BIKE THEFT - Q & A (from a bike cop's perspective)

We aren’t able to interact at community events yet, but would still love to engage around the topic of Bike Theft! If you have any questions you’d like to discuss, drop one in here and I’d be happy to give my two cents. Happy riding!

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Quick facts: bike theft is up 20%+ in recent months. Most thefts are occurring from indoor locations/ secure bike rooms. Please lock your bikes as well INDOORS as you do outdoors.

Do you mean that most thefts overall are occurring in indoor locations? Or just that the recent increase is due to indoor thefts?

I lock up fastidiously any time I’m out and about, but my bike is loose in my garage (attached to single family home) at home. Do you have recommendations for properly securing bikes in this scenario?

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Overall, total number of stolen bikes for the year has gone up 20% as compared to last year. But we have seen secure areas targeted more than ever before. The majority of all bikes stolen are being taken from those areas, and unfortunately garages are often mentioned in reports that I read.

Lots of folks accidentally leave their car unlocked in the driveway and the thief uses the garage door opener in it. Others forget to close the garage door over night… But often there’s no place to secure the bike like you mentioned. What I do at home personally with the bikes in my garage is toss a U-lock on the frame/rear wheel. My hope is this will limit the thief’s mobility if they consider stealing it. Most thieves are looking for a quick get-away vehicle along with whatever else they are stealing, and most likely won’t risk toting the bike around town if it’s locked like this.

Here’s another option that you might consider that I saw recently: https://hiplok.com/

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How are bike thieves make a get away. Do they come prepared with a van or just ride the bike away? Do they ghost ride the stolen bike? How do they get to the crime scene?

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That’s a really nice option, if you have the wall space for it. I don’t.

All of the above, but most of them walk in and ride away on the newly acquired bike. We rarely see those that are mobile with a vehicle. Usually these aren’t the most sophisticated thieves.

I’m curious about stolen bikes getting returned to their owners. Any idea of the ratio of registered versus non-registered bikes that get returned?

In addition to registering before it’s stolen, do you have suggestions for getting a bike back after it disappears?

Ob:RegisterYourBike! www.bikeindex.org | www.project529.com

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This is what I do in my garage. Many bikes, and a U-lock on each one. I don’t want to make it easy for a thief to ride away.

Ideally I want to put some anchors on the garage floor to lock the nicer bikes to, as an extra level of deterrent.

Also, we unplug our garage door opener when we aren’t using it, which is 99% of the time.

I’m curious about the stats for lock type, how often a U-lock is cut vs a cable.

Thanks for offering your experience and advice here. That is very much appreciated.
I’m curious about statistics on the % of bikes stolen that were locked to a stationary object with a U-lock? Reading between the lines of what you have said above—and what I think we might generally agree is best practice—using a reputable U-lock and in a prescribed manner reduces the probability of it getting stolen significantly. Am I wrong?
When I have suggested as much on bikeportland I tend to get crucified.

Good question. Statistically, if a bike is not registered, there is a 10%- chance that it will get recovered in Portland. If a bike is registered, there is a 20%+ (some stats show it’s closer to 25%) chance it will get recovered. So, basically doubles your chances at a minimum.

Suggestions post theft? Bikes typically show up on the street for a few days, to a week after they are stolen. We intercept a good amount just being ridden around. The thieves try to sell them ASAP and it moves up the chain where eventually it is circulated back into the community, usually through 1. OfferUp, 2. Craigslist, 3. LetGo. I would recommend checking those sites for up to a month after it’s stolen. We have more guidelines on our BTTF website regarding that if you do spot it online.

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Many bikes that are stolen are not locked at all. (backyards, balconies, storage rooms, garages, etc.) If they are locked, about 80% of those that are taken use cable locks. (hence our strict “never use a cable lock” message you probably have heard from us)

Quality (emphasis on quality) U-locks being defeated is an anomaly and rarely happens. We do recover a good amount of bikes with U-locks attached to the frame, which shows that the bike was locked to something less secure that was defeated instead of the lock.

I had a e-bike stolen from my garage last week. U-lock attached, but not secured to immoveable object. Reported it to police, and my bike shop. Two days later bike shop reported that someone was looking for a charger for my specific bike–brand and model; he left a name and number at the shop, and it was provided me which I in turn added to the police report. What kind of follow up should I expect.

As an aside, I’ve had contact via text with him. First, asked him if he found a charger–he did. A few days later I texted him to ask if he was looking for a key and said I had access to many, but not all, of the keys of my model. He was interested. I’m sure this is the guy and provided his phone number.

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Sounds like a good lead! Would you mind sending me that case number so our unit can follow up on it? Our investigative units are buried in cases right now and want to make sure that is followed up on. BTTF@portlandoregon.gov

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No, you are absolutely correct. That’s the proven formula. We suggest buying a lock that costs $50 or more and locking the bike properly to a bike rack that is stronger than the U-lock. That’s the best recommendation we can suggest as a minimum.

Not sure why someone would have a problem with this… but hope that even the skeptic follows this recommendation.

