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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Duppie, theft reports drop off to a few a week every winter and explode to multiple reports every day every spring. If you think that could be explained by general awareness of the CSBR, could you help us figure out what boosts that awareness each year? It would be good to know so we could better harness it.

Cable lock = gift-wrap for thieves.  

One might as well just set it under the Xmas tree with To: Bike Thief - From: Santa written on a pretty holiday card.  

When I go into an LBS in this city and see them selling cable locks  my estimation of the business goes down significantly.  

OK, possible "f-in do something about it" idea-- get stickers printed that somehow clearly and simply communicate "No cable locks" and put them on city racks.  The message might be a hair confusing but it will get people thinking and asking.  Especially if they're from places where a cable lock is enough, which accounts for a fair number of vctims.

James BlackHeron said:

Cable lock = gift-wrap for thieves.  

One might as well just set it under the Xmas tree with To: Bike Thief - From: Santa written on a pretty holiday card.  

When I go into an LBS in this city and see them selling cable locks  my estimation of the business goes down significantly.  

I've been trying to wrap my head around a slogan that could be used in an anti cablelock campaign.  

Something like Cable Locks don't cut it in Chicago although that is no quite right.   Something with "Cut it" in there that really conveys how easily a cable can be cut through.

I don't even use a cable to secure my other wheel -I like my wheels.  You might as well leave the wheel unlocked as little good it does against a thief who wants them.  Sort of like the improvement going from a QR wheel to a nutted one.  Barely an issue for a thief to get off -although I am amazed at the number of people who think a simple nut is going to slow down a thief.  I don't get that people somehow don't think thieves know how to turn a wrench...  A cable is barely better than that.  A simple cheap 12 cutter goes through the best of them like butter.  A hungry squirrel could chew through one in a couple of minutes. 

I use a cable lock for one thing -to secure my trailer to my bike -and only because even a longshackle isn't long enough to lock it to the bike most of the time.  If someone wants to steal my $40 kiddie trailer I guess they can just cut the crap 5/8" cable I"m using to secure it.  But they aren't going to get my 8-speed IGH rear hub or my X-FDD front brake/dyno hub by foolishly securing it with a cable. 

Ignoring the truth does nobody any good.   

Lying to yourself is one of the greatest sins IMHO.  

There are a few factors at play with a sharp increase in bike thefts during the spring time:

1. Warm weather gets more people motivated to ride their bikes and more bikes are being left to park that thieves steel.

2. Many fair weather riders TEND to be less versed in how to more securly lock a bike (ie cable vs ulock) 

3. Crime increases when the weather is warm.  Ask any police officer, read the newspaper.  Once the weather gets warm, shootings, muggings and theft go up.  This is why my police officer friend gets her furlough (vacation) in feb. Crime is lower in middle of winter, so the city has more officers take their vacations between new years and april. 

Duppie said:

bike theft season, or bike theft reporting season?

I may have to do with the ever increasing brand name recognition of the CSBR.


4.  People are buying bikes now that the weather is warmer so a thief can sell it easier/faster/and with a better price -as well as there are many other people selling bikes too so the stolen ones are just a drop in the bucket and get lost in the mass of ads.  A victim trying to find his stolen bike on CL will have to search through more listings in the summer.  It's much harder to fence stolen bikes in the winter.

Supply & Demand.

A common practice of a bike thief is to list a similar bike on CL to the one he is trying to sell.  Same size/style/and similar level of components.  That way a victim won't notice his own bike.  When prospective buyers call up asking about the bike he says it is already sold BUT he has another bike which is almost the same thing at the same price but a different brand name.  This makes is nearly impossible for a victim to notice his own bike being sold in CL.  This trick works much better when there is a higher volume of bikes on CL in the summer.

+1

Nice work!

Thunder Snow said:

i was extremely lucky. I had my allez stolen right in front of my store i work at near North and clybourn high foot traffic and still stolen. I found my 6 weeks later being sold at the swap on ashland and 43rd part for part exactly the same. Grabbed my police report with serial number got it back there and than no paperwork nothing thank god. 

OK, I'll put the link to this page on the stickers :-)

James BlackHeron said:

+1

Nice work!

Thunder Snow said:

That's great to hear-- in general though it would be great if people who get their bikes back let the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry know about it so we can update your listing, and offer something happy and useful to those reading the site to deepen their understanding of the current face of bike theft.

Further details would be appreciated-- did you get police or SoR security help? Was it sitting at a vendor's booth or was someone shopping it around?

Thanks.

Connor Egan said:

i was extremely lucky. I had my allez stolen right in front of my store i work at near North and clybourn high foot traffic and still stolen. I found my 6 weeks later being sold at the swap on ashland and 43rd part for part exactly the same. Grabbed my police report with serial number got it back there and than no paperwork nothing thank god. 

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