It’s still fresh in my mind that sinking feeling when we came out of the restaurant in La Crosse and saw an empty bike rack. (Here’s a link to the La Crosse, Wisconsin article.) How could this happen so quickly? The bikes were locked together. I immediately called 911. The responding officer took our statement and pictures of the car/rack. Then he sent an email out to the La Crosse police department with a descriptions and pictures of our bikes. He also notified all local pawn shops in case the thief tried to unload them quickly.
Checking our surroundings, we noticed there were surveillance cameras facing the parking lot. The officer worked to secure the video which revealed the vehicle, but the license plate wasn’t clear. At the time of writing this article, the police are trying to secure footage from surrounding local businesses as the thief drove in and out of the lot three times before taking the bikes.
Besides filing a police report, what should you do? This was new territory for me, but I knew I had to hit social media to get the word out. My goal was to make our bikes so hot the thief wouldn’t be able to easily unload them. Also, more eyes looking for our bikes would help our odds of getting them back.
Having a good description and pictures of both bikes was critical. I posted everywhere and asked people to share. Within 2 hours my post had gone viral with over 300 shares! The power of social media is amazing.
I hope you’re never in the position to need this information, but here are suggestions on where to post if your bike is stolen.
- Facebook groups and pages:
- Local bicycle shops
- Cycling clubs
- Triathlon clubs
- Velo swaps and bike relevant for sale groups
- Fat bike groups (our bikes happen to be fatties)
- Stolen Bike La Crosse County (every city has a Stolen Bike FB page)
- Your personal page
- Relevant clubs (I posted to Fat Bike clubs)
- Post to your Strava followers
Be sure to check Craigslist and eBay on a daily basis or set up an alert. Also, check local flea markets and swap meets.
Many cities require cyclists to register their bicycles, La Crosse being one of them. Having your bike’s serial # in their database can help to reunite owner and bike.
There are also online registries that you can use now or after your bike is stolen. Two of them include:
- Project529.com and nationalbikeregistry.com have joined together
- Bikeindex.org – They have a Twitter feed that sends out a Tweet when your bike is stolen
If the lock or cable you were using has a guarantee, report it to the manufacturer. Most likely you’ll need a police report to file the claim.
Your home owner’s policy should cover your bike, less the deductible. The problem is when you file a home owner’s claim, you’re at risk of the insurance company increasing your premiums or dropping you completely. You’ll have to determine if a claim makes sense for your situation. There are companies that sell bike specific insurance, or you can buy a special rider for your home owners’ insurance, but both options are very costly.
After my experience, other bike theft victims have shared their experiences. Some had multiple cables and locks, but thieves still stole the bikes. Others reported that their bikes were stolen off their car rack at a stop light! Going forward, if I can’t secure my bikes inside the car, I’ll always have them locked on the rack, even when transporting.
Finally, if you are stopping at a coffee shop or taking a quick bathroom break and don’t have a lock, here are a few tips I use. First, take your helmet and put the strap through the rear wheel. If a thief grabs the bike and tries to take off, the strap will jam in the wheel and they won’t get far. Another option is to put a rubber band around the brake lever. There’s no way to ride off with the brake on. Just remember to remove it before you hop back on.
Did I miss anything? If you have a suggestion on what to do when your bike is stolen or how to prevent theft in the first place, share below in the comments.
Greg Conderacci says
In the modern era of through axle bikes, I just take the axle off the front wheel and put it in my pocket when I go into a restaurant. A bike with a front wheel falling off is a lot less attractive. Always good to remember to screw it back in before you ride. But if you forget…it’ll remind you soon enough!
Since we all carry cell phones these days why not take a picture of your bike ( s ) and save it ? When you report a stolen bike , a picture could be useful when using social media , maybe even to the police . .
When we ride with several people someone always stays with the bikes while the others grab something to eat.
Yes! And never believe a store/restaurant owner who says, “Oh, it’ll be okay,” or “I’ll keep my eye on it” or “Cyclists routinely leave their ‘bicycles’ unattended”. Who’s going to pony up the money to replace your bike- store/restaurant owner?
If you don’t have a lock, use the chain; disconnect master link, wrap around something & reconnect the link.
Kelly Finn says
I always per my helmet strap through the rear wheel during a store stop, but I also shift to the big ring and smallest cog to make it harder to pedal if somebody hops on and tries to ride off on it.
