It’s like having your car stolen – only if your car was easy to hide, could be re-painted in five minutes and had a peel-off sticker for a license.
“It is 100 times easier to steal a bike than it is a car,” said Lieutenant Matthew Carmichael of the UC Davis Police Department.
Carmichael compared a three-month window – from July 2008 to the beginning of October – and found the number of reported bike thefts to have doubled since 2007.
In response, UCDPD has stepped up patrols – no small task in a city said to have more bicycles than people. This includes plainclothes officers patrolling campus.
Two weekends ago a UCDPD officer spotted a suspicious pickup truck on campus at night with a load of recently stolen bikes. The driver, a man from Hercules, was arrested and later jailed on charges of grand theft, possession of stolen property, possession of burglary tools and violation of probation.
Out of town bike thieves stealing from campus is just one scenario, Carmichael said, but a local resident could do the same.
“The worst though, is students stealing from students and continuing to use their bikes on campus,” Carmichael said. “People want to think we have a bike theft ring, but there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye.”
Carmichael said UCDPD deals with cases as simple as someone coming out of class and not finding their bike – only to discover it somewhere else on campus later, “borrowed” by another student. That alone can earn someone a felony.
David Takemoto-Weerts, director of the bicycle program at TAPS, said thieves have two favorite targets: cruisers, for their autonomy, and old road bikes.
“Old 10-speeds are easily converted to fixed gear or single speed, something I’ve seen a lot of over the past couple years,” he said. “I get calls from people stumped as to why anyone would want their Peugot – well, it’s fixed gear material.”
The main reason for bike vulnerability is improper locking. While Carmichael said students have greatly improved at locking their bikes compared to years past, Takemoto-Weerts said people are using “inadequate” cable locks.
“I don’t care how much money you spend on one or how thick it is, they’re all really easy to cut, compared to dealing with a U-lock,” he said. “And I cringe when I see nice bikes on campus, those that thieves would be attracted to, and they’re locked with a cable.”
This is not to say that U-locks are invulnerable – Carmichael said breaking one is as easy as looking it up on YouTube – but they do take time, knowledge and tools.
Besides riding a licensed bike and securing it with a U-lock, Takemoto-Weerts said those who live off campus and leave their bikes overnight should do so in a populated area.
“It’s significantly safer if your bike is near the MU, the library or somewhere centrally located and highly-populated where thieves cannot drive to,” he said.
Carmichael said it would help if students were mindful of bike theft, especially in the evening hours, and called in if they notice anything suspicious.
“We don’t get very many calls of people saying someone is cutting a lock,” he said. “Maybe people don’t want to bother us – but they should realize that’s what we’re here for.”
MIKE DORSEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org