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Inside a Bike Thief’s Mind: How & Why Do People Steal Bikes!

why do people steal bikes
Written by Joshua Fernand

Bike theft is becoming increasingly common across the world. The demand for bicycles was huge before, but as more and more of us are avoiding fossil fuels and switching to eco-friendly transportation, the demand skyrocketed.

Just as the number of bicycles increased on the road, so did the number of stolen bikes. Bike theft is on the rise across the entire planet. Traditional locks and chains don’t provide enough security anymore. So, how to protect your bike from getting stolen?

Join us today as we dive deep to figure out why do people steal bikes, what they look for in a bike, and what are the best ways to protect your bike against these ever-increasing theft attempts.

Increasing bike theft

Bike theft is one of the easiest crimes to get away with. On average, around 2M bike thefts are reported in the US alone, adding up to $350M each year. This number multiplies significantly when you add in the number of unreported bike thefts. According to recent US studies, a bike gets stolen every 30 seconds.

Another report from BikeIndex.org shows, that around 96,000 bikes got stolen in the year 2020, which was 24% more than the previous year and the trend continues in 2022 as well.

Why Do People Steal Bikes

As I’ve mentioned earlier, the demand for decent-quality bikes has skyrocketed in the last decade, mainly because of the pandemic. Above all else, the primary reason for increasing bike theft is the processes being super easy. Just about anyone can access your bike and steal it within a few moments.

Another good reason can be the shortage of supply. The pandemic damaged the supply chain across the planet, making production slower and creating a supply shortage in the market.

However, the problem is global. Here’s a comical video from 2015 showing people stealing bikes in front of others from public places.

Although it’s a humorous representation, it’s sad to say that the situation hasn’t changed at all in 7 years. It’s even worse here in the US.

What the thieves look for

Bike thieves aren’t looking for expensive parts or comfortable rides. Most of them are looking for easy money and a quick gateway. It doesn’t matter if your bike is cheap or expensive, worn-out, or brand-new; if thieves can get their hands on it, you can kiss your bike goodbye.

Most thieves carry powerful and compact tools with them. Your bikes aren’t even secured inside your shade if you fail to lock them properly. Some thieves do take apart the bike after stealing, but that number is small. Most times, the thief will get away riding the bike they just stole.

The main drive behind bike theft is easy money. Many thieves roam around free streets all night in search of a “score”. They become more active on the weekends as the police get busy handling the drunk stupids. With enough preparation, a gang of 2-3 bike thieves can steal 10-15 bikes per weekend!!! (I know, right?…)

What the thieves look for

What’s more disturbing is, that these pesky thieves are getting smarter every day. They know where to look for GPS trackers and how to remove them. Their equipment and tools are also getting better. Some of them now use decoys, some cut through the frame, and some use trucks to quickly grab bikes and run.

Some of them are so vicious, that they will target the places where it’s most crowded and covered in CCTVs. According to an ex-thief, people are like sheep. They feel safe when they’re together and pay less attention to their surroundings”.

Where do the stolen bikes go

Bike theft is pretty far down on the police’s crime list. As a result, less than 5% of people get their stolen bikes back. Unless you are extremely lucky, your bike may get sold within days, even hours after the theft.

Bike owners not keeping solid buying records only adds to the problem. Once your bike gets out of the thief’s hand, it’s nearly impossible to track it. Some people even go to the length of disassembling your bike and sell the parts on the black market. People looking for cheap bikes or parts are the main buyers.

Where do the stolen bikes go

On the black market, people can buy premium bikes at a fraction of their original cost, increasing the demand for stolen bikes and parts. A decent quality bike can cost you anywhere from $200 – $5000 in a black market. Professional thieves tend to make deals online.

Now, let’s figure out how exactly thieves steal bikes and what can you do to prevent your bike from getting stolen.

How Do Thieves Take Your Bike

With bare hands

This might be hard to believe, but most cheap locks aren’t strong enough to protect your bike. In fact, low-end cable locks can be broken with nothing but a strong pair of hands.

If your bike lock is cheap, putting tension on the right spot will break it easily. They can also try picking the lock with some tools, and your cheap, standard lock will surrender within minutes.

Prevention

The only way to prevent thieves from breaking your bike locks apart with their bare hands is to use heavy-duty locks. To be blunt, any type of lock can be picked or broken with the right tools and enough time. Now, the harder you make that job for a thief, the more protection your bike will have.

With Hacksaws

Hacksaws are cheap and lightweight, making them ideal for carrying easily. Some of them can even fit inside your pocket, and not surprisingly, most bike thieves use those specific types.

Check out how easy it is to pick and cut a bike lock:

With sharp and strong teeth, hacksaws rip through cable locks easily. Given enough time, they can cut almost all kinds of cheap locks you can find.

