December 30, 2013

Some Hot New Bike Thieves in the Capital Region?

The Washington Post ran a story about bike theft on December 21. The statistics it cited are pretty eye-popping: Bike thefts were up 63% (from 2012 levels) in 2013 in Arlington County, up 19% in Fairfax and 43% in Alexandria.

Part of the increase can be attributed to the hike in the popularity of biking in and around the nation's capital—the Post story reported that census data indicates that the percentage of bike commuters in the city increased 30% from 2011 to 2012—but residents suspect there's something else afoot. The Post quotes Jared Janowiak, who recovered his stolen bike through a sting operation: "One conjecture among bike racers is that there’s some hot new bike thieves in the region."

So lock your bikes up smart, DC and NOVA cyclists, and, if your bike has already gone missing (my condolences!), check out the photos of bikes recovered by the Metropolitan Police Department, sample below:

December 20, 2013

Don't Supply the Demand: Vet Your Seller

The Schwinn I bought from Michael Birnbaum
Everyone from whom I have ever even almost purchased a bike has been a journalist. There was Olga Khazan, who covers health for The Atlantic, whose email address still auto-completes in my gmail because of the correspondence we had years ago about a bike she was selling on Craigslist. And when in November 2010 I did ultimately buy a Craigslist ride, it was a white Schwinn Washington Post soon-to-be-Berlin-correspondent Michael Birnbaum was selling on behalf of his wife (or girlfriend—I forget which) who had gone to Germany ahead of him.

How do I know these sellers' occupations? Because I Googled them. Even back in 2010, when I'd never had a bike stolen (and had practically forgotten how to ride one), I knew that Craigslist was awash in stolen cycles. So as I perused the bikes-for-sale listings on the Washington, DC Craigslist, I tried to steer clear of stolen property and gauge the likelihood that the various sellers were thieves.

Easier said than done. At the time I assumed that anyone with multiple bikes for sale was a shady character. Now, though, I know that there are enthusiasts who rehab bikes for fun and could, conceivably, have a few ready for purchase at the same time. There are also those who own veritable stables of bikes and who might, to earn a few hundred bucks or free up some storage space (for the latest two-wheeled acquisition(s), perhaps?), look to unload a couple well-used rides at one go.

As a conscientious would-be purchaser of a used bike, you really have to play it by ear, trust your instincts, and, to the extent possible, vet your seller. Let's look at a couple ads, found on the Washington, DC Craigslist on December 19, 2013.

I'm not prepared to say for sure that this Cannondale is stolen, but I'd bet that it has not been well cared for. The ad shows no evidence of either knowledge of or love for the bicycle. The seller provides no details—the bike's size? hello?—and only a picture so blurry you can hardly read the brand name. And that crass appeal to last-minute Christmas consumerism... I'd pass this one by.

Check out the contrast:

This seller has not only lovingly posed the Spearfish, but also furnished a comprehensive rundown of its features. Note also that s/he cites a reason for giving up this "dream" of a ride. (In case the print's too small for you, the ad ends with "Upgrading to a carbon bike.") It's a credible explanation.

This sort of thoroughness and authenticity can be faked, of course, but the Spearfish seller also passed my second test. When I replied to the above ad asking what assurance the seller could give that s/he had acquired the bike legitimately, I got a link to where the seller bought the frame (supposedly, anyway), and this: "Other than that you'll probably have to take my word."

Not as doubt-dispelling as a sales receipt, perhaps, but I like what I didn't detect in the Spearfish seller's reply: offense. Here's how another seller responded when I asked how s/he came to possess the single bike wheel advertised on Craigslist: "I assume you have no intention of apologizing for insinuating that this wheel was stolen." 

Seems to me that a non-criminal would recognize the theft of bikes and bike parts as a problem and be grateful that at least some buyers do their part to avoid supporting it...

