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Two devious bike theft tricks you should be aware of

Posted by on October 18th, 2013 at 12:56 pm

bike theft

Bike thieves are a clever bunch.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The world of bike theft continues to both fascinate and deplore us. It seems like just as innovation and technology promises better bike theft prevention and recovery tools, thieves are becoming more brazen, devious, and numerous.

In our ongoing quest to arm you with as much knowledge about bike theft as possible, we wanted to share the experiences of two readers. Both of these bike theft tactics where new to me, so I figured they were worth passing along.

The first is from a reader named Chris:

I used to have a roommate that was a complete moron and “accidentally” stole a bike:

He was in Eugene, OR and some guy on the sidewalk asked, as he was walking by, if he wanted to buy this Gary Fisher MTB for $40. He gave the guy $40, and the guy was gone before he realized that the bike was still locked to a bike rack. So, he went home to get some bolt cutters and returned to remove the lock and take his new bike home. It wasn’t until he got home that he had to be told by friends and family that he was swindled and just stole someones bike… I didn’t know him when he did this, but he still held onto a lot of guilt from this experience… doesn’t make him any less of an idiot, though.

Crazy story! I guess the moral is, if some random dude asks you to buy a bike for cheap, just keep on walking.

And another reader shared this experience with us today:

Hey Bike Portland,

I had an interesting thing happen last night on the corner of NE Flanders and 28th…I locked my bike up at the Foursquare Church for a few hours using two u-locks and a cable, as I always do if I will be away from it for more than a few minutes. When I returned I found that someone had run another rather hefty cable lock through my front tire. I was unsure how to proceed but ended up calling non-emergency dispatch. The officer was pleasant, had me prove it was my bike, but told me there was nothing he could do. To be fair I guess I don’t know what I expected him to do anyway. Luckily I had older pictures of me and the bike and gave all my personal info to him.

The problem with the situation was that I don’t generally carry bolt cutters with me (!!!) and my special lady friend had to taxi from upper NE with the tool so I could cut it free. Cost about 30 bucks for round trip and it was 2 in the AM. While it was a pain in the ass I’m grateful I was able to free my ride.

I though two things; someone was just being a dick or this was this some monkey wrench tactic foreshadowing a later theft attempt? I’m guessing they hoped I would not be able to free it that night and they planned on returning to cut my u-locks somehow?

Anyway, it was super frustrating and certainly freaked me out for a minute.

Apparently (according to our friends on Twitter), this is a relatively common tactic. A similar one is to deflate your tires, hoping you’ll walk home and leave your bike overnight. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how to prevent this type of thing from happening. Anyone have any advice or insights?

Stay tuned for (unfortunately) more bike theft coverage.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Kent
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Kent

I’ve also heard of a variant of this: injecting superglue into your lock keyhole, which makes you think the lock is busted.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I would imagine that we will see more and more “smart” bike thieves as our cycling culture continues to grow. These are characters that might have a decent income, and look normal, but have devised methods that allow them to steal bikes with little risk.

I recall an incident a few weeks ago at the NW Portland REI. I locked up my bike with a U-lock and walked in, but turned around and noticed a 30-something normally dressed hipster-type dude standing near the staple rack. He was close, but not too close, and would glance down at the two bikes locked up, and then look away. It seemed suspicious because he kept looking at the rack, but would go back to looking away, making it seem like he was just waiting casually. I watched him through the window for a few minutes and eventually he turned and saw that I was watching him. Almost immediately, he walked away. Just a guess, but I would imagine this location would be great for finding poorly-locked expensive bikes.

Phil Kulak
Guest
Phil Kulak

If I ever find my bike re-locked by someone else, I’m staking it out all night long. I’ve had my bike stolen before and I’m still hanging onto a lot of rage that could stand to be released.

Todd Hudson
Guest
Todd Hudson

I guess I should start keeping a battery-powered angle grinder on standby…

Nick
Guest
Nick

If someone offers a good bike for cheap, try to get the police there as soon as possible. Classic bike thief behavior, and its thwarting by people willing to engage documented several times on this very site.

JV
Guest
JV

On a related bike theft note – what is proper etiquette when you see someone riding a bike and ghost-riding another (riding with two bikes)?

It seems that there are plenty of legitimate reasons why one would need to transport two bikes alone, but often I worry that it could be a stolen bike. Sometimes I have said something to the effect of “I hope that’s your bike, because karma is a bitch” as I pass them. Is this being too suspicious of fellow bikey people, or justified? I would argue that any judgment based on outward appearance of the person could easily be wrong.

bicyclist
Guest
bicyclist

I saw my stolen bike and approached the man who was riding it when he came to a stop. He explained that he bought it for $25 and he wasn’t going to give it to me because he needed to be somewhere.

