even locked ones. So you’ve got to be alert and careful; a lot more about this in a minute.
The other key point that’s rarely explained is that when a bicycle is stolen, it’s not a hopeless situation. While it may be unlikely that you’ll see your baby again, if you act fast and do the right things, there’s a reasonable chance of recovery. Stolen Bicycle Registry is an easy and free way to spread the word about your bike (click below).
Other bicycle registry organizations that let you purchase identification decals for your bicycle and register them include (in alphabetical order), Bike Revolution, the International Bike Registry and National Bike Registry.
How to keep your bicycle yours
Believe it or not, the vast majority of stolen bicycles get that way because they weren’t locked. So, your first defense against theft is purchasing a quality lock and using it whenever you leave your ride unattended. Thieves usually ignore protected two wheelers because so many freebies are readily available.
But don’t just slap on the lock any old which way. Bike thieves are the lowest of the low, but they’re not always stupid. They’ll get your machine or part of it, if you’re lazy about securing it. For example, most dirt and road rigs are equipped with quick-release wheels, which make it easy for crooks to swipe a very expensive chunk of your machine if you forget to lock the wheels (or the rest of the bicycle, if you only secure one wheel!).
Likewise, if you wrap a cable around a parking meter, thieves can just lift the bicycle over the post’s top, toss your pride and joy in his truck/trunk and take it home where he can break off the lock at his leisure.
Speaking of parking meters, my favorite bike theft story involves the cyclist catching the thief in the act of taking his bicycle. Enraged, he knocks the bum down, unlocks his U-lock and then slides it around the creep’s neck and locks him to the parking meter! Even if it’s only an urban legend, it’s a sweet story to anyone who has had a bike stolen.
Here are some rules on how to lock and safeguard your bicycle:
Seven super safety rules and a suggestion
Getting a stolen bicycle back
I know it seems hopeless when your bicycle is ripped off. But maybe it will steel your resolve to hear that I know two cyclists who had their bicycles stolen in New York City and later recovered them. One guy found his in a yard sale two years after he lost it. The other guy walked door-to-door for weeks, passing out fliers and talking to people, until he got a lead and recovered his Raleigh.
In both cases, the bicycles were found in the same condition they were in before they were stolen. I can tell you plenty of stories like this about bicycles that were stolen in Santa Cruz, too—some from readers using the tips in this article.
People claim that bicycles are stolen in bulk and taken out of the area to be sold. Or, you hear that there are rings of thieves who steal bicycles and strip all the parts and make money selling the parted-out machines or refurbished bicycles built of the parts. That may go on. But in my experience, it’s very rare.
Where they go
Once stolen, bicycles are usually sold ASAP to someone for quick drug money. Or the bicycle remains with the person who stole it, or with that person’s family, or the general community where he/she lives. Even when the bicycle is turned for drug money, if the transaction takes place here, the bicycle will probably stay here.
So how do you get it back? The most important thing is to act fast once a bicycle is stolen. If you wait, you might forget details about the bicycle that help identify it. And, you’ll miss the chance of letting people know about your bicycle during the time when it’s most likely to be found.
Often, a thief will try to get the bicycle repaired (bicycles that ride are easier to sell), and if you’ve alerted the shops, the mechanic will recognize the bicycle and call you. Also, thieves often try to sell bicycles to shops, which never works because the crooks have no idea what the bicycle is worth. When they ask for way-too-low a price, it always raises suspicions and the shops call the cops.
Steps to take to get your bicycle back
Why I left out the how of bicycle theft
You’ll notice that I didn’t describe the details of how thieves steal bicycles. While I’d enjoy busting some myths (no, thieves don’t commonly break locks with liquid nitrogen) with a complete explanation right down to what tools they use and how they behave, I’d rather not give them any help.
So for now, if you’re interested in the details, ask me the next time you see me on a ride. In the meantime, keep your bicycle safe. Here is an interesting new GPS device that I have not tried, but looks good (perhaps bicycle manufacturers will adopt this concept and someday insert tracking devices on every new bike—wouldn't that be nice?).