Stolen Bike Hotspots and How To Avoid Bike Thievery

Hills. Cars. Rain.

These are just a few of the nuisances that bike commuters in major metropolitans face. But the biggest menace to urban bikers doesn’t happen in the saddle. It happens when bikes sit idle and become enticing prey for thieves.

According to FBI crime statistics, about 200,000 bikes are stolen each year. And in many cities across the nation, those numbers are on the rise.

With 62 percent more people commuting to work by bicycle between 2008 and 2012 than in 2000, that means more bikes on the roads and more opportunities for theft.

Portland

Stolen bike hotspots: Hawthorne in SE and The Pearl District.

But it’s not just bikes locked in bike racks on the street or at transit stations that are at risk.

In big cities where apartment space is limited, renters need to be overly cautious when storing their bikes in common areas like basements or garages.

Robin Kraft, an avid cyclist whose bike is his primary mode of transport in The Bay Area, had two bikes stolen in San Francisco within a four-month span.

“The first theft was a Trek road bike. It was locked up outside a grocery store,” he said. “The second was a much nicer Trek road bike. It was in our basement, which had a door that faced the street. When I went to get the bike in the afternoon, the door was ajar and the bike was gone.”

San Francisco

Stolen bike hotspots: Mission District and South of Market.

Luckily for Kraft, renter’s insurance covered the cost of replacing the bikes. Unfortunately, a week later, Kraft’s roommate’s bikes were also stolen.

The story isn’t surprising to Morgan St. Clair, manager of the SAFE Bikes program in San Francisco.

“We’ve seen an increase in bike thefts in garages and in multi-unit buildings,” she said.

St. Clair spearheaded the SAFE Bikes program and received funding a year ago to provide education and partner with local police on a successful bait bike program. The program has lead to a 20 percent reduction in the number of bike thefts on the streets of San Francisco from January to September 2013, to the same time period in 2014.

Seattle

Stolen bike hotspots: Wallingford, Westlake and Downtown.

Along with properly locking bikes that are left on the street, St. Clair’s advice to renters is to lock bikes up that are  left in shared garages or common spaces as if the bike is locked on the street. Never lock your bike near a window or a door. And always watch your garage door and make sure it closes completely so unwanted visitors do not enter.

Bike owners in the Bay Area can also register their bikes at Safebikes.org, a regional database, which partners with the San Francisco Police Department to recover bikes to owners once stolen, educates riders about effective locking techniques and provides strategies on how to recover your bike.

Registering your bike with a national bike registry such as Bike Index, a free service based in Chicago, can help track and recover bikes that are stolen throughout the country, even if they later resurface in a different city.

Chicago

Stolen bike hotspots: Lincoln Park, Lakeview and Ukrainian Village.

“The most important tip to preventing bike theft is to register your bike,” said Seth Herr, the founder of Bikeindex.org. “If you don’t have the information, the serial number and manufacturer and have a record that it’s yours, it’s hard to file a police report. If you find your stolen bike in a pawn shop, you can’t repossess it without proof of ownership.”

Herr founded Bike Index after working in a bike shop and becoming frustrated that there was no centralized way for bike sellers to register crucial information about bikes at the point of sale.

Bike Index originally started as a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 and just this summer, merged with stolenbikeregistery.com. The resulting website is an open source database where bike owners can register their bikes at no cost and check the site before buying a bike second-hand to see if it’s been stolen.

Today the site has registered 32,753 bikes and recovering more than 2,144 stolen bikes to their owners, thanks in part to a powerful social media presence. Individuals whose bikes are stolen can also report where the theft occurred. Using that data from Bike Index, we’ve mapped some of the hotspots for stolen bikes in major metros in the last couple of years.

NYC

Stolen bike hotspots: Park Slope and Williamsburg in Brooklyn.
East Village and Gramercy Park  in Manhattan.

Los Angeles

Stolen bike hotspots: Venice, West Los Angeles and Westwood.

Washington D.C.

Stolen bike hotspots: Columbia Heights, Shaw and Dupont.

Philadelphia

Stolen bike hotspots: Logan Square, University City and Queen Village.

Houston

Stolen bike hotspots: Neartown and Greater Heights.

Denver

Stolen bike hotspots: Auraria, Central and Belcaro.

Boston

Stolen bike hotspots: Mid-Cambridge, Northeastern University and Somerville.