Trying to reason with bicycle theft season

Maybe it’s just a coincidence.

But it doesn’t take a lot of research to get the feeling that bike culture and bike thefts are following the same upward curve. The more popular biking gets, the more popular bikes do — to thieves as well as legitimate riders.

Joe Linton, one of L.A.’s leading bike and environmental activists, had his stolen off the street the other night. Mikey Wally had his stolen recently. Dr. Alex was lucky, he only had his lights stolen.

Meanwhile, theft reports are up from Downtown to the Southbay, and points in between. Even Lance had his bike stolen in California earlier this year. Though thankfully, not when he was visiting L.A.

Of course, this sort of thing tends to bring out the worst in people, understandable though that may be. Personally, though, I prefer prevention to retaliation.

That’s one reason my bikes sleep inside at night.

A large corner of my office is devoted to keeping them safe — from insects, bad weather and various nefarious critters, including thieves. After all, I’d no more leave my bike exposed to the elements than anything else I love.

Like my wife, for instance.

And my bike never complains about how much time I spend cycling.

I used to carry a heavy cable and lock on my old bike, when I rode my little blue Trek everywhere. I’d always park it in some highly visible public place, and strip off anything that could be easily stolen. And I’d lock it securely — through the frame and both wheels — to some large immovable object, since bike racks were even harder to find than they are now.

When I got my new bike, however, I did a simple financial calculation, and determined the cost was equivalent a decent laptop — and there was no way I’d leave my laptop laying on the street, even if I could secure it to a lamppost.

So I saved myself the extra weight, and left my lock at home.

Which means I now use the same technique employed by Catholic school girls attempting to maintain their virtue, and keep it clamped tightly between my legs. Whenever I stop for awhile, I keep it right next to me or maintain a tight grip on it. Or if I want to go inside somewhere, it either comes in with me, or I don’t go.

Which severely limits my options. But it keeps my bike safe at a time when I can’t afford to replace it. And I plan to make that old Trek my town bike, complete with lights, reflectors and multiple locks so I can ride it anywhere, anytime.

Of course, there are other techniques. My friend Tim — subject of a recent Page 2 profile in the Times —  forwarded a story on how to deter thieves by uglifying your bike awhile back. And judging by the photos, they did a pretty impressive job of turning a beauteous Bianchi into a turd-tone junker.

Problem is, thieves seem to target crappy bikes just as much as decent ones these days.

Most people prefer the more traditional approaches to theft prevention, though. And there’s no shortage of advice on how to keep yours safe. Or safer, anyway.

Because there’s no guarantee.

Someone could break into my home and ride out on my bike, with our meager possessions tucked under his felonious arms. Or your bike could be jacked at a red light or an off-road bikeway.

All you can do is take reasonable precautions.

Register your bike. Lock it securely. And make sure it’s covered by your homeowners or renters policy.

It’s not as expensive as you might think. And it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than a new bike.

Even a crappy one.


As I was writing this, I got an email from Erin about yet another bike theft:

These bikes were stolen Tuesday night, September 29 from Hollywood Blvd at Gower, outside the blue Palms. We filed a police report Wednesday morning.

My bike: Black Soma Double-Cross, 52cm frame, 2005 model. I bought it at Free Range Cycles in Seattle; their sticker is yellow featuring a chicken riding a bicycle, placed just above the bottom bracket. Shimano components (mix of Deore and Tiagra). Black plastic toeclips. Black rear rack. Black bar tape (messed up on the left bar). Black saddle. Photo attached (the bike is as pictured, except I removed the fenders when I moved down here from Seattle). They stole my red and silver helmet, too.

Nick’s bike: Green/silver Trek 1200, 56cm? frame. Mix of Shimano and Campy components. Clipless pedals. Black rear rack. Drop bars with black bar tape. Black saddle. They also stole his blue helmet. No photo, unfortunately.

I just listed it in the Stolen Bikes database at, which really seems like it could use some advertising around LA, so anybody buying a used bike knows to ask to see the original receipt or else check the database. If we can find a way to make bicycle theft harder to profit from it will benefit everyone by getting more people on bikes and keeping them on their bikes! I know whatever bike I end up on next will have as many anti-theft devices as I can put on it, but it seems like we should all work together to shift the burden of thievery to bike thieves instead of making it practically a tax on cyclists.



Dr. Alex responds to Green LA Girl’s recent criticism of his call to extend the deadline for comments on the new L.A. Bike Plan, and calls on cyclists to support for the Cyclist’s Bill of Rights at tomorrow’s Neighborhood Council Action Summit — your chance to help spread the CBR throughout the city. As traffic gets heavier, drivers seem to get more careless or aggressive; Will Campbell gets right hooked three times on a single ride to work; at least he figured out what was causing that annoying thunk. Gary reports on Santa Monica ordinances that seem to ban riding through the city with an unlicensed bike — even though licensing isn’t required in California. Stephen Box morns the loss of a genuine bike supporter from the Caltrans regional management; hopefully Caltrans loss with be Metro’s gain. LAist reports distracted drivers left nearly 6,000 Americans dead — and over a half-million injured — last year alone. Finally, an anti-bike rant from an Aussie “comedian” ends with a call for violent assaults on cyclists; related coverage tells of a cyclist who may lose a leg after being struck and dragged under a truck. Yeah, pretty funny stuff.


  1. Joe Linton says:

    I went in to Orange 20 bike shop yesterday to get stuff to fix up my formerly #2 and #3 bikes. Their door was full of xeroxed hand-lettered stolen bike notices. The sight reminded me of those notices that appeared in NYC after 9/11 and in various places around Central and South America during US-sponsored oppression there in the 80’s… and 90’s… and probably still happening in Honduras today.

    I don’t mean to trivialize the death or disappearance of a loved one by comparing it to the loss of a prized two-wheeler… just to relay that the displays were similar.

  2. Add my bike to the list of recently “deceased”. Today between 10am and 1pm. Gone without a trace. They took the lock too.

  3. […] the ongoing problem of bike theft being just one of the thoughts on most biker’s minds, the Federal, State, and local governments […]

  4. ubrayj02 says:

    I just got some awesome new locks from the Netherlands – they lock your rear wheel to the frame and have an attachment site for a cable or chain lock.

    I bought a small box of these “AXA Defender” locks – and they are brilliant when combined with their accessory cable or chain locks.

    It’s a bit of security through obscurity with these – as thieves are unfamiliar with the tech. They also allow you to ride your bike without figuring out how to carry several locks hanging or slapped onto the frame or your person. Elegant and esoteric – the way lock should be.

  5. Forrest says:

    I’ve had a bike stolen – it’s horrible. For most people, it’s a while before you get another one, even used. Those months with no bike when you’re used to have one, not needing a car, and being very mobile in a city, are downright sluggish.

    I agree with what your friend Erin wrote, but have a question about it … isn’t it likely that most stolen bikes are broken down and sold for the components? After getting a used cycle cross bike, I saw one that looked exactly like my old bike one day, and realized it probably wasn’t.

    • bikinginla says:

      Sorry you had to go through it, Forrest. I’d be lost if anything happened to my bike.

      However, from what I’ve seen, it appears that many stolen bikes are sold whole, rather than broken down for parts. LAPD just broke up a theft ring that was advertising bikes on Craigslist, and I’ve heard of a number of people who’ve found their bikes for sale online. But it never hurts to check out the local swap meets and see if you can spot your frame, of some other identifiable part.

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