Bike Theft Vigilance: ‘Unwanted Consequences’ for the Urban Cyclist Community

Background Reading


Bicycle Theft In San Francisco

Bicycle Theft In San Francisco

Chicago cyclists  and before than San Francisco have been agitating for someone in city government to protect them from themselves with regards to stolen bikes.

Stop the Fear Mongering And Act Like True Bicycle Advocates

Stop the Fear Mongering And Act Like True Bicycle Advocates

Every major bicycle advocacy group dislikes the idea of having to register bikes and get licenses for them. Yet there are numerous grassroots registration databases available and even groups setup with cities to help people navigate the steps to report stolen bikes to such databases. What gives here? I smell a bit of the Tin Foil Hat mentality that grips the GOP and more importantly its Tea Party wing which is the behavioral analog of the Urban Cycling Community. Everyone wants the cops to care about stolen bikes but has no good idea of how this should be encouraged.

We Already Know How To Defend Against Bike Theft

Where automobiles are concerned there is a clear procedure that is uniform across all 50 states. Cars are registered and licensed and even given plates. This means that without even leaving their squad cars or presumably from street cameras they can detect the presence of a car which might be of interest.

With bicycles the situation is a bit more complicated. You have to in many cases stop the rider or at minimum physically examine the stamped serial number of the bike (and it is often in inconvenient places which require that the bike be turned upside down for instance) and even then you have no guarantee that anyone will have a record of this serial number. There are no uniform laws that require this.

But every single registration program put together by volunteers notes that if you want to avoid theft you should use a U-Lock and not a cable lock. So why isn’t this stamped on the foreheads of the Urban Cycling Community? Largely because they choose to be tin foil hat wearers. They do not wish Big Brother telling them how to register bikes and they seem to want to keep this precious information “in-house” to be learned after the fact by folks whose bikes get stolen and call a registry only to learn how all this could have been avoided.

What is truly mind-boggling is that for most Urban Cyclists it appears that this is their only mode of transportation (they just live to brag about being car free as if that was a badge of honor). These are not weekend riders with more than one bike hanging in the garage or from the wall of their apartments these are their means of getting to and from employment. For goodness sakes let the folks who are trained in dealing with theft do their jobs. We need a national registry and we need licenses. If a suspected thief gets stopped he should have a license in his wallet that shows just the sort of thing as would his driver’s license. End of story!

Yet everyone seems to uniformly dislike the idea of having bikes registered at purchase and licensed to operate. It almost reminds you of the arguments that the Tea Party raises regarding ObamaCare or before that Social Security and Medicare. We now have all of these programs in place and frankly most folks wonder how we got along without something as essential as the programs they use.

We really need to get both the Cycling Advocacy Community as well as the Urban Cyclists themselves to understand the benefits of having some control on who can use a bike (as an adult on city streets) and knowing whether that bike is stolen or legal. Europeans have long been used to having police stop them for not having a front light or fenders or whatever is dictated by their bicycle operation codes. This is especially true in Germany where not only is there a minimum wattage for front lights but also clear understandings that front lights must not blind the oncoming traffic when used. As for rear lights there are some restrictions on the use of blinking red lights.

GhostRiding Stops Cause Consternation

In Chicago a member of a cycling forum asks:

Within the last two days friends have mentioned seeing CPD pulling cyclists over and checking their bikes out to see if it was stolen.  One incident were some bike cops checking the serial number and photographing it for someone riding a carbon fiber bike with high end carbon wheels and clipless while wearing gym clothes and running shoes.  The second was someone getting pulled over by a police cruiser twice while ghost riding a bike to deliver it.

Is this a new thing? Has the CPD started caring about bike theft and is taking steps to combat it?

Shades of New York’s Stop and Frisk policy are going to surface over this. No one wants to be late for work and suddenly have to pull over and wait while a policeman checks for a serial number (and they are not always in the same location on different bikes and not always legible when found) and then photographs the bike. Bummer! But it is a necessary “evil” if bikes are going to be retrieved. And you can be certain that among the folks being stopped most frequently for this sort of thing will be young Latino and Black youths.

One lass on the forum even decides to single out a fellow herself and wants to call the cops to have them find him and ask if his bike is stolen. I know for certain that shoes alone are not an indicator that a high-end bike is stolen. More often than not skin color will be. Henry Gates a Harvard professor was beneficiary of a call by a neighbor who decided he must be breaking into his own house. She called he police and of course an ugly situation developed. It eventually involved the POTUS who tried to smooth things out but that never works.

Time We Pulled Up Our Big Boy Pants

Cyclists hate being pulled over for something they actually know was wrong. They hate being stopped for traffic light violations or ignoring stop signs. And I simply cannot imagine an Urban Cyclist wanting to call the cops because she saw a rider blow through a red stop light. But some person-of-color on a bike they think he could not possibly afford will do the trick each and every time. This is going to be a disaster if things continue.

Urban Cyclists if they truly want security must enter the 21st Century and realize that registration and licensing are boons to their cause for bicycle recovery. They also need to be universally informed of the right kinds of lock (and locking methods) to ensure that their bike gets the best chances of remaining in their possession. And yes, if you have more than one bike, you would have to do what any car driver does and register each one. Big Deal.

Stop Your Whining! Lock It Up Correctly!

Stop Your Whining! Lock It Up Correctly!