Unfortunately I have had three bikes stolen from me throughout the years. The bad news is that two of them were never found again. The good news is that one of them was found and returned to me! Did you decide to go for a ride only to find out that your bike was stolen? I’m sorry! I’ve been there and know what you’re feeling right now.
I have put together a list of steps that you should take to increase the chances of being reunited with your bike. I know it’s a terrible feeling to lose a bike, but there’s a chance that you’ll recover it if you follow these guidelines.
1. File a Police Report
Either call or get yourself over to the station and file a police report. This is not a waste of time. According to BicycleLaw.com, “most bike theft is never reported to law enforcement. Thus, even though 48% of stolen bikes are recovered by law enforcement, only 5% of stolen bikes are returned to their owners.” You don’t want the cops to find your bike someday, but not know it belongs to you.
Notify the cops, and have them take down a report. Be prepared to give as much information as you can about your bicycle. This includes the bike’s serial number, make, model, and photos. If you’re fortunate enough to have video footage of the theft than include that with the report as well. The police will also ask for your personal information such as name, gender, birth date, and address.
Filing a police report does a few things. One it insures that if they find the bike it’ll be returned to you. Second, if you have an insurance policy on the bike the insurance company requires you to file a police report within 24 hours. Also if your bike was locked up with a lock that offers anti-theft protection than you’ll need to report within 72 hours of the theft so that the protection the lock company provides doesn’t void.
Lastly, make sure to get the contact information from one of the officers that you’re working with. You’ll want to be able to contact a person directly later rather than call the general police hotline number.
2. Take a Look Around Town
One of my bikes was stolen in an area that has a healthy sized homeless community. There are a few spots close to my home that the homeless hang out at. It wasn’t uncommon for homeless people to hang around my neighborhood, and a large majority of them rode bikes. I wasn’t pointing fingers, but it couldn’t hurt driving around and seeing what there was to see. I got in my car, and drove to one of the homeless hang out spots and sure enough my bike was locked up to a fence. They had taken the bike rack off it and taken the bar wraps off to disguise it. Unfortunately for the person, this particular bike is bright yellow and it stood out immediately.
I asked the group who the bike belonged to, and the group ignored me. I called the police letting them know I had found my bike. They came to the scene with bolt cutters to free my bike. After ensuring that the bike matched the photos I had sent them they handed my bike back to me. My stolen bike was recovered!
All this to say, drive around town looking for your bike. There’s a chance you might spot someone pedaling around on it. My town is on the smaller size, but it can’t hurt to take a look even if your city is larger.
3. Spread the Word
It hurts having to reflect on it, but tell friends, family, coworkers that your bike was stolen. The more you get the word out the more eyes will be open around town, and perhaps someone will spot it. It’d also be smart to post on social media about it. Make sure to use the highest quality photo you have of your bike so that people can see exactly what your bike looks like. Post photos to Facebook, Instagram, and any other social media network that’s popular in your area.
4. List your Bike as Stolen
Project 529 is a self-proclaimed community-powered bike recovery service. Visit their site and register your bike as stolen. You should also register your lost bike at Bike Index which is another community working hard to get your bike back. The premise for both of these sites is very simple. They’ll ask for your name, the bike’s manufacturer, serial number, and other useful descriptive information about your bike. Once you input this information into the registry you’ll be contacted if your bike comes up in their registry. Not only are individuals using these registries, but also bike shops, city registries, and police departments.
5. Keep an eye on Craigslist
Dig into Craigslist (or the equivalent in your area) searching for your stolen bicycle. There are numerous popular apps and websites that sell used bikes such as OfferUp, LetGo, and Facebook marketplace. There’s a good chance that the thief doesn’t want to ride your bike, but looking to make quick cash. Search around, cross those fingers, and maybe you’ll find it online.
If you’re lucky and find it online, you can make a new email to be used only for this situation and contact the seller. If you can manage to get the seller’s contact information than you should contact the police, and pass the information to them.
6. Check Local Pawn Shops, Thrift Stores, Flea Markets
Every town has stores and events where used goods can be sold. Check your local pawn shops, thrift stores, and flea markets. There’s a chance you may stumble across your bike. Remember if you do come across your bike don’t immediately accuse the person of stealing your bike. If you’re certain that it is your bike than you should contact the police and have them deal with it. You don’t want to get into a tussle with someone over your bike. You also don’t want to accuse someone of stealing your bike when 1) it could not actually be your bike, but one just like it 2) they purchased it from someone else and didn’t know it was stolen.
If you find your bike at a Pawn Shop you should bring proof that the bike belongs to you. It is against the law for pawn shops to sell stolen property. You should not have to purchase your bike from a pawn shop. If they’re giving you trouble than I would call the police to get them involved.
