Tips to make your bike harder to steal, easier to recover

Bike theft is unfortunately common. No bike can be fully theft proof, but we can do several things to make stealing it more difficult and riskier to the thief. There are no guarantees, and you need a little luck, but here’s how you can maximize your chance of getting your bike back.

To reduce the risk of theft, make sure you use a good lock; secure the various parts of your bike together, like the seat and wheels and lock up to a good rack or alternative object. Lock the frame directly to some immoveable metal object using a solid u-lock, and parkyour bike in strategic locations. Given enough time and the right tools, any bike can be stolen. There are several important things you can do before your bike is stolen to aid in its recovery later.

Know your serial number. Most bikes have a sticker or stamp with the serial number on the underside of the down tube (long diagonal tube that is part of the main frame). If your bike isn’t labeled with a serial number, call the store where it was bought and check whether they have it. You’ll want this information available on a moment’s notice since it’s helpful to include in a policereport

Fill out the paperwork. Do all the paperwork with your lock manufacturer and comply with their directions. Most major lock manufacturers (OnGuard, Kryptonite, etc) have some sort of anti-theft guarantee in which they will cut you a check for the worth of your bike if it is stolen and you can prove that the theft involved the defeat of their correctly employed lock. The rules of these programs are very precise and often require advance registration. Make sure to register and comply exactly with all the instructions. If you do, it will significantly improve the likelihood of their honoring the guarantee if your bike is stolen. 

Leave identifying marks and take several pictures. You can engrave your driver’s license number on expensive parts to help prevent theft, but even sneakier is to leave a note with your info in the seat tube. A bike thief will rarely ever look there and should the thief or a future owner take it to a bike shop, the shop might very well find the note. If your bike is stolen despite your best efforts, take a few steps to reduce your losses and increase the chance you’ll get it back.

File a police report. This will be essential later if making a homeowners insurance, renters insurance or bike lock insurance claim (many companies that sell bike locks offer an anti-theft guarantee). 

Check Craigslist and other local seller pages on Facebook. Search the web, neighborhood, libraries, local garage sales and swap meets for your bike. You might very well find someone trying to sell it quickly. If you determine that it is your bike, arrange a time to meet the seller. Contact Police for assistance in recovering it but remember the person who is selling the bike may be an innocent 3rd person. You will need to be able to fully identify it as your bike and have the stolen report number handy.  Possession really can be 9/10’s the law.

Register your bike as stolen. For 99 cents you can list your bike in the National Bike Registry as stolen. Then if your bike is recovered, police in any jurisdiction can determine that it is yours and notify you. 

Notify bike shops. Make up a flyer to send to local bike shops with as much identifying information you can think. Include the make, model, color, serial number, any parts you’ve swapped in, and your emergency contact info. If a similar bike comes in, the shop can check the serial number and help reunite you if it is your bike.

Most bike mechanics hate bike theft and will be happy to look out for your bike. What’s more, mechanics tend to have good memories for bikes since they see so many and are experts. As a result, they may see the bike on the street, remember your flyer and notify you.

Tell your friends and your friends “friends.” Let as many of your friends and colleagues as possible know that your bike has been stolen. Use social media to spread the word. Wherever you have a following, let them know to look out for your bike. And add the picture you took.

If you find it, lock it. If you happen to see a bicycle around town that you suspect is yours (identifying marks, serial number, unusual equipment combo, etc) and it is unattended, use your own lock to secure it and call the police. Most bike companies make hundreds if not thousands of bikes with the same make, model, trim, and color, so you need to be certain it is your bike.  Bike theft can be frustrating, but with a little effort, you can reduce your risk and increase your chances of recovering your ride. And, though it can be a hassle if it happens to you, try to keep it in perspective.