1- cross-shift your chain and then remove the chain. (GCN)
2- release rear wheel quick release. (GCN)
David Stihler says
I bought and use a titanium lock which I hope discourages thieves from a quick smash and grab.
Before I retired, I rode my bike commuting 32K round-trip from my home to work each day. I was able to lock my bike to a support pillar of the building where I worked and I used a thick combination-cable-lock, always remembering to thread the cable through the front-wheel, frame and back-wheel in a figure-8 fashion. I also removed my head and tail-lights and zipped them up into my paniers which I removed. Also: I covered the bike with a 5′ x 7′ polyethylene tarp secured with bungee cords. Result: Bike not stolen! Also: Project529.com: sign-up & register your bikes today if you haven’t already!
Zvi Wolf says
Be very careful about filing a homeowner’s claim. A bicycle, even an expensive one, is unlikely to meet the deductible or to exceed it by much. Treat homeowner’s insurance as disaster insurance, e.g., for the flood from a broken pipe or the tree that falls on your roof.
I apologize in advance for the following, but the thing you use to stop your bicycle is a brake, not a break.
Road Bike Rider says
Whoops! Thanks, fixed it.
Mitch Rosset says
Well my bike was hand built one of a kind and $$. The insurance company still took a threatening tone with me when I wanted to file a claim. As of yet I still have not made up my mind to precede or not. They point out if I have a second claim within 4 years I lose my 20 % no claim status and have an additional %30 tacked on. If I don’t claim I’m out $$$$ No good choices !!
Will Haltiwanger says
You can put a zip tie around your crank and the frame and/or through the wheel so they cannot turn. Can also do this instead of a rubber band around your brake lever. Just remember to have a knife to cut them off.
If I am riding by myself and need to stop for a bathroom break at a burger place or the like and cannot bring the bike with me. I look for a parent with a young boy. Then I ask the parent if I can “hire” the boy for “guard” duty for a few minutes. The answer is usually an enthusiastic , yes. The result is mother and son both keep an eye on my bike, often with the boy standing a attention next to,the bike. It only costs you an ice cream or bag of fries.
Ed, your solution is definitely one of the best I’ve heard of.
Good idea! I try to take my bike into the bathroom. I *always* keep my bike within arm’s length. An old Irishman’s proverb: “A little paranoia is good”
This tip only helps you recover your bike if it is found but I have been doing it to all my bikes for decades. Write your name and contact info on a small piece of paper, include something about the bike if you want. Then seal this, laminating it in clear packing tape. Take your seat post out, shove this piece of protected paper pretty far down the tube. It is relatively easy to pull out with a piece of wire with end hook. If there is any dispute over whose bike has been found you have your proof in the seat tube.
Mitch Rosset says
John Birazzi says
I use a ZLok made by HipLok. Its like a steel reinforced zip tie, is very light weight and fits in my jersey pocket. It’s a great theft deterrent and is meant for those quick stops at a coffeehouse or a gas station bathroom break. I’ve seen it used on bike racks too. Check it out.
Jim Langley says
Thanks, John. I reviewed the Hiplock a while back. Here’s a link:
Larry Best says
I added my bike to my home insurance policy. It’s insured for replacement value-no deductible for $4500. The coverage includes theft & vandalism regardless of where the bike is, or how old the bike is. If it gets stolen 5 years from now I get $4500. The cost to add this personal rider is $29.00 per year or about $2.42 cents per month. I made a lock from a brake cable & a small keyed padlock, which easily fits in my under seat bag. That’s not good enough for urban areas, but I think it’s all right if I’m going into a store to buy some Gatorade. I always lock my bike when it’s out of my sight, but I feel lots less worried about it now.
Barry Sherry says
My LBS owner told me years ago my bike should be one of three places:
(1) In my car
(2) In my house
(3) Under my butt
Still, I had a bike stolen in daylight, cable locked in front of our office building (Wash. D.C.) The next time, this one a POS bike, I saw it being stolen on the Mall. I chased. My friends chased. We tackled the perp and held him for police. This is not recommended but boy did it feel good.
I always keep my bike within one arm length when I’m out of the house. Locks, chains, cables all can be cut in seconds if someone has a battery-powered grinder (Bosch, Makita, etc.). And the three recommendations above are correct.
Bring tazer, handcuffs, and strong friends. Stand guard, surround and arrest the asshole, then call the police. This is the only thing that will guarantee success in preventing bike theft, I believe.