The power of social media was evident recently when a stolen bike was returned to an owner who didn't know it had been stolen. The story in the Tampa Bay Times described how Tom Davidson, driving along Tampa's West Shore Boulevard on Thanksgiving, noticed a high-end bike with a rider who didn't seem to belong on it. Davidson posted a picture of the bike and rider on the St. Petersburg Bicycle Club's Facebook page. Moments later, Mike Weimar, a store manager at Flying Fish Bicycles, saw the post and recognized his customer's bike.
But Davidson didn't stop there. He offered the guy $221 for the bike, which really was worth $5,000. The offer was readily accepted, along with a ride home.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is still investigating.
Most stolen bikes aren't recovered so easily, and that's why every bike owner should take extra care with security.
The bike Davidson helped recover was taken out of an unlocked garage in an upscale neighborhood. Weimar thinks you should not only lock your garage; you also should lock your bike to something inside that can't be moved.
In St. Petersburg, 1,187 bikes have been reported stolen this year, and just 162 have been recovered. Most are stolen from public places, according to St. Petersburg police Detective Sandra Minor. "It doesn't matter what type of lock you use, a determined thief will get it," she said. "They know which bikes are valuable," though often the easiest bikes to nab will be the ones that disappear.
On the streets, use a lock that fits the situation, said Nick Watkins, general manager of the Kryptonite division of Allegion, which makes U-locks. A 10-minute stop on a busy, well-lit street might require a simple cable lock. But a bike left for a longer time in an isolated area should be secured with the best, and likely heaviest, lock you can buy. "You should encompass as much of the bike as possible, including the frame and a wheel," Watkins said. "Put the lock high up on your frame, so the thief can't use the ground as leverage. Fill up the inside of the lock with as much of the bike as you can." The less room the thief has to work, the better.
Bicycling magazine recommends taking off the front wheel and locking it to the frame as well. Make sure what you're locking the bike to is solidly planted in the ground and tall enough that a thief can't lift the bike over it. The magazine also says a 12-millimeter-thick chain is the hardest to break.
"Often, bike theft is a crime of opportunity," Minor said. "The bike is there and easy to get. Thieves want to get it and get gone.''
While recovering a bike is a tough proposition, you can take steps to help yourself. First, record the bike's serial number. Most bikes have one, often below the bottom bracket where the pedals are. Report the number to the police so that if they find your bike, you can claim it. Have a picture of your bike and note any marks that may help police identify it.
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Register your bike with your local police department. You also can register it with the National Bike Registry (nationalbikeregistry.com/register.html).
Pawn shops enter serial numbers into a database in St. Petersburg, so police can check for your bike there, but increasingly, Detective Minor said, thieves sell bikes on the street or online. Check craigslist.com immediately, and if you see what you believe to be your bike, let the police contact the seller.
List your prized possession on your homeowners insurance, and keep the receipt to prove its worth, Weimar said. It may be your baby, but being compensated can help mitigate the loss.
And post a picture of it on a cycling Facebook page. You never know what might work.
Bob Griendling is vice president of the St. Petersburg Bicycle Club and a member of the Mayor's Bicycling and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. He blogs at bobgriendling.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.