That feeling in your gut. You forgot your lock while out on your bike, and you’re taking a chance that you can leave it, just for a minute. Looking around the corner to see if it’s there … gone.
Did I lock the shed? I better go check. Locked but broken into. Three bikes, gone.
Someone cut my cable lock! What else could I have done?
Bicycle thieves are ruthless. Theft is a learning experience and a fact of life with bikes. You can do everything to protect your bike but even then lose it to theft. Sometimes you get your bike back through sheer luck. Here are a few tales of heartbreak, hope, luck and joy.
The EXP 303
A friend noticed that two of his family bikes were missing from his locked garage. The suspect was a handyman, or someone related to him, but the police could make no connection. Two years later, I saw the $4,000 bike on Craigslist “for sale by owner” for $500. I knew right away whose bike it was because when you ride with someone, you remember that stuff, but also — this bike was rare.
A yellow, carbon fiber EXP 303 with full Ultegra and Mavic Cosmics. The company made bikes for only two years, and this was an early production model, featured in a catalog photographed and designed by my friend. The frame had no serial number. But digital photos that were dated, a catalog with the friend’s business name and web address and me as a witness was all it took for an officer to escort us to the seller’s workplace to confront him about the bike. The seller said he did not know the suspected handyman. He and his workmate claimed they bought the bike used at a shop for $800 some two years earlier. He claimed that if a receipt had been given, he no longer had it. He was cooperative and transparent about his workplace and contact information, so we didn’t suspect he was in on the theft.
He gave us the bike. The detective visited the shop but said it did not keep good records, and the owner was uncooperative. The identity of the thief, proof of any bike shop involvement and how the seller ended up with it is still a mystery, as are the whereabouts of other bike, a Litespeed titanium.
The Germantown Shuffle
Three bikes were stolen from my brother’s shed in Germantown a few years ago. A few weeks after, a crusty, desperate-looking fellow wheeled a maroon Cannondale into a famous Germantown bar. “Nice bicycle” I said. He said he would sell it for $40, and I could take it for a test ride. Once out the door, I called my brother, who then called the police. The guy was charged with receiving stolen property, as he claimed he had bought it from some kids for $20.
Not even a week later a friend called to say he had seen the other stolen bike, a chunky, silver, Specialized MTB. It was with two kids four blocks from my house, so I quickly drove over and saw them. “Now, you know that I know, that’s not your bike, and I know who the bike belongs to,” I told them. “We could do two things: I could call the police, or you can hand it over so I can return it to its owner.” They handed it over.
How to prevent bike theft
• Always, always, always use a U-lock or heavy chain lock and a cable lock for the front wheel. Never use a cable lock only because wire cutters can cut most. Lock through the frame and rear wheel to bike racks, sign posts or other immovable objects.
• Unless you have a proper lock set-up, never lock your expensive bike anywhere for long. If possible, always try to bring a bicycle inside with you, especially overnight and at home. Keep expensive bikes inside your house and install bike hangers. Keep less-costly bikes inside a garage, but lock them there, too. A security system will reduce your homeowner’s insurance, paying for itself.
• If you need a commuter bike and will definitely be locking it up frequently for hours at a time, consider a plain, practical and affordable new bike or an older used bike. The uglier the bike, the better.
• Be sure to keep a record of your bikes with up-to-date photos showing accessories and take note of the serial number. If you rent, try to afford renters insurance. Believe me, it will save you loads of heartache and get you riding again in no time!
• If your bike is stolen, immediately call police and fill out a report with a full description including photos and serial number. Create a flier with your name and contact info and distribute this to all local and even regional bicycle shops and pawn shops. Share on social media and with all of your friends, especially in the area where the theft occurred in case there was a witness. Keep your eye out especially on Craigslist and other online selling sites.
Best of luck — and hang onto your bike.