We know that’s a lot to spend on a lock for many, but we offer an ‘earn-a-lock’ program that allows anyone to get a free ulock by helping with bike registration in the community.

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When bikes are secured and stolen, how is the security typically overcome? Is it almost entirely bolt cutters (in which case a quality chain like my Kryptonite New York would more than suffice)? Hacksaws (probably to attack the staple)? Are there thieves running around with angle grinders and similar power tools?
How often do you get reports of a locked bike being stripped of parts with the secured frame left behind? I always grab my quick-clip removable stuff, but should I be worried about quick-disconnect wheels and stuff screwed onto the bike?
Is vandalism much of a problem for privately-owned bikes? Are bikes either stolen or left alone, or is there a risk of damage just, I guess, for the sake of destruction?
(And thanks for offering your perspective!)

Do you have any ideas on how we can increase bike registration in the community (Bike index or Project 529)? Could you comment on how increased registration would reduce bike theft? What opportunities are there available to community members to assist with bike registration?
Thanks!

This is a great question, and one that we are dedicated to addressing with our various programs.

We hope that everyone who has registered their own bikes, but after that, some ideas include: help spread the word with their friends with a simple text sent out, sharing social media posts around bike theft and registration, conversations with neighbors, mentioning it at work with co-workers, posting registration information in bike storage rooms, or helping us out at one of our registration events (likely to restart next month).

If you would like to help register bikes for others, send us an email (BTTF@portlandoregon.gov) and we can enroll you in our “Earn-a-lock” program that we have launched in partnership with Project 529. We will send you a U-lock after you register 15 bikes!

Now, to answer your question on how this solves bike theft.

We recognize a need to reach the ‘critical mass’ of registered bikes where it tips the scales on the effectiveness of bike registration. In PDX, we believe it’s around 100k. Currently maybe at 20,000. As more bikes are registered, this puts increased pressure on our thieves because they assume more liability. If an owner knows what they have (which includes a serial number), they are more likely to report it (via police reports, social media, online sales platforms, and registration platforms). If this occurs, the thieves are exponentially more likely to get caught.

In a perfect world, every bike would be registered and when anyone is buying a bike second hand, they would be able to verify the status of the bike using BikeIndex and Project 529. This would undercut the illegal sales of stolen bikes on the second hand market (the ultimate ends for most stolen bikes). Bike registration therefore would ‘self-regulate’ the market for stolen bikes and would disincentivize the value of stealing the bike in the first place.

There would obviously be folks, as there are now, that bury their conscience enough not to check a bike’s status, even though common sense says they are buying a stolen bike. But there are laws in place that can have some serious consequences for these actions.

I am convinced that police alone cannot solve the bike theft problem and see this as a way to shift the playing field outside of police arresting our way out of this problem. It’s not perfect and bike theft will still occur, but believe that if we are successful, we can control bike theft (long term) to low levels.

Note: Bike theft is NOT the same as car theft. I have heard it said that car theft is still an enormous problem in spite of the DMV. However, the motivations for car theft are vastly different than bike theft. Cars are stolen with the intent to assist in the commission of crimes. Bike are stolen primarily to be used as “street currency” and eventually be sold on the second hand market to make money.

Another intentional benefit would be that most stolen bikes would return to their owners! (as is the case with car theft, due to DMV). Currently, only about 10% of stolen bikes are returned to their owners.

Does this answer your question?

  1. the use of a cable lock, which only requires something stronger than a pair of scissors to cut.
  2. a cheap bike rack (The blue city staple racks are a good standard to compare to and utilize)
  3. cheap U-locks (using the torque method- often employed by twisting the bike against the lock itself)

Your New York lock is primo. Nice work. Yes, more than suffice.

Hacksaws, no. Too much work and too slow, generally. Too many others that can be stolen much easier.

This happens more than we even know. I would say under reporting on this is like one in twelve. Most thieves we arrest have some bike component in their backpack, regardless of what they are being arrested for. So I’m not kidding when I saw this happens a LOT! Yes, quick-release components should be hardened up if possible with locking skewers, etc. if the bike is parked in public. Though many of these thefts can be avoided if the bike is locked up in high-visibility/high-traffic areas and only during the day.

And Vandalism? No, we don’t see people hating on bikes by vandalizing them. Not a thing really because they don’t get anything out of it by ruining the bike. The exception of this has been the Nike bike share bikes, which have been targeted from time to time, but even this is rare.

Thanks Dave! That’s helpful. I’ve been spreading the word about bike registration via friends, NextDoor, etc.
Have you or your team been in contact with any of the major retailers about point of sale (POS) registration? I bought a bike from REI last year and there was no mention of bike registration. I contacted REI a couple of times encouraging them to start POS registration but have not had a response except “we’ll refer this to the proper team”. Seems like having all bike retailers offering/encouraging bike registration would really help move toward that goal of 100,000 registered bike you mentioned.

Anyway thanks so much for the hard work you do!

Kind regards,
Tom