Not long ago, finding a shattered lock dangling from the rack where you parked your Schwinn was more of an annoying lesson learned than a financial setback. Since the advent of COVID, however, the cost of bikes has skyrocketed. Suddenly, protecting your bike from theft has become a critical endeavor. Here’s everything you need to know about keeping your bike protected.
Bike Prices Are Up
Due to an unfortunate combination of high demand, low supply, and an ever-increasing market for high-end and electric bikes (known as e-bikes), new bikes can cost more than $7,000.
New bicycles became scarce as soon as the nation shut down during COVID. Suddenly, everyone wanted a bike, because public transportation was less available, fitness centers and gyms were closed, and families who were working and attending school remotely were desperate to get out of the house. U.S. bike manufacturer Trek surveyed American cyclists, and 85 percent of respondents said they considered cycling safer than public transportation during the pandemic, and 63 percent said biking helped relieve COVID-related stress and anxiety. The National Bicycle Dealers Association reports that 2020 saw the largest retail bike sales numbers in 20 years, with Americans spending almost $4 billion on new bicycles. E-bike sales alone grew 53 percent.
Bike Theft Is a Big Business
Bike stores that managed to stay open during shutdowns had limited to no inventory of bikes and parts, driving prices higher and creating a climate ripe for bike theft and resells.
“As the demand for bicycles continues to exceed the supply, bikes remain a prime target for criminals,” says Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman. “Open garage doors create opportunities for thieves searching for bicycles, so remember to close them before going to bed at night.” Chapman also encourages owners to use a U-lock to secure bikes and to register bikes through the county to aid law enforcement in recovery if stolen.
According to Project 529, a national bike registry program that takes the registration concept to a higher level, a bicycle is stolen every 30 seconds — more than two million every year in North America – costing communities more than $1 billion annually. Project 529 works with many law enforcement agencies and city governments throughout North America to help them match and return recovered bikes to registered owners. Using the 529 Garage app, cyclists can register bikes, periodically update their bike information, and upload photos of their bikes and accessories as proof of ownership in the event the bike is stolen and recovered. App users can also check the registry when they are purchasing a used bike to see if it was reported stolen.
But Thefts Are Preventable
Chances of recovering a stolen bicycle are slim. Police nationwide recover hundreds of thousands of bikes each year, but Project 529 says that less than one percent of bicycles are registered, and less than 5 percent of stolen bikes are reunited with their owners.
Bike theft is a crime of opportunity, and if given enough time and cover for the thief to work, no bike is theft-proof.
That said, there are three key steps to protecting that bike and your investment: Register, Lock, Report.
It’s hard to recover a bike if you have no way to describe it or identify it to those who are helping you search. Always record and have handy the serial number and photos of your bike and accessories (which are often expensive and easy to remove). Register your bike through local registry programs (check your county or college police departments) as well as national registry programs such as Project 529 or Bike Index, which use powerful national databases and convenient, rapid technology to help you find your bike even if it has already crossed state lines.
When possible, bring your bike indoors or lock inside an enclosed unit. Do not hide your bike behind buildings or inside bushes. Choose a well-lit, highly visible location and secure only to legal, immovable structures, preferably designated metal bike racks. Wooden posts can be sawed and provide little protection. Pick a high-quality U-Lock, preferably combined with a second U-Lock or strong cable lock for added security. Most experts identify Kryptonite as the leader in bike locks, and Kryptonite advises owners to weave the lock(s), keyhole facing down, through the frame and both wheels when possible. Replace all quick-release skewers on seats and wheels with locked skewers, or take your seat with you when you leave your bike, along with other valuable accessories such as lamps, speakers, and panniers.
If your bike is stolen, immediately contact the police and officially file a report (only one in five stolen bikes are actually reported to the police). Post details of the theft, along with photos and identifying information on local social media. Register your bike as stolen through bike registry programs (hopefully you registered the bike earlier). You can also alert local pawn shops and monitor Craigslist or online yard sales.
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