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Davis, California

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Who stole my handlebars?: Bike horror stories


From stolen wheels to popping tires, Davis has seen it all

It was nine o’clock in the morning when economics professor Gregory Clark left Peet’s Coffee in downtown Davis to discover that the back wheel of his bike was missing. Forced to walk his bike over to a nearby bike shop, Clark ended up paying nearly $70 in order to replace the wheel and get on with his day.

“It was expensive,” Clark said. “I was amazed that someone would steal it in the middle of […] the morning at Peet’s Coffee.”

Like Clark, almost every cyclist in Davis has run into a problem with their bike at one point or another. Whether it’s popping a tire on the way to class or getting a bike seat stolen overnight, as one of the largest bicycle towns in the nation, Davis is naturally prone to bike misfortunes.

“[My roommates and I] all kept our bikes on our front porch area,” said Rachel Preeg, a fourth-year viticulture and enology major. “There [weren’t] any bike racks there, so I always locked the frame to the wheel. I had been doing that for months, and then I woke up [one] morning and [my bike] was gone.”

Bike theft is one of the most common, if not the most crime in Davis, and the experience is not a pleasant one, especially for those who use their bikes as a primary mode of transportation.

“I pretty much bike everywhere unless it’s bad weather,” Preeg said. “I was super dependent on it. I got a new bike a week later.”

According to Jack Zuercher, a fourth-year statistics major and the business manager of the Bike Barn, a bike is brought into the shop with an essential part missing at least once a day. Replacing seats and seatposts — parts that are easy to lift off of bikes — can cost between $20 and $30, but each can total close to $80 when labor and taxes are factored in.

“Recently we had someone buy a $600 road bike from us,” Zuercher said. “In the grand scheme of things it’s not that expensive, but for the bikes that we sell it’s pretty expensive. He actually got his whole handlebar assembly stolen [on his old bike]. [The] cables were cut, [and the] shifters were gone. ”

One of the main reasons that bike theft is a high crime in Davis is its quick turnaround profit. Once stolen, bikes and bike parts are often easily sold online or to secondhand bike stores around town.

“One of my colleagues [got] his fancy bike [stolen],” Clark said. “He actually checked listings on the web and saw someone advertised his bike, because it was a very particular one. So he actually went and pretended he wanted to buy it, and […] took it back from the person and then charged [the thief] for his broken lock. It was a student who’d stolen it, and so he turned [the student] into Student Judicial Affairs. He thought they would expel the student from the university, but they didn’t actually, so he was very disappointed in the end.”

According to Zuercher, maintenance workers have found bolt cutters that bike thieves have left for themselves to cut locks in bushes around campus. However, Zuercher also believes that the majority of bike crimes occur as crimes of opportunity.

“There’s tons of people that come home from the bars at night and just take bikes off of racks that aren’t locked or will take seats that are unlocked,” Zuercher said. “Drunk kids walk […] through campus and they’re like, ‘Oh, I could steal this seat,’ and they open it up and take it.”

At the Bike Barn, Zuercher witnesses all kinds of bike misfortunes besides theft. Many people also come in with blown out tires and wheels on the verge of detachment.

“We get people actually all the time with the bolts completely off of their wheel,” Zuercher said. “Literally the only reason their wheel hasn’t completely fallen off is because they haven’t lifted it up a little bit. If that person were to go off of a curb or lift up their bike, their wheel would have fallen out. [It’s] super unsafe.”

Often, due to lack of attention to their bikes, students end up blowing out their wheels right in front of the Bike Barn.

“People will […] pump up their tube, and they won’t notice that their tire is unseated from the rim,” Zuercher said. “It’ll just pop and explode. We hear little firecrackers practically going off three times a day. We’ll […] go, ‘Tube sale!’ Eight bucks right there.”

Although some of these misfortunes may be unavoidable, there are plenty of preventative measures that Davis residents can take to limit their repair or replacement costs.

“In Davis, you’re likely to have broken tires, but you can buy […] stronger tires,” Clark said. “I always do that, because the cost of actually fixing the thing is so great. For not too much money, [you can] get these very strong tires and inner tubes.”

The Bike Barn also sells longer U-locks so users can wrap the lock around the frame, wheel and rack which is a safer, more effective way to lock. Because most seat and seatpost thefts occur with quick-release seat collars, they also sell seat collars that require Allen wrenches to be opened.

“Generally people don’t take care of their bikes as much as they should,” Zuercher said. “It just astounds me how many bikes are ridden on a daily basis in such poor condition. It’s not expensive to get your bike taken care of. You bring it to us, and I’d say 40 percent of the time we could fix it for free in the front, with just a little bit of work. If not, we can fix it for really cheap, and we’re on campus.”

If all else fails, Clark believes that having a less appealing bike is a safe bet — it works for him.

“The best security is not to have something fancy,” Clark said. “Have an older bike, or one that looks older. I don’t have a fancy one.”


Written by: Allyson Tsuji — features@theaggie.org


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