15 Jun 2011

How to Keep Your Bike

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It’s that time of year—though isn’t it always?—when listservs are overwhelmed with pleas from Hill residents desperate to get back their beloved bikes back, bikes that have been stolen from front yards and back yards, garages and porches, store fronts and bike racks. Some bikes are locked to garden gates, while others are left unattended and unlocked for a minute or an hour. Almost all of the missing bikes would be with their rightful owners if the proper steps to secure them were taken.

So rather that recount the tales I’ve heard told all weekend—from thieves riding around in vans and collecting bikes that didn’t belong to them, to moms desperate to recover the bike that goes along with the child seat found abandoned in a nearby alley, I’ll share some of the best advice that I’ve learned as a city bike commuter.

Lock up your Bike
It seems like a no brainer, right? You’d never leave your bike propped up against the wall outside of Ted’s Bulletin while you popped in for a pop tart, so why would you think that your bike is any safer in your yard? A wise old man—okay, my dad—once told me that locks keep honest people out. Locks on gates or garage doors keep honest people out. Thieves looking to make a quick buck by selling a stolen bike will hop your fence, climb a wall, wedge open a door, whatever it takes to get a bike, so lock up your bike even if you plan to leave it for just a minute. Need advice about locks? Keep reading.

U-lock or Cable? Why not Both!
You can never have enough locks for your bike. When it comes to locks, the best defense is actually a multi-lock approach: a u-lock and a thick, cable lock or chain lock. For this to work, you’ll need more than the thin cable that comes with certain u-locks. You will need two separate, keyed locks. According to police, most thieves carry only one type of tool to break a lock and they almost always went to get in and out quickly. Outsmart them by making it twice as hard to steal your bike. He’ll move on to a bike that is easier to steal, and you won’t have to ride the bus.

When it comes time to purchase locks, do your research. Invest wisely and install properly. Not all locks are created equal.

Take away the Temptation
There are very few places where I will park my bike for an extended stay, and even then, I know that I am doing so at my own risk. When I park my bike on the Capitol grounds, which is teeming with Capitol police, I know that there is a good chance that my bike, even my bike’s accessories, will be missing. While I may have to leave my bike outside from 9 to 5, I avoid tempting thieves by keeping my bike indoors at night. My theory: I can check on my bike from my office window, but from midnight until 8am the last thing I want to do is make sure my bike is where I left her. Sure, my bike is messy and my basement is already cluttered, but if I want to keep my bike, storing my bike indoors is my second-best defense against bike loss after locking it. (I even lock my bike when I leave it indoors, but go out of town for more than a couple of days.)

Register your Bike
After my second bike was stolen, I learned that I should have registered my bike with the District because doing so would have made a safe return of my bike easier. While the District no longer requires one to ride to a station and register one’s bike, MPD does encourage use of the National Bike Registry, an online registry that all but guarantees that a bike recovered by a police department will be returned to its owner. More than 48 percent of stolen bikes are recovered by police. Only five percent find their way home because most bikes are not registered. Register your bike and you’ve got a near 50-50 chance that you’ll see it again. That’s good enough for me.

Bike already missing? Even stolen bikes can be registered!

Take a Picture
The best bike recovery story I ever heard was from a fella who found his stolen bike locked up outside of a store and flagged down an officer for assistance in recovering his bike. Because the bike was not registered with the District or a bike registry, the officer, who had every right to be skeptical, asked for proof that the bike was that of the man seeking assistance. The owner of the bike showed the officer a photo of himself with the bike. That was enough proof for the officer to cut the lock and return the bike to the owner. I have a picture of my daughter on our bike. It was taken on her first ever bike ride, and it will surely come in handy if I need to prove the yellow Trek with the Bobike bike seat is mine.

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4 responses to “How to Keep Your Bike”

  1. Or use Capital Bikeshare!

  2. Denny says:

    Yea, I read this at 7 this morning and then my wife went to bike to work around 8:30 and her front tire was gone. Bike was held (just through the frame) to our fence with a U-lock. Pretty sure we’ll be double-bagging it from now on.

  3. Kyra DeBlaker-Gebhard says:

    I love the idea of CaBi, I really do, but I often bike with my daughter, so it’s not practical for me. (At least I can’t justify the membership fee on my salary along with knowing that I have two bikes already in the basement.)

    If you don’t already have a bike you need to lock up, CaBi is an excellent idea, yes.

  4. Ryan Walas says:

    I use a folding bike so its easier to bring inside with me. Can’t be stolen if you don’t leave it about.

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