Tips & Tricks: A Harsh Reality of Biking – Bike Theft

There is a sinking feeling of walking up to a bike rack and noticing that there seems to be one less seat post in the air and realizing that missing seat post is yours. When it happened at a restaurant only three blocks from home that realization was rattling. In San Francisco the problem isn’t just common it’s an epidemic. According to lock manufacturer Krypotonite, this is the 6th worst city in the US for bike theft.

(The belief that crowded areas deter bike thieves is but a myth. The bustling, preoccupied crowds overlooked the wire cutter on the Embacadero where Jon’s bike was stolen.)

Even though the National Bike Registry estimates that 1.5 million bikes are stolen each year, don’t expect a government task force to clean up the problem any time soon. The threat is real and the only solution is to take precautions to prevent theft and precautions to enable a likelihood of recovery or at least financial recovery should it happen to you.

As the Boy Scout Motto goes: BE PREPARED!

No local bike registry exists, but there is a National Bike Registry. This agency works with police agencies around the country to return stolen bicycles to their rightful owners who have either registered their bike prior to it being stolen, or who register a stolen bicycle. Registration is $10 for 10 years for one bike, or $25 for 10 years for an unlimited number of bicycles in the same household which gets you a thief deterring sticker engineered to be indelible that identifies your bike as listed with the National Bike Registry. Registering a stolen bicycle is $0.99 and it will stay on the list for six months.


1. Save your bike’s information — Your receipt should include:

– Your name and address;

– The serial number of your bike; and

– Bike shop where you purchased it.

Keep a in a hard copy safe place. Also, make a digital copy and store it on your computer or emailed to yourself. Also, take a photo of the serial number on your bike and of the bike itself.

Use this guide from the National Bike Registry to locate the serial number on your bike.

2. Have homeowner’s or renter’s insurance — There’s no such thing as bike insurance in the United States, your bike will only be covered under a homeowner’s or renter’s policy. This especially makes sense for high-end bikes with high value. Or if you rely on your bike for transportation, such as to and from work, and need reimbursement for the bike immediately without the timeliness of having to save for a new one.


We knew a bartender in the market for a bike, so we made suggestions on bikes and shops – the bikexperts that we are. The next time we saw her we asked if she’d found a bike. She had. She’d literally “found” a bike. “It was just sitting there and by the time my friends and I came out again it was still there. So I took it.” And the poor fool that never bothered to lock up their bike had to walk all the way home.

If left unlocked, even if you have insurance on your bike they aren’t required to pay your claim. Like helmets, bike locks are not optional.

1.  Use the lock properly — Place the U-Lock around the frame, at least one wheel and the bike rack.  A cord tying in the other wheel is a good a secondary measure, but the cord alone will not protect your bike by itself…Trust me.  For more information see the National Bike Registry and this awesome article from FunkedUpFixies.

Though cord locks are lighter, they are less effective and can but cut easily.  Here the cord only goes around the frame and does not tie in the wheels. One more thing that can make worse off, even if your bike isn’t stolen, your saddle bags, lights, pumps, etc. can easily be removed and stolen by anyone.

2.  Keep your eyes on the prize — One way to prevent bike theft is to keep your eyes on it whenever it’s locked up – only break or eat where you can see your bike.  In the time it takes to notice an all too curious admirer of your bike with a bolt cutter, you’ll be able to run after the person (while on the phone with the police) and apprehend/report/photograph the thief.

3.  Patronize places that are bike friendly — Bike friendly can mean that they let you bring the bikes into the store or restaurant, provide a secure area to park your bike, or have a bike rack directly in front of the store windows.


1.  CALL THE POLICE RIGHT AWAY! — This DOES NOT mean call 9-1-1, that is for emergencies only.  Find the non-emergency line for the police of the city where your bike was stolen, call in and make a report.  In San Francisco 3-1-1 is the number you can call to report a stolen bike.

2.  Be clear and specific in the report — It will take 10-15 minutes in order to properly report the theft.  Details you will need are:

–  Location of the bike rack or other object your bike was attached to;

–  Time you locked up your bike;

–  Time you found your bike missing;

–  Make, model and year of your bike;

–  Anything that is specific to your bike (i.e. yellow stripes on your tires, a marking on the bike, etc.);

–  The serial number of the bike — you can file “additional loss form” or “report amendment form” after your initial report if you don’t have this handy; and

–  Have a copy of the report sent to you, preferably by email, you will need the report number when reporting the loss to your insurance company.

3.  If you have renters or homeowner’s insurance, file a claim — File this as soon as possible. Have the information from the police report and the report number handy when making the report.  The sooner you report your loss, the quicker you can get a replacement.

4.  Report all of your bike’s upgrades — When you talk with your insurance agent about the loss, make sure to mention anything else of value that was added before it was stolen, like the SPD clips, S-Works tires and Body Geometry saddle on my bike that almost doubled my insurance recovery.

When you first realize your bike is stolen, there is a feeling of being violated.  No matter if it’s your mental escape from everyday life, your exercise, or your commute, it is more than just a material object. It’s fine to grieve about the loss and the unfairness of theft, but when it first happens, you need to act rationally and report the incident quickly.









Reported Missing May 21, 2010 from Pier 1-1/2, San Francisco, California

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