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SFPD to bike thieves: "You better believe we’re gonna be coming for you.”...

Meet Matt Freedman of the San Francisco Police Department. He’s at the forefront of the city’s efforts to combat bike thieves, as he explains in this video from the New York Times.

SFPD, like many forces, is using bikes planted on the street and observed covertly to help catch thieves. But they’ve taken the idea one step further.

“If we want people to get out and ride their bikes, they have to get out without fear of them getting stolen,” says Freedman. So as well as ‘bait bikes’ equipped with GPS trackers and under surveillance, he’s issuing thousands of stickers to San Francisco’s cyclists.

‘Is this a bait bike?’ the stickers say.

Freedman says: “The idea is to let thieves know that any bike at any time in the city of San Francisco could be one of our bait bikes, so if you steal a bike you better believe we’re gonna be coming for you.”

SFPD has created a website at safebikes.org with lots of good advice hanging on to your bike.

Over the years we’ve compiled what we think is the definitive set of anti bike theft tips, with input from the road.cc community, so here it is again to cut out and keep.

The road.cc community Bike Locking Bible

  • Lock your bike to a secure, immovable object. Trees and certain pieces of street furniture don’t make particularly good locking locations; trees limbs can be sawed through, and your bike can often be lifted over bollards and signposts.
  • Your wheels are the most vulnerable part of your bike. Make sure that your lock goes through both wheels and the frame, or use two locks: one for each wheel. Alternatively you can invest in a locking wheel skewer for your front wheel.
  • It doesn’t take long to steal a bike. Make sure that you lock your bike up properly whether you are leaving it for 30 seconds or half an hour.
  • Bike lights and other items and accessories that are not secured to your bike are easy pickings for thieves. Take them with you whenever you leave your bike.
  • No matter how safe you feel in your home, your bike is still at risk, especially if it’s in your garage or your shed. Lock it up at home like you would if you were on the street.
  • Not all bike locks are cheap, but you really do get what you pay for. If you treasure your bike, buying the best locks that you can afford would be a wise investment.
  • If you come back to your bike and it's got a mysterious puncture or damage, walk it home. It's probably been marked in the hope that you'll leave it there overnight.
  • Consider using a registration service, such as Bike Register, to physically mark your bike with an identifying feature and link it to your identity on the police database. Certain councils and police constabularies offer free solutions, and there are alternatives to Bike Register.
  • If it does go missing you must report it. The police will only take bike crime more seriously if they have reason to do so.
  • If you're down to one lock, or are particularly worried about the security of your wheel, taking your front wheel with you eliminates half of the risk of theft immediately.
  • Use secure bike parking wherever possible. Even for a price, your bike will be far better protected from theft inside a designated secure location rather than on the street, no matter how well you think you’ve locked it up.
  • Make sure that you lock your bike up in as public of a place as possible. If you leave it in a secluded location, it will give any would-be thief time to work on your lock undisturbed.
  • Make the lock mechanism itself hard to access. For example if you're locking your bike to railings, point the lock mechanism away from the street so it's harder for a thief to attack.
  • Don't leave space in your shackle - any extra space gives evil bike stealing tools the room they need to do their dirty work. Don't give them that opportunity.
  • If you’ve taken out insurance on your bike don’t buy any old lock. Make sure that the locks that you have purchased are featured on Sold Secure’s approved products list as many insurance companies insist on their use.
  • But most importantly, wherever you’re going, please do not forget your lock!

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

13 comments

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pwake [423 posts] 3 years ago
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Now there's a guy who enjoys his job! Loved seeing him sitting at his desk laughing at the surveillance video of the bike thief being taken down. And a desk lamp with a 'Death to bike thieves' sticker!  16

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bikebot [2120 posts] 3 years ago
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I don't know how many forces in the UK have used bait bikes, the Met have. The number of bike thefts per year is frankly insane and yet receives relatively little Police attention.

Apart from the financial harm of any crime, it's one of the leading causes of people giving up cycling which is a real shame.