I didn’t have a phone or camera, so I had no choice but to negotiate the best I could. He gave me the crazy eyes and was ready to brawl, so I tried to calm things and he took off. Violence is not the way, and in hindsight I know what I could have done different.

Losing your bike twice sucks even more 🙁

Doc
Guest
Doc

One of many depressing videos,watch Bike Thief 2012,on youtube. No warm feeling left behind.

TOM
Guest
TOM

I was at the Salvation Army on 82nd (Happy Valley ?) a couple of weeks back. Had just put a “Death to Bike Thieves” sticker on the bike.
So this scraggly looking guy (25 ?) finds me in the store and starts asking lots of questions about how he can get a sticker.
I didn’t think much of it, but when I went out to the bike ,,, my cyclocomputer was gone.

I think it was him , and he was pissed that the bike wasn’t an easy target … just had to get even somehow ??

Really love the kids security procedures nowdays … don’t lock your bike …just turn it upsidedown. 🙁

Or at Taco Bell, the kids just piled their bikes up …there were 5 or 6 in a big pile .. and I guess they interlocked , you know ..pedals in somebody else’s spokes ???

dmc
Guest
dmc

Sometimes thieves will fix a pole or bike rack and have it appear as though it is anchored to the ground. It can then be removed from the ground and the bike is carried or road away.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

I still want a motion or distance/proximity triggered skunk spray dispenser. You don’t need much to get the job done so the device can be very small.

Adam
Guest
Adam

Of course, it would help if BikePortland’s very own stolen bike listings actually provided a mandatory box specifying how the bike was locked (u-lock, cable, both, neither etc etc) when it was stolen.

Joe Suburban
Guest
Joe Suburban

I think the best anti-theft device is value and aspect of the bike + 2 locking mechanisms (u-lock and cable or chain).
My 1st bike: pink girl’s Magna from Goodwill – value $25. Rode it for 2 years in bike thieve infested Eugene – nobody touched it before it’s rusted frame broke. Only used a chain and padlock on it.
2nd bike: new blue Magna from WallyMart, added a fancy handlebar to it – value $125. Stolen from Lloyd Center because I used a cable…dumb!
3rd bike: new aluminum frame Trek – value $350. Lives in the basement and I use a beefy short u-lock and chain+padlock on it. I don’t leave it parked outside or in sketch areas for too long. I ride for pleasure and in fair weather only.

cheryl longinotti
Guest
cheryl longinotti

Perhaps it’s time for Portland to establish guarded bike parking lots as they have in the Netherlands.

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

I just thought of the perfect anti-theft device: The exploding seat! Someone needs to invent a bike saddle that will explode, unless the correct code is entered into it before riding. OK, might be a bit bulky, but on a commuter bike, who cares? I am semi-serious about this. Just like the exploding dye-pack in bank cash packs given to robbers.

BikeEverywhere
Guest
BikeEverywhere

The thiefs are getting bolder…A couple of weeks ago I was riding MAX with my bike and someone stole my $50 PDW Radbot 1000 rear light. I was standing right next to it the entire time, holding the bike upright. The theft occurred sometime between the Merlo Rd and Willow Creek stations.

Cory Poole
Guest

Bike thieves don’t need to find cheap tools at harbor freight, they have great tools. How? They steal them!

Peter James
Guest
Peter James

If you see someone using an angle grinder on a bike lock, what should you do? Call 911 or is there a better number?

Jonathan R
Guest
Jonathan R

Thanks for putting these techniques out there. I think the best defense against the angle-grinder or automobile-jack type of attacks is to ride a less-desirable “girls’ frame” type bike.

Josh G
Guest
Josh G

I recently heard of a $700 bike belonging to a Metro employee, stolen off of a MAX hook.

Joe
Guest
Joe

I got someones bike back after I picking it up at a loan shop very well known one on 3rd st they ran the numbers but guess it came up clean since the orig owner didnt log the S number, anyway he gave me 140 and I paid 175 for it, lost some money but its all about doing the right thing right? The Portland police Dept said it was very nobel of me since I was backed by the loan shop and police dept, bottom line they have a lead on the bike theif.*** BTW I don’t go buying bikes off of just anyone *** since I checked and this bike was not reg’d in the bike database.. sooo happy I got the bike back to the orig owner. would want the same for me.. hey word of advise reg your bike S number..