Prevention

Hacksaws can’t cut everything. Their speed is their biggest downfall. Even though they are formidable against cheap bike locks, they can’t cut through hardened steel. You can use this information to your advantage.

Place heavy-duty locks that can’t be cut or takes a lot of time to cut through hand-powered hacksaws. You can also secure your bike lock by keeping it off the ground and filling its shackles. This will make it harder to cut your lock with a hacksaw.

Hammer Strikes

The next on our list is hammers. Hammers are used by amateur and professional thieves alike. However, unlike the mighty Thor from MCU, most hammer users (thieves) are unskilled. They will get through your lock simply by striking repeatedly until it breaks open. Most cheap and low-quality bike locks can be broken this way.

Here’s the cheapest way to break your bicycle free from standard locks:

Prevention

The good news is that you can hammer-proof your bicycle easily. Keeping the lock above the ground also helps here as it makes hitting the lock much harder. Using multiple locks can also help secure your bike against hammers.

Prybars & Crowbars

This is an old, yet effective method of stealing an unchecked bike. Twisting the lock will pressurize the system until it pops. Both crowbar and prybars work well against low to mid-range locks, even the D-shaped ones. Just twist and lever open the lock within minutes.

Here’s how they do it within minutes:

Prevention

The best combat to a crow/pry bar attack is to fill the shackle of your lock around it. The Shackle will make it hard to fit a crowbar and get leverage. A double deadbolt locking system and thick hardened-steel shackles can protect your bike from such attacks.

Using bolt/cable cutters

This is the most popular method of stealing a bike. Compact bolt/cable cutters can fit inside a small backpack, making it easy to conceal. Here’s how thieves use a bolt cutter to steal bikes:

Once the thief has access to your bike without anyone noticing, they can quickly take the cutter out, find a good spot to cut, snap your lock in a couple of seconds, and be on their way with your bike within minutes; you wouldn’t even notice.

The cable locks are the most vulnerable here. Look how easy it is to cut a cable lock:

Prevention

The thicker your lock is, the harder it’ll be for the thief to cut through. Bike locks with heavy-duty shackles (16mm or thicker) are usually immune to most bolt cutters as they’re too thick to cut. You can also use locks that have a double deadbolt locking system.

Remember, the harder you make your bike to pick, the more time the thief will spend on cutting your bike and your chance of catching them red-handed will increase significantly. Avoid using cable locks as cable cutters can devour cables within moments. Using a strong D lock with thick shackles will solve this problem.

Hydraulic Car/Bottle Jacks

This is also a rare method as a car jack requires a bit of experience and skill to operate. They are also harder to conceal and cost a lot. That’s why only professional thieves use this method. They use the car jack to create enough pressure to snap open bike locks, even from their locking area.

Prevention

Use bike locks with smaller shackles to attach your bike to your locking place. This will make it harder to fit a jack inside. Thieves use the place inside your locking place to get leverage, so be sure to fill the place up. That should protect you from such hydraulic attacks.

Using Chemicals

Now we’re diving deep into the professional spectrum of bike stealing skills. This is a rare method, but an effective one. Thieves use chemicals like liquid nitrogen (Ice-sprays) to freeze the metal and then use hammer strikes to break the lock apart.

Metal becomes more brittle once it’s exposed to extremely low temperatures. A couple of powerful blows after are enough to break even the most capable locks. Here’s how the process works:

Prevention

Supreme quality bike locks are designed to prevent shattering under extreme temperatures.

The best way to protect your bike from the freeze attack is to invest in a supreme quality bike lock and make it harder to access the lock. A thief won’t take the bike if the hassle is too much.

Power Tools

As I’ve mentioned earlier, no lock is impenetrable if you have enough time and the right tools. Well, these are the most powerful tools used for bike theft and can break even the mightiest locks within minutes.

Your cheap bike locks won’t probably even last 30 seconds in front of tools like angle grinders. What’s more? These power tools don’t require high skills. Here’s the process, if you’re interested:

However, it’s hard to conceal a power tool, and that’s why this method is not so common. These tools also produce a lot of noise, making it hard to use them.

Prevention

Angle grinders were considered unbeatable until recently, meaning that there were no ways you can protect your bike from power tools attacks. Of course, you could keep your bike within your eyesight, but that’s not a viable option.

However, there are glimpses of hope as new and improved bike locks are entering the market. These heavy-duty bike locks are grinder proof and completely uncuttable. You can also try using the thickest lock, or multiple locks you can find to increase your bike’s protection. Double deadbolt locks work better in such cases.

Hotspots For Theft

Thieves are opportunists by nature, so every place is a hotspot for them. Whenever you are leaving your bike unattended, a thief nearby may try to steal it. Many pro thieves roam around at night and the first chance they get, your bicycle is gone.