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DrRocks [22 posts] 3 years ago
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This list of advice is all about blaming the victim: "it's your fault for not locking up your bike". Theft is theft no mater how much inconvenience the bike thief has to go through to get your bike. No matter how well you lock up your bike, a determined experienced bike thief will have it if they want it.

The missing advice that would really reduce bike crime is to stop buying secondhand bikes on the internet. If you are buying a bike on Gumtree or eBay you might have well stole it yourself. If we remove the demand for stolen bikes then the supply of stolen bikes should dry up.

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bikebot [2120 posts] 3 years ago
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DrRocks wrote:

If you are buying a bike on Gumtree or eBay you might have well stole it yourself. If we remove the demand for stolen bikes then the supply of stolen bikes should dry up.

So, serious question.

Can anyone see any problem with requiring that second hand bike listings include the frame number?

I've mentioned on this site before that I'd like to see all new bikes contain an RFID/NFC tag in the frame. As with mobile theft, there are ways to use technology to reduce the demand. And I completely agree with DrRocks, reducing the demand is the key to reducing the problem.

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Paul J [936 posts] 3 years ago
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DrRocks: Banning the 2nd-hand bike market seems wrong too. Is there a more practical solution?

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JWaterworth [1 post] 3 years ago
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Or get a folder and take it indoors  1

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Rupert [191 posts] 3 years ago
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They say if it happens in the states it will happen in the UK 5 years later.
Or maybe the police in the UK are doing this already ? Anybody know if the police in the UK are putting out bait bikes in our towns and cities ?
If not I would like to apply for the job of bait bike - bike thief catcher  41

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bikebot [2120 posts] 3 years ago
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JWaterworth wrote:

Or get a folder and take it indoors  1

I tried that last Saturday, but I got complaints from the people behind me in the cinema.

Pffft, some people eh!

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PhilRuss [391 posts] 3 years ago
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[[[[[ Yup, Bikebot's suggestion that "all used bike ads must display the frame-number" looks like a good idea. Strange it hasn't become a legal requirement.
P.R.

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fustuarium [215 posts] 3 years ago
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pwake wrote:

Now there's a guy who enjoys his job! Loved seeing him sitting at his desk laughing at the surveillance video of the bike thief being taken down. And a desk lamp with a 'Death to bike thieves' sticker!  16

And the only other time I've heard 'clipped' was in the Sopranos!

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CanAmSteve [256 posts] 3 years ago
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RFID and registering (and making use of) frame numbers mandatory are all good ideas, but remember this is a country where you can still get a numberplate made of someone else's car reg in ten minutes. Very handy if you stole the car you're driving in the first place. So if the UK can't fix that gaping hole, they aren't likely to pay attention to mere poor people's bikes.

The usual good tips, but there's little reason to take the front wheel with you - if it comes off it will probably fit in the lock detached. Allen key skewers and Pitlocks will only delay things a little bit. You really have to "uglify" any nice stuff (like a Brooks saddle) as well as use theft deterrents (ball bearings in the socket heads) in cities. I buy those el-cheapo Chinese Knog ripoff lights at £5/pair and take any good light with me.

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tendecimalplaces [10 posts] 3 years ago
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There is a potential very serious uninteded consequence to this. Bank vans were made so secure that there was no point in thiefs attacking them. So they started going more for the thing that was still vulnerable, the crew. How do you know a bike isn't a 'bait bike'? because someone's pedalling it. The police are not the only ones that can take down someone on a bike!

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pwake [423 posts] 3 years ago
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tendecimalplaces wrote:

There is a potential very serious uninteded consequence to this. Bank vans were made so secure that there was no point in thiefs attacking them. So they started going more for the thing that was still vulnerable, the crew. How do you know a bike isn't a 'bait bike'? because someone's pedalling it. The police are not the only ones that can take down someone on a bike!

Not sure you're comparing apples with apples there? Commit violent crime and escape with thousands in cash vs commit violent crime and escape with a bike you can probably shift for a few hundred quid; does somewhat colour the decision methinks!