Bryan Hance
Guest

Re: this topic, an interesting read re: tools used and mentality of a Canadian bike thief here:

Interview with a Vancouver bike thief: http://thedependent.ca/featured/bike-theft-vancouver/

tnash
Guest
tnash

imho, the only solution is to either ride a cheap piece-of-crap bike, or ride a folding bike. I don’t leave my nice bike unattended in the great outdoors (and U-locked) for more than 2 minutes — I just take my $50 POS mtn bike (U-locked), and no one’s bothered with it yet.

Mark Allyn
Guest

Folks:

Thank you for the warnings!

Perhaps from now on we must insist on bringing it inside if we go to a place like REI or a bike shop? These places should have no problems with us bringing our bikes inside. No bike shop has ever given me grief for bringing it inside. I have also seen bikes brought inside QFC/Fred Mayer/Rite Aid/etc.

Or at least if it’s outside, its on a private lot either hidden from the street or under CCTV surveyiallance and a good distance from the street, which is in the case where I work.

If it has to be on the street; I will find a place where I can see it from inside.

All else fails (such as the courthouse for jury duty) I leave it at home and take the bus.

Or use a junker for the times when I cannot bring it inside at places such as the theater or rose quarter.

Joe
Guest
Joe

I really think most places should offer indoor parking, hey more for cars right ;P nah rilly it would be awesome to have indoor lock area if you shopped there.

maxadders
Guest
maxadders

If you leave your multi-thousand-dollar lifestyle toy / fashion symbol parked in a vulnerable spot for long enough, you’ll lose it. I just don’t see the point of riding such fancy bikes around town. Sure, tweet all day about how utilitarian your almost-always-empty cargo bike is, or how much tire clearance your cyclocross bike offers– a $150 used mountain bike will do at least 90% of that stuff and thieves won’t raise an eyebrow if you lock it right. It’s time Portlanders come to grips with reality and leave the toys at home. Biking for utility is great, but save the nice bikes for the races, trails and country roads.

Congnar
Guest
Congnar

If you do not feel comfortable leaving your commuter bike locked outside during the day you are riding the wrong bike or using the wrong lock.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Agree with Congnar … Portland is not San Francisco, and nowhere near the point that outdoor parking is so insecure you need to bring your bike inside.

Don’t be like the guy who parks his fancy sports car across 2 parking spaces. Your ride isn’t that special, and neither are you. If you still want to feel special, try to make do with your tediously customized $4 coffee drink.

Just U-lock the bike (making sure to secure both wheels) and pop off the more expensive lights and accessories if you’re going to be inside more than a few minutes. Unless you’re parking overnight in a few select parts of town or have a ridiculously overpriced bike that’s inappropriate for commuting and utility, you’ll probably be fine.

TOM
Guest
TOM

I bought my first Brooks saddle this year and was a little paranoid about it. At first I put a little locking cable between it and the frame (one of those free gun locks from MultCo. sheriff) , but figured it insufficient despite the seat NOT having a quick release.
Did a little reading,,, then as long as the seat height no longer needs any adjustment, turned the bike on its side and dribbled hot solder into the Allen head. The only way to get an Allen key into it to release the saddle is to heat the solder back out. Hopefully a slow process. (Also put black tape over the Brooks exposed rivet heads so you can’t tell what it is from a distance. (I hope)

Josh Gold
Guest

Specialized Allez stolen from SE 6th and Alder in June.

Made the stupid mistake of leaving bike overnight. Found heavy duty Kryptonite U-Lock mangled the next morning. I’m told bike thieves use car jacks to break U-Locks.

Vladimyr
Guest
Vladimyr

Carry a soft gel saddle embedded with a blade, attached to a 2nd seat post. Replace the saddle when not in use. Don’t forget to always keep the bike fingerprint free, just in case.

Robert Lennie
Guest
Robert Lennie

One of my kids lost their key once and I had to take a hacksaw to their school shed and sit there for several minutes hacking through their lock. I learned two things: 1. Hardened steel (stamped on it) is completely meaningless – it cut just as easily as any other steel rod I have sawed through 2. Many people went past and completely ignored me during this lengthy process. For all they knew I could have been a bike thief. Unbelievable!

R. Harold
Guest
R. Harold

Interesting post. BTW, the world of bike theft does not “deplore” us. Instead, we deplore the world of bike theft. Deplore = strongly disapprove.