7. Talk with the Local Bike Shops
There’s a chance the thief may bring your bike to one of the local bike shops hoping to sell it there. Talk with local bike shop owners letting them know about your stolen bike. This is another way of getting the word out about your bike, and they’ll bike shop owners will be able to keep an eye out for your bike.
8. Google Alert is your Friend
Google Alert is a tool that will alert you anytime there’s new content for a particular topic in the Google results. It’s convenient, because Google will send you an email alerting you of this new content. What you can do is go to Google Alert, and in the “Create an alert about…” section you’ll want to put a very specific description of your bike. For example, if my Schwinn Continental was stolen in Santa Barbara I would put “Yellow Schwinn Continental Santa Barbara” in the form.
If anyone posts anything on the web related to a Yellow Schwinn Continental in Santa Barbara I’ll receive an email with links to it. You can do the same with your bike and city, and perhaps you’ll get an alert to an ad with your bike up for sale.
9. Join a “Stolen Bike” Community
There are community groups across Facebook that are solely for the purpose of recovering lost bikes in a specific city. For example, this group is called “Chico Stolen Bike” and it’s for getting the word out if your bike was stolen in the city of Chico. In addition, members of the group will post photos of bikes that they believe to be stolen.
10. Post Flyers
Like posting “Lost Dog!” posters you can go around your neighborhood posting “Lost Bike!” posters to get the word out. Another way to get the word out in your community is through the NextDoor social network. It’s a social network that is specific to a neighborhood. It’s a free app to interact with your neighbors on social media. Chances are not all of your neighbors have it, but a good chunk of them will.
A few bits of advice for the future…
These notes are to help you in the future. They’re tips to prevent your bike from being stolen and good ideas of things to do BEFORE your bike is stolen.
Put a Secret Note on the Bike
Write your name and phone number on a slip of paper and hide it in the handlebars. Bike thieves have been known to scratch the serial numbers off of bikes. If they’ve done this to your bike, you can prove it’s yours by telling the police about the slip of paper with your information hidden on the bike and than pulling it out.
Get the Right Bike Lock
No lock can guarantee that your bike will never be stolen, but not all locks are made the same. There are locks that are cheap, but aren’t as nice quality as others. If you want to make sure your bike is less likely to be stolen you’ll want to buy one of the best bike locks on the market. Otherwise with enough time a thief with a pair of bolt cutters can take out a simple lock to get your bike.
My recommendation would either be going with a Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Mini (Buy on Amazon) or an Abus Granit Lock (check price on Amazon). Both of these locks are top of the line locks. In addition, if you’d like to be extra safe you can get a cord to wrap around the wheels and bike frame to keep your bike extra secure.
You can also watch the video below that gives a guide on how to properly lock your bike up.
Get Bike Insurance…maybe?
There’s insurance that you can get that will cover a stolen bike. It’s up to you whether your bike is worth the cost of paying for insurance or not. My old steel frame was not monetarily worth paying insurance for. It’s value was all sentimental. On the other hand, my road bicycle is worth quite a bit more money. For a more expensive bike you may want to consider bicycle insurance in the event of a theft.
Take Photos of Your Bike
Take lots of photos of your bicycle BEFORE any incident happens. In the unfortunate case that your bike is stolen you’ll want lots of photography of the bike to prove its yours. You’ll also be able to use these photos to help others know what your bike looks like in the chance that it is stolen.
Hold onto Receipts & Write Down Information
Do you have a filing cabinet or drawer with all your important documents? Get yourself an extra file and label it “BIKE.” This file will have all the important documents and papers you’ll need in case your bicycle is ever stolen. You want to place every single receipt related to your bike. This means the accessories and any parts added to it. Even if it’s a used bike that you purchased at the thrift shop you’ll want a receipt for it to store in this file. These receipts are one factor that can be used to prove a bike is yours.
Secondly, you’ll want to write down the make, model, and serial number of the bike. Don’t just commit it to memory, write it down and put it in this file. The serial number is a sure way to prove that a bike is yours. If you don’t have a serial number you’ll have a difficult time convincing the police that a bike belongs to you.
You can find the serial number in one of the following locations.
Most serial numbers are located under the bottom bracket where the pedal cranks meet. You’ll need to flip your bike upside down and you’ll see the number down there. If it’s not there the serial number can be found either near the top of the crank, on the headset, near the rear stays, the seat downtube next to crank, or possible the top of the crank.
Between the serial number, receipts, and photos you’ll have a very strong case to prove that bike is your personal property.
That’s about all there is to say. I’m sorry that your bike was stolen, and I really hope it makes its way back to you. I remember when my bike was stolen I felt a knot the size of a grapefruit in my stomach. I couldn’t help, but feel angry and frustrated. These are common feelings when something you love has been wrongly taken from you. Hopefully with the tips above you’ll get your bike not. Otherwise you’ll need to start looking for a new bike. 🙁
Remember to follow the tips at the bottom of this article to make sure it doesn’t happen again.