The Chainlink

We are entering high season for Bike Theft in the City of Chicago. Reports to the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry are starting to come in at the rate of more than one per day. If last year is any indication, they’ll peak out at a rate of more than four per day, and a really busy day may see as many as ten thefts reported in a single day.

 

I believe in the axiom that if a bike thief really wants to steal your bike, there’s not much you can do to keep your bike from getting stolen. But I also believe in the axiom that if you only lock your bike with a cable lock, or a combination cable lock, or a cable and padlock, or you don’t lock your bike at all, your bike is going to get stolen even if the thieves only “sort of” want to steal your bike. I also fervently believe in the punchline “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I only have to outrun you.”

 

Facts:

There are about 2500 bikes listed on the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry (CSBR).

 

20% of those stolen bikes (CSBR) weren’t locked - no lock at all. Nothing. Nada. Bupkis.

 

34% of those stolen bikes (CSBR) were locked with either a combination cable lock, a cable with an integrated key lock or a cable with a padlock.

 

The Chicago Police Department does not maintain theft data specifically for bikes, but estimates that in excess of 5000 bikes per year are stolen in the City of Chicago.

 

Fewer than half of the CSBR entries contain a serial number, which just happens to be the single most important piece of information for identifying and recovering a stolen bike.

 

I know what you’re saying. “Hey wait just a minute Kevin, these aren’t Fun Facts. Truthfully, these are pretty depressing statistics. Throw us a bone, would you?” 

 

OK, but just this once...

 

I have yet to see an entry on the CSBR for a bike which was cross-locked; i.e. two U-locks or a U-lock together with a heavy duty security chain and padlock.

 

The Chicago Stolen Bike Registry now contains a link which enables you to register your bike BEFORE IT’S STOLEN. The link is to Bike Revolution, an organization based in London which enables you to register your bike, enter a photo if you like, record any identifying accessories that distinguish your bike and print a certificate for your records. A dirty little secret about registering your bike with the Chicago Police Department is that your registration drops out of their system every two years. The people behind the curtain at the CSBR have maintained six and a half years of data regarding thefts, and pledge to retain the registration data through and including the date you sell or dispose of your bike, or the date on which you attend your first grandchild’s grammar school graduation, whichever date comes first. 

 

Kryptonite used to do an annual list of the top ten worst cities in the US for bike theft. (The underlying Kryptonite data is proprietary, but the worst cities are based on rate of theft rather than gross numbers, and reading between the lines, relates to claims on the Kryptonite replacement guarantee.) New York was always #1 followed by everyone else. By the time they stopped 3 years ago, NY settled at #3, with Philadelphia at #1 and Chicago at #2. I spoke with the brand manager at Kryptonite a couple of times last fall seeking insight into how Chicago could use the lessons learned in NY to reduce theft in Chicago. Was it the fact that New York got a Kryptonite lock named after them? Nah, it was awareness, pure and simple. The publicity associated with being the worst city in the US for bike theft made people in New York more aware of how and where they locked their bike. It made New Yawkers more aware that they needed to spend some money for the best lock(s) they could afford, and lock their bike every time-even if they were just going inside “for a minute.”   

 

I don’t want to blame the victim here, but 54% of the bikes stolen in the City of Chicago either aren’t locked or are locked with a cable lock. A little awareness of that fact alone could reduce the incidence of bike theft in Chicago substantially. Recovery rates for bicycles where the owner doesn’t even know their serial number are abyssmal. Until these facts change, my strategy is: I lock my bike with two U-locks (and a cable) anytime I leave my transportation/commuter unattended for longer than half an hour. If I leave it unattended for less than that, I have one U-lock on it. If I’m lucky, I get to lock my bike to a bike rack with two U-locks next to a bike locked with a combination cable lock.

 

Register your bike. Write down your serial number.

 

Riding a bike is fun. Returning to the location where you locked your bike and finding it there is almost as much fun.

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Replies to This Discussion

Hi Kevin - Could I ask you about some of the stats you mentioned, specifically the CPD estimate that 5000 bikes are stolen in the city every year? Did you get those from the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry? Would I be able to use that estimate for an article I'm writing about bike theft in Chicago? thanks! I can be reached via comment or e-mail: erine.vogel@gmail.com

Yes you can. 

The figure of "over 5000 stolen bikes" from the CPD was in a response to a FOIA request I made on 10/19/10. The date of the CPD response was 11/29/10. The dates covered by their response were 1/1/10 - 11/5/10. 

Just as the theft reports to the Chicago Police Department represent some smaller subset of the universe of annual stolen bikes, the CSBR reports are not a comprehensive list.

I suppose your decision to use that figure in an article depends on your attribution and recognition of the limitations of the data.

A comment regarding your last sentence. After having my beautiful bike stolen, I have been extremely paranoid about my new bike whenever I lock it. Honestly, I dont care hold long I have to spend to find a good spot and lock it. (I use two ulocks and a wire). Even with all of this security, as I walk to the location where I locked my bike, I hope that it is still there. And once I catch a glimpse of it, all the paranoia exhales with my next breath.

According to your theft report, your black & gold fixed gear was stolen from a park where you left it unlocked. If you are using two u-locks now, locking it to something substantial like a bike rack, every time, you shouldn't have anything to worry about. Last year from 4/1-10/31/11, there were 616 reports to the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry. Eighty-four of them were locked with a newer u-lock with a flat key (14%). One, possibly 2 of them were locked with 2 u-locks (<0.3%). 

Use two U-locks. Breathe easy.

Vitaliy said:

A comment regarding your last sentence. After having my beautiful bike stolen, I have been extremely paranoid about my new bike whenever I lock it. Honestly, I dont care hold long I have to spend to find a good spot and lock it. (I use two ulocks and a wire). Even with all of this security, as I walk to the location where I locked my bike, I hope that it is still there. And once I catch a glimpse of it, all the paranoia exhales with my next breath.

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