The Chainlink

Statistics on recent Bike Thefts and my personal recommendations on how to minimize them

I just examined 201 of the July bike thefts on the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry website (http://chicago.stolenbike.org/) because a recent breakdown of the thefts did not discuss the 39% of bikes that were outside of the "not locked" or "poorly locked" categories - I was curious about those too.

I totaled the different categories of theft and came up with these:

Not locked at all or locked to itself only or left unlocked in a garage or porch that got broken into = 38%
Locked with a combination lock and chain = 18%
Padlocked with a chain - 8%
Locked with an integrated lock in a chain = 6%
(the last three use chains that are easily cut and constitute 32%)
Flat Key U-Locks
To a street sign that got lifted or fence that got broken = 19%
Front Wheel only locked - so rest of bike was stolen = 2%
Using older U-Locks = 2%
Bike was disassembled around U-Lock = 1%
U-Lock itself was broken = 6% (presumably using tools like hacksaws, or bent open with force, or chiseled into) (note: 6% is still a small percentage)
From these statistics I conclude:
- Never ever fail to lock your bike and never lock it to itself.
- Never use chains (unless you are parking within eye sight, say outside a coffee bar you are sitting at).
- Don't lock your bike outdoors on the streets for more than a short period of time (minutes) if you are only using 1 lock.
- It is better to keep the bike in your apartment, condo or house than in a car garage that may be broken into unless it is a building garage explicit for bikes in which residents require special building-provided keys, pay for their parking spot, and in which security may provide some monitoring of people entering the building..  The risk that another resident will steal your bike still exists of course, but that remains relatively small (and if you are worried about that, take it into the home and don't pay for the bike garage).

- If locking outside on the streets for hours, use a bike rack instead of a fence, gate or street sign, and use preferably two U-Locks, in particular the hard-core ones like the Kryptonite Fahgettaboudit or others in that family, whatever the brand.  If one is keeping the bike outside for several hours, attach the front wheel and the frame to a bike rack with a solid duty flat-key U-Lock AND an additional smaller but heavy-duty U-Lock to attach the frame again to the bike rack - that will give the thieves more work than they may want to put into the job (remember, they don't like to work as hard as the rest of us).  Small O-Locks may be used for an additional and impressive secondary or tertiary level of security.  The advantage of an O-Lock, while small, is it is built to resist leveraging, sawing, chiseling or hammering - perfect to attach to a back wheel.

This is all common advice but the statistics seem to support it.

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Thanks a lot...very nice work.

However, I'm not sure I agree with your conclusions.

Let me preface  my comments by stating that I have had multiple bikes stolen from me in Chicago and try and track all the stolen bike news on Chainlink and other sites.  So I'm a glut for information about bike theft.  While in any human endeavor you will see all kinds of variation I believe my comments below are in general accurate.  I realize that of the 55 billion readers of Chainlink some will have examples to the contrary but the exceptions don't invalidate the overall patterns I am familar with.

First, not sure where you get your conclusion that leaving a bike with a lock is only safe for a few minutes.  I don't see this in the data.   As someone who bikes all over the city - and has friends who do as well - this is not consistent with our experience.  

If you lock your bike properly with a ulock and your bike is neither extremely expensive nor left sitting overnight in an isolate neighborhood, the chance your bike (NOT JUST THE wheel)  being stolen is low.  Getting through a ulock without an angle cutter is difficult and such activity raises obvious signs on the street that something is going on.  Angle cutters are only used by "professional" or "serious" bike thieves and IN GENERAL they focus on more expensive bikes for obvious reasons.  The chances of getting a sub $600 bike stolen - in a non isolated location with a quality (non Bell!)  ulock on it are very low.  Obviously  you can't leave your bike there for days, overnight, etc.

Just think about it. I live in Uptown and bike to Andersonville and Lincoln Square every day.  If it was risk free to cut a ulock you would see many thefts every day from the hundreds of relatively expensive bikes parked in these locations (throughout the course of the day). And you don't.  It's not technically hard to do. The risk outweighs the reward.   

Second, I don't see where the data says you need two ulocks.  A ulock and a chain for the wheel is -in my belief - sufficient.  A second ulock is too heavy.  Wheels are difficult to sell and thieves will rarely cut a cable for just a wheel. The market for used bike wheels is quite low...it's basically a crime of opportunity given that bike wheels are often unlocked.   It is more profitable - and the same amount of work - to steal a bike with a cable lock. You can find cable locked bikes everywhere.

I do find the 19% number for lifted street signs or cut fences amazing. I always heard this was an urban legend around the fake sign pole trick but maybe not!  I always look really closely at the bolts to see if they have been tampered with.

clarification:  by "chain" I meant cable. The ulock/cable combo sold by Kryptonite is the perfect urban solution.  Thieves move on when they see a well locked bike. There is a lot of low hanging fruit they go after.

Your bike only needs to be secured better than other bikes to prevent crime. It doesn't have to be theft proof.

I hope I made it clear that the thefts from even one U-Lock are very low (I emphasized that 6% is still a very low number).  I was just trying to address ways of reducing even those numbers by adding another lock or two (like your proposal for a U-Lock/chain combo).  But you are right, the chances of not getting a bike stolen simply with the U-Lock, so long as it is to a bike rack and not a pole or fence (where you'd be part of the 19%) is still huge.

jolondon30 said:

Thanks a lot...very nice work.

However, I'm not sure I agree with your conclusions.

