Friday, February 15, 2013

Hey, That's My Bike!

I read a thread on the slowtwitch forum the other day.  It was written by someone who had recovered his stolen bicycle.  That thread and the subsequent replies got me thinking.  What are the replacement costs of my bikes?  I shudder to think about, in addition to the cost, how mad I would be after finding that my bike(s) was stolen.  The thread's author tried to keep the original post brief, I’ll try to do the same.  In his post he described how he kept his head and had a plan.  Here’s the gist of it.

The bike was stolen from the owner’s driveway not 5 minutes after being ridden. The theft was reported to the police but they showed little interest in perusing any investigation. The owner perused websites like craigslist and eBay.  Within a few weeks, low and behold, there it was, a picture with a vague posting describing his bike on craigslist.  It was for sale about an hour away at a substantial discount. The owner wanted to catch the thief red-handed but the police weren't interested so he decided to go it alone. The thief/seller wouldn't take calls from the area code where the bike had been stolen on what they would later learn was a prepaid cellphone.  The owner used a phone from a different area code to make arrangements to meet the unsuspecting thief at a park. The owner took the details of the meeting to the police and they agreed to follow along. The trap was set.

The owner entered the park, he verified it was his stolen bike, signaled the police, and they arrested the crook.  He was an 18 year old delinquent with a long juvenile record of thefts.  This was his first arrest as an adult.

Upon further investigation of the bike, they found that the serial number had been removed and the frame had also been spray painted.  To make matters worse, when the police arrived, the thief said the bike's owner was the crook.  What gall!

My bike was stolen from my Jr. high school along with my brothers' bikes.  That was back in the 1970's.  I remember the bike very well.  My parents saw an ad in the Jacksonville Journal newspaper for some Flandria bikes.  I had never seen that bike company name before or since.  The company website seems to indicate that the 1970's was their heyday.  All three bikes were found a few days later covered with leaves in the woods near the school.  Just like my parents, they had no serial number information to provide police, only a description and sales receipt.  We got the bikes back but, thinking back, we should have been better prepared.  My parents should have kept better records and I shouldn't have forgotten my bike lock that day when we rode them to school.  The crook(s) were never identified in my case.  That was pre-craigslist.

On the other side of this issue, I bought a cruiser bike back when I was in my late teens I knew was probably stolen but I bought it anyway.  It was sold to me by an unscrupulous neighbor with a history of less than stellar citizenship.  I should have known better but I was no saint either.  I fixed the bike up adding some light alloy parts and repainted the frame.  I sold it to another neighbor a few months later.  I later found out that the "alleged" original owner saw the bike and was quite angry.  Now, I would never buy anything that I even suspected as being stolen.  I was less discriminating about my purchases in my youth.

These incidents bring to mind another question.  In the same situation today, how would I be able to describe my bike should it be stolen, repainted, and the manufacturer's serial number removed?  Replies to the slowtwitch thread offered a few suggestions.  Put a business card in the seat tube or handlebar tube was one suggestion.  Another reply suggested marking your bike in a way that would be unique and identifiable.  Then take a picture of the mark for use should that dreaded day arrive. 

First and foremost, prevention is the best cure.  Stop the theft before it happens.  Keep an eye on your bike and when that's not possible use a good quality lock correctly applied to secure it.  I searched the web and found this flyer from the University of New Mexico.  It's helpful in that it identifies the advantages and disadvantages of different lock types and how to best use them.

Another option to consider is the National Bike Registry.  The NBR is a bit like microchips for dogs but instead of a chip they use a sticker.  I can only imagine that a sticker would be much easier to remove than a piece of silicon the size of a grain of rice under the skin.  Maybe the microchip analogy was a stretch.  The NBR is probably not really gonna get your stolen bike back to you unless somewhere along the line it comes into the possession of someone who's not a crook.  The police and a local bike shop are two entities that might fit into this category.  Sadly, not all law enforcement organizations participate in the program.  Here's the list.  My own county and city police departments are not listed.  I suppose that's why they've got so many obviously stolen and recovered bikes that have never been returned to their owners.  Also, if the serial number has been removed you're probably out of luck too.

In short, protect your bike like you would a family dog, cat or even a goldfish.  Don't leave it unsecured or unattended.
The mass of  recovered bicycles behind the Clayton County PD Headquarters
A closer view of the bikes
I contacted the Clayton County Police Department property crimes division once, and then a CCPD spokesperson, via e-mail over a two week period regarding this article.  My inquiries were essentially ignored.  The pictures above were taken a full three (3) weeks after my initial request was submitted and without the permission of the officer on-duty.  I'm sure that Clayton County is no different from most counties but; I'm also sure that it's different from some.  The city of Roswell, Georgia, only 40 miles to the north, is a world away where cycling is concerned.  Maybe that will change, but I'm not holding my breath.  The fact of the matter is, if your bike gets stolen, no matter where you live, it's very unlikely that you'll ever see it again.  It's also unlikely that you'll get much help from the authorities.  The case posted on the slowtwitch forum took a bike owner who was willing and able to put in the time and effort to get his bike back.  That's all there is to it!

Thanks for reading.