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Mohammad Ali riding bicycle with neighborhood kids.
Mohammad Ali riding bicycle with neighborhood kids.

The Global Curse of Bicycle Theft

Bicycle theft is a global problem that is nearly impossible to eradicate as long as we're willing to not only allow it to happen but even abet the criminals by buying bikes or bike parts from questionable sources.

Before Mohammad Ali became a world champion boxer, he was a scrawny 89 lbs. kid named Cassius Marcellus Clay from Louisville, Kentucky. As the story goes, when he had his bicycle stolen, he angrily announced he was going to 'whup' the person who took it. The cop who ran a local gym told the 12-year-old that he'd better learn to box first. A week later, Clay was in the gym for his first lessons. The rest is history.

We don't know if he ever found the bike thief, much less 'whupped' him, but what we do know is that bicycle theft is an long-standing problem, not only in Louisville, but also London. In fact, according to recent analysis of British police data, literally thousands of bikes are stolen every year in the UK. The database contains more than 92,000 reports alone. Here are the top ten most likely places to have your bike stolen in England.

The Netherlands is equally infamous for its decades-long problem of bike theft, much of it conducted by drug addicts looking for quick cash. In 2005 some 54,000 bikes were stolen in Amsterdam, with between 12,000-15,000 bikes recovered from the city's canals annually.

Over in Copenhagen, an average of 220+ bikes are stolen every day of the year. The fine for bike theft is a paltry 1,400Kroner ($280USD). Even more discouraging, Danish police typically catch up with bike thieves less than one half a percent of the time (0.46%).

The apprehension rate in America, where the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) estimates bike theft is a $350 million dollars-a-year problem, isn't much better. In Austin, University of Texas security officers have arrested 80 thieves since implementing their bike theft prevention program in 2011.

The issue of bike theft is high on my list of startup business concerns, not just because I don't want my personal e-bike stolen, but because I want to do all I can to deter theft of the electric bikes I want to rent people through ePEDALER. At $2,500 to $4,000 apiece, having one of our rental bikes ripped off is equivalent to ten bikes based on the FBI's average value of $250 per bike stolen.

Bikes are such an incredibly tempting target for thieves. One three-person 'gang' operating in and around London and its Home Counties were recently apprehended by police after stealing some 530 bikes worth an estimated £75,000 (approx.$120,000USD) from train stations.

The three young men, Tomasz Brzezinski, aged 26 Joshua Scott and Zayn Khan, both 19, would steal the bikes and then try to sell them online. By monitoring online sales and viewing security camera footage, police tracked down the trio. Other thieves pawn them for cash or part them out and sell the components separately.

I recently came across a listing on Craigslist for some fairly new-looking, high-end bike parts: pedals, disc brakes, etc., that got me to wondering where they came from.

This really came home after I visited a well-respected architectural firm here in town a few days ago, one renown for its owners and employees riding bicycles to work every day. There in the foyer were four or five bikes, a heavy chain snaked across the polished granite floor. The firm had started locking up their bikes after a number were stolen right out of the foyer. Were those parts on Craigslist from one of those bikes, I now wonder?

The reason I am scoping out Craigslist and local pawn shops is because I am looking for a good candidate bike for my wife on which to install a new Zehus All-in-One electric drive system. Now I've begun to question where those bikes came from? When you see literally dozens of bikes stacked together on a warehouse floor, you start to question how many of them where pawned by their legitimate owners.

There are, of course, various ways to discourage, if not totally prevent, bicycle theft. The first and may be not the most obvious is to register the bike with local police or use one of the online registration sites. In the UK there's CheckThatBike [https://checkthatbike.co.uk/] which is designed to help people find stolen bikes. In the USA, there's BikeShepard, a collaboration with bike lock maker Krytonite [http://www.bikeshepherd.org/].

Locking your bike is the next obvious step, though the advent of portable rotary saws means even the toughest bike chains can be severed in seconds. Installing GPS tracking can certainly help. It did in one case in Austin. The thief got the bike off the university campus before police could respond. It was equipped with a GPS tracker that activated after a few days when the theft took it to a local pawn shop. From there, police were able to backtrack the bike to the thief and arrest him.

But just being willing to not knowingly buy bikes or parts from questionable sources, be they online or in person can help put a dent in bike theft. If nobody wants to buy hot goods, fewer people are going to find it profitable to steal them. Of course, this puts the middleman somewhat in a bind, because how many people keep their proof of purchase or ownership?

That's where registration can help. If you're the registered owner, it makes it easier to conclude a legitimate transaction, either selling it outright, in person, online or through that friendly neighborhood pawn broker.

Bike Theft Prevention Tips:
Former UK Bike Thief Shares Tip To Avoid Having Your Bike Stolen
Top Tips To Prevent Bike Theft

Posted By: Bill Moore [31-Oct-2014]


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