Stealing bikes from quiet and serene have become too mainstream. That’s why many new-generation thieves are leaning toward crowded places and residential areas. They even steal bikes from public places, in front of other people. Even a closed garage isn’t safe.

Hotspots For Theft

**Photo Courtesy: Project529

However, parking areas are one of the most prominent hotspots for bike theft. Whenever there is an unattended bike, there might be thieves around keeping an open eye on the prize and waiting for the perfect opportunity.

In a broad sense, there are severe hotspots in the USA where bike theft is pretty common. According to studies, here are the current hotspots where your bike is at the most risk:

  1. Los Angeles, California
  2. New York City, New York
  3. Webster City, Iowa
  4. Jamestown, North Dakota
  5. Fargo, North Dakota
  6. Houston, Texas
  7. Waterloo, Iowa
  8. Sioux City, Iowa
  9. Johnston, Iowa
  10. Des Moines, Iowa

However, keep in mind that a bike thief can steal your bike from your home. That’s why it’s crucial to protect your bike however possible, no matter where you live.

The Solution: Locking Your Bike Up

Enough about the problem. Let’s figure out how you can protect your bike from getting stolen. We’ve discussed how you can protect your bike from the most common bike attacks. However, the one part common in all of those techniques is knowing how to lock up your bike properly. So, let’s figure it out:

Bike Racks

Bike racks will be different depending on the place. No matter where you park your bicycle, it’s essential to check the rack thoroughly beforehand. Try to find vulnerabilities like if the rack is poorly cemented into the ground or if the rack itself can be cut, or broken.

Bike Racks

Additionally, the middle section of the rack will probably be the hardest to reach. Don’t forget to use heavy-duty locks with thick shackles. Hopefully, this will protect your bike in most bike racks.

Balcony Or Decks

Sometimes, finding a parking place can be hard. If you are stuck with something like a balcony or a deck, at least heavy chains are mandatory for securing your bike against the railing. However, don’t forget to use additional locks to secure the wheels.

One thing is worth mentioning here. UV light from the sun can damage the parts of your bike in the long run. So it would be better to park your bike under some kind of shade.

Private Garages

If you have a garage of your own, install whatever security measures you find necessary to stop unauthorized access into your garage. You can use CCTV, motion detectors, and theft alarms alongside the security protocols we suggested.

Don’t leave the garage door open or unattended for a long time. You can also install floor anchors so no one can take your bike and just walk away. You can also cover your bike with tarps so it doesn’t catch much attention. A heavy-duty chain wrapped through an anchor will provide the best security.

Public Garages

The risk is high when you leave your bike in a public garage. A place that has good CCTV coverage may be good, but that won’t prevent the thief from stealing your bike altogether.

Don’t forget to chain up your bike probably before leaving, and try to make sure your bike stays unattended for as little time as possible, especially in places where you might not get back into it in several hours.

In/On Your Motor Vehicle

The key to securing your bike is not escaping the eye of the thief, but rather making them understand that stealing the bike will be extremely difficult and time-consuming. If you’re used to keeping your bike inside another car, make sure you have a spare chain, lock, and key nearby.

Use sleeved chains to secure your bike with your vehicle. In most cases, the wheels are removed because of the lower space volume inside. You can also secure your bike with an interior bike rack.

Public Areas

Just like public garages, you should also be careful about parking your bike in a public places like streets or outdoor parking areas. Make sure your bike doesn’t stand out too much. In case you have to park your bike in a public space regularly, try to break the pattern so that it becomes hard to pinpoint your bike.

Don’t try to secure your bike against signs, utility poles, and trees. This will not only make the theft easier but also get you a ticket for bad parking. Don’t forget to use multiple locks and heavy-duty chains.

Bicycle Insurance

No lock is imenetrable. Even if you’re alert and make all the efforts in securing your bike, it may still get snatched. However, the stronger your security measures, the safer your bike will be.

Bicycle Insurance

**Photo Courtesy: Cloudfront

That’s why opting in for bicycle insurance is becoming more and more popular each day. Once your bike gets stolen, the insurance provider will investigate the situation and if you do your part, you’ll get the insurance money.

However, a bike is definitely worth more than just its price. It may hold emotional value to you. That’s why it’s imperative to go the extra mile to secure your favorite bike. Investing in a premium lock, thick chain shackles, and heavy security system in your garage can help protect your bike like nothing else.

About the author

Joshua Fernand

I’m a 38-year-old father of two and an avid adventurer with a history of road bike racing in the mountains. I’m also a member of the Mountain Top Cycling Club, Colorado. I took part in several cross country rides across the states with my cruiser bike.

Tell you what, each tour was over a thousand miles long and it wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t studied bike mechanics. Most of the fixes required during my travel had to be fixed by myself. Cruiser became my favorite category since then.

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