Cyclists Beware: Bike Theft is Trending Upward

Crime, overall, is trending downward in the United States. Unfortunately for cyclists, bike theft has slowly increased for the last five years.

According to FBI reports, there were 183,028 reported cases of bike theft in the U.S. in 2009. In 2012, that number grew to 194,549. It dipped to just more than 190,000 in 2013. Numbers for 2014 aren't available yet.

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Another disturbing trend is the average price of bikes stolen. In 2009, the average value of a stolen bike was estimated at $351. In 2013, it jumped to $420. This could suggest that thieves are becoming more aware of the nuances of the bicycle market and are targeting higher-end bikes.

This new data coincides with the recent spate of high-profile thefts from professional athletes and teams around the U.S.: Law enforcement agencies have seen the emergence of dedicated bike thieves who specifically target professional racers. While the snatch-and-grab method of plucking bikes from racks in major cycling cities remains a problem, other rings carefully scout their targets through the Internet and work a wide geographic area.

The trend means cyclists should take all precautions to secure their bikes. A solid bike lock is a valuable investment in lieu of losing an entire bike if you're a regular commuter. You may also consider varying the route you take to your destination and where you park. Avoiding patterns keeps your bike from being targeted as "easy pickings."

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For those of you who compete or post a lot on social media, you may want to review the photos you have of your ride and your privacy settings on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Also, ensure you're using Strava's security feature, which obscures the start and stop points for rides you post. This feature makes it more difficult for thieves to identify where your home is. You might also consider keeping your bike inside your house rather than in the garage.

Most bike thieves make their move fast. If it's difficult to locate a bike or make a quick getaway, they're less likely to attempt the theft. Another good trick is to keep a hand pump with you and deflate your tires after locking your bike. Most thieves' preferred method of escape is to ride away. It's faster and less conspicuous. Carrying or walking a bike with two flats creates a profile that's outside their comfort zone.

Finally, theft rings work best on volume. The resale value of a stolen bike is low compared to its real cost due to the thieves' need to get rid of it quickly. For that reason, thieves often look for someone who will take a large number of bikes and then find ways to distribute them to dealers.

These "fences" often disassemble bikes to ensure they can't be identified then sell the frames and parts separately. Surprisingly, fences deal with brick-and-mortar bike shops as often as they try to sell parts online. Another favorite method is to set up booths at popular flea markets. A great way to help deter these crimes is to avoid these types of sales. Deal directly with a local bike shop you know and trust. The deal you're getting from an online seller or a flea market might be too hot for you--and a raw one for the original owner. Take the criminals' market away, and they'll stop trying to supply it. It might cost you a couple of extra bucks here and there, but it helps the community in the long run.

More: 5 Tips to Get Your Stolen Bike Back

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About the Author

Jim Gourley

Jim Gourley is a four-time Ironman finisher and part of a four-man division that finished the Race Across America. He earned a degree in astronautical engineering from the United States Air Force Academy and has written on science and technology in triathlon for four years. He is author of the book Faster: Demystifying the Science of Triathlon Speed.

Jim Gourley is a four-time Ironman finisher and part of a four-man division that finished the Race Across America. He earned a degree in astronautical engineering from the United States Air Force Academy and has written on science and technology in triathlon for four years. He is author of the book Faster: Demystifying the Science of Triathlon Speed.

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