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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The moral of the story is make sure your bike is locked better than the one next to you.  I grew up in the suburbs and a cable lock served me just fine for nine years in the suburbs and my first year in the city until my bike was in the wrong place at the wrong time (UIC).
Well written Kevin! :-)
INDEED!

kevin, some time ago, you posted a lock and awesome chain at a great deal.  do you still have that info?

 

also, on that note... one can register on the bike revolution kryptonite site WITHOUT actually owning a kryptonite lock.  consider it them being awesome, though.

The link is here: http://www.bikeregistry.com/estore/product_info.php?products_id=54&...

Martin, duke of Hazard is field testing the chain even as we speak...

iggi said:

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kevin, some time ago, you posted a lock and awesome chain at a great deal.  do you still have that info?

 

also, on that note... one can register on the bike revolution kryptonite site WITHOUT actually owning a kryptonite lock.  consider it them being awesome, though.

The registration link is open to everyone, whether they own a Kryptonite lock or not. The CSBR gets to maintain and archive a database of the registrations.

iggi said:

 

also, on that note... one can register on the bike revolution kryptonite site WITHOUT actually owning a kryptonite lock.  consider it them being awesome, though.

Isn't a portion of those "unlocked" bikes that were victims of theft stolen out of locked garages?  I think this data point is a bit skewed by this fact.  Most people do not lock their bikes up in their garage so when a garage is broken into the bikes get stolen.  The 20% number is statistically irrelevant when these types of thefts are compared to "out in the open" thefts.   I'd like to see a real number of thefts where people left their bikes out on the street without locks.
Well that's fair, but it points up that you ought to lock up your ride even in your garage/basement. I u-lock my bikes to themselves and then hitch them to a support post in the basement with a decent cable lock. Won't stop a determined thief, but it will prevent someone from wandering off with one if a neighbor left the basement access door open, which is really all you have to worry about. (If someone is casing your place because they know you have fancy bikes, they're going to get them however you have them locked up, after all.)
A few friends have had their bikes stolen from apt/condo basements, where they were unlocked in large rooms.  As Dr. Doom mentioned above, all it takes is one neighbor being careless with the basement access door.
I'm paranoid, I lock up my motorcycle inside my own locked garage and wouldn't think of leaving my bicycles in a common area of a multi-unit building much less my garage.  When I first moved to chicago I used to store all my tools out there until they all got stolen by someone who apparently knew how to get in without too much trouble.  After about $4k worth of new tools I don't leave anything of value outside or in my garage.  All my bikes are inside in my living room.  Chicago is a city of thieves and any property not bolted down is fair game to the freelance marxists to redistribute to "the people."
The datapoint isn't skewed-it's 20%. A significant portion of those "no lock" thefts occur from garages, basements, porches, and other common areas of buildings. The narrative invariably includes a breathless, disbelieving account of how a (neighbor, spouse, significant other, friend, guest) left the (garage door, front door, back door, basement door) open, giving an opportunistic thief free access to an unlocked bike. The significance of the datapoint is that if you leave an unlocked bike behind a door that others are able to leave unlocked, your bike isn't safe. These types of thefts happen all the time; i.e. 20% of the thefts reported to the CSBR.

James Baum said:
Isn't a portion of those "unlocked" bikes that were victims of theft stolen out of locked garages?  I think this data point is a bit skewed by this fact.  Most people do not lock their bikes up in their garage so when a garage is broken into the bikes get stolen.  The 20% number is statistically irrelevant when these types of thefts are compared to "out in the open" thefts.   I'd like to see a real number of thefts where people left their bikes out on the street without locks.

Thanks, Kevin! I just registered 1 bike with Bike Revolution. (1 down, 2 to go.) 

 

I have to start carrying two U-Locks.

 

I've had bad dreams about both my wheels being stolen off of my bike (they're nothing special, but I guess it's better than dreaming the frame's gone, too.) I sometimes have a creepy feeling when I'm zipping around through my dog walker day, and I think, "Wait. Did I lock through the frame *and* the fence?"  I had to walk back to my bike during a dog walk yesterday because I wasn't sure it was properly locked. It was, but I always like to pay attention to those strange intuitive feelings. This was on a fancy house street and a neighboring home was recently robbed midday so my paranoia felt warranted. 

 

Yes and yes to false security of basement bike storage rooms. Somehow, a bike went missing from ours last year and was returned the next day.  I don't know if someone just borrowed it or what, but the woman who owned it was nearly inconsolable. (Brand new bike--gone) When asked if at least the frame was locked the answer was, "No."

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