Let me preface  my comments by stating that I have had multiple bikes stolen from me in Chicago and try and track all the stolen bike news on Chainlink and other sites.  So I'm a glut for information about bike theft.  While in any human endeavor you will see all kinds of variation I believe my comments below are in general accurate.  I realize that of the 55 billion readers of Chainlink some will have examples to the contrary but the exceptions don't invalidate the overall patterns I am familar with.

First, not sure where you get your conclusion that leaving a bike with a lock is only safe for a few minutes.  I don't see this in the data.   As someone who bikes all over the city - and has friends who do as well - this is not consistent with our experience.  

If you lock your bike properly with a ulock and your bike is neither extremely expensive nor left sitting overnight in an isolate neighborhood, the chance your bike (NOT JUST THE wheel)  being stolen is low.  Getting through a ulock without an angle cutter is difficult and such activity raises obvious signs on the street that something is going on.  Angle cutters are only used by "professional" or "serious" bike thieves and IN GENERAL they focus on more expensive bikes for obvious reasons.  The chances of getting a sub $600 bike stolen - in a non isolated location with a quality (non Bell!)  ulock on it are very low.  Obviously  you can't leave your bike there for days, overnight, etc.

Just think about it. I live in Uptown and bike to Andersonville and Lincoln Square every day.  If it was risk free to cut a ulock you would see many thefts every day from the hundreds of relatively expensive bikes parked in these locations (throughout the course of the day). And you don't.  It's not technically hard to do. The risk outweighs the reward.   

Second, I don't see where the data says you need two ulocks.  A ulock and a chain for the wheel is -in my belief - sufficient.  A second ulock is too heavy.  Wheels are difficult to sell and thieves will rarely cut a cable for just a wheel. The market for used bike wheels is quite low...it's basically a crime of opportunity given that bike wheels are often unlocked.   It is more profitable - and the same amount of work - to steal a bike with a cable lock. You can find cable locked bikes everywhere.

I do find the 19% number for lifted street signs or cut fences amazing. I always heard this was an urban legend around the fake sign pole trick but maybe not!  I always look really closely at the bolts to see if they have been tampered with.

There are 3251 reports on the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry for the period between January 1, 2010 and August 6, 2013. Of those reports, 539 were identified as being locked with a newer u-lock w/flat key. That's 16.58%. For that same period, there were 2, (possibly 3) reported thefts of bikes which were secured with two u-locks. If you lock your bike with a decent u-lock, to a bike rack, and can avoid leaving it locked up overnight, your odds are still pretty good of keeping your bike for many years to come.

I'm at 28, going on 29 years without having a bike stolen in the City of Chicago.

SlowCoachOnTheRoad said:

I hope I made it clear that the thefts from even one U-Lock are very low (I emphasized that 6% is still a very low number).  I was just trying to address ways of reducing even those numbers by adding another lock or two (like your proposal for a U-Lock/chain combo).  But you are right, the chances of not getting a bike stolen simply with the U-Lock, so long as it is to a bike rack and not a pole or fence (where you'd be part of the 19%) is still huge.


Kev, that is because even bike thieves know you are not supposed to keep riding a frame that is dented so badly !

That's a patina. ;-)

Michael A said:

Kev, that is because even bike thieves know you are not supposed to keep riding a frame that is dented so badly !

Kevin, I am a firm believer in never saying things like that out loud.  Go knock your head on some wood!

 

I'm at 28, going on 29 years without having a bike stolen in the City of Chicago.
 

Who wants to do a public service video with me to teach about locking bikes?

We should pass out flyers like "Look Chicago" does.

Maybe work with LBS about passing out such flyers with new bike purchases?

All the flyer will say is:  Prevent bike theft. See website http://so and so dot com

Then we just have videos and links to bike locks. 

Simple!

Wait... Didn't H already have something like this?

It's been discussed, but never implemented. CDOT actually has a good video on their website.

I like the flyering idea and would assist.


J.A.W. said:

Who wants to do a public service video with me to teach about locking bikes?

We should pass out flyers like "Look Chicago" does.

Maybe work with LBS about passing out such flyers with new bike purchases?

All the flyer will say is:  Prevent bike theft. See website http://so and so dot com

Then we just have videos and links to bike locks. 

Simple!

Wait... Didn't H already have something like this?

Kevin, do you have a link for this?

Kevin C said:

It's been discussed, but never implemented. CDOT actually has a good video on their website.

I have warned people locking to signs that were not secured at all more than once, and each time they've gone ahead and locked to them.

Michael B said:

Walking my dog this morning I happened upon a women locking her new Trek to a stop sign "sucker pole". I told her that a thief could easily pull the sign out of the ground & nab her bike & that a nearby fence might be a better spot to lock up. She told me that it was a four-way stop & nobody would pull the sign out!?!

It might of been helpful for her to get a flyer when she bought her bike or maybe when she goes shopping for a bike to replace the one she is about to lose.

J.A.W. said:

Who wants to do a public service video with me to teach about locking bikes?

We should pass out flyers like "Look Chicago" does.

Maybe work with LBS about passing out such flyers with new bike purchases?

All the flyer will say is:  Prevent bike theft. See website http://so and so dot com

Then we just have videos and links to bike locks. 

Simple!

Wait... Didn't H already have something like this?

Good question. Albeit will have conflicting answers.

I personally would've taken the license plate and car detail. I would also take a detailed mental note of a specific bike that may have caught my eyes then peruse the any postings about missing bikes to see if anything matches.

If after a week nothing matches, then I'd discard that information.

Innocent until proven guilty, but okay to be suspicious - I guess.

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