December 16, 2013

How to Foil Creepo

In its circa 1974 short How to Protect Your Bike, Sid Davis Productions relies on a strategy beloved by the authors of my grade school health and home economics textbooks: enumeration. This isn't the "seven dietary guidelines," though—I forget what those were, incidentally—but five fingers to remind you how to protect your bike:

To summarize (in case that 1970s camp was too much for you to endure the film's full 12 minutes):

(1) Lock your bike 
(2) in a wise location 
(3) with a good chain and lock 
(4) chained around something strong and through both wheels and frame and 
(5) register it in every way you can.

The recommendations hold up pretty well after all these years, and since we haven't quite perfected that secret alarm the narrator fantasizes about (11:10), you best make sure you keep them well in mind.

December 11, 2013

"Bikes Thieves Get Yiked"

If you're perplexed by the title of this post, you're not the only one. It's from the official YikeBike promo video, and must—I'm relying on context clues here—mean something like "bike thieves get foiled" or "bike thieves got nothing on you." Take a look and see for yourself: 

Motorists should start commuting by YikeBike to avoid parking tickets and gridlock and high prices at the pump, that much is clear, and cyclists should swap their pedal-powered, too readily plunderable rides for the "world's first super light folding electric bike" because its portability means they can take it into the office or restaurant with them? 

I, for one, am not sold. I like pedaling too much to be satisfied zooming around limbs immobile. When it comes to foldable transportation, I think I'm more of a Brompton girl.

December 6, 2013

Cuff It?

As I put together Tuesday's post about bike lock anti-theft guarantees, I came across a lock not only backed by a wow-that-smacks-of-manufacturer-confidence $3500 warranty but also begging me to either start a game of cops and robbers or get my kink on.

Simply put: Master Lock Street Cuffs look like no bike lock I'd ever seen, and I wanted to know more.

Master Lock of course makes the cuffs sound great: hardened steel laminate, no fixed anchor point for leverage, nowhere for a would-be thief to wedge a jack or a pry bar...
Lovely, and at a mere $65.41, I was beginning to wonder if I needed to get myself a pair. Perusing reviews put a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm, though. (As it tends to do; are there any hater-less products out there?) I'm not ready to write off the cuffs, but seeing as I already have a good lock, I'm not rushing out to buy a pair either. If you're smitten as I initially was by the idea of securing your bike with steel bracelets, here are some factors to weigh first:

  • Users report that the tubular locks—one per cuff—are tricky: sometimes they won't lock, sometimes they won't unlock.
  • The center links can supposedly be cut or popped with readily-available tools.
  • It's great for affixing your bike to a parking meter, but in some locations suitable anchors are scarce.
  • And, to quote (errors and all) a review on "Lets be honest. Its a lock. Some people take pride in defeating locks, so its a universal weekness."

December 3, 2013

When They Say "Limited," They Mean It

So I finally did the research into bike lock anti-theft warranties I promised back in "Interview with a Bike Thief." Here's the dirt:
  1. It is not true that all Kryptonite warranties are void in the Big Apple: While OnGuard's "Limited Anti-Theft Program" is void in the entire Empire State—way to ruin it for everyone, insatiable NYC bike thieves—Kryptonite does cover a selection of its products even within crime-ridden Gotham.
  2. Act fast: This much seems pretty standard. You need to purchase anti-theft coverage within 15 days of purchasing your lock, and, should attack on said lock result in the loss of your bike, you'd better file a police report within 72 hours and mail the lock manufacturer the required evidence and documentation within the week. 
  3. Pray the thief doesn't take the lock, too: Lock manufacturers would go bankrupt if they reimbursed every bike owner who locked his or her ride to something insufficiently anchored, or only secured the front wheel, or left the U-lock at home and trusted his or her (in this case her) 29er to a flimsy cable. To prevent paying for the mistakes of others—as opposed to failure of their product—then, the likes of Kryptonite and OnGuard require claimants to ship them the compromised lock. Makes sense, but what if the thief makes off with the lock, too? It's also interesting that OnGuard includes in the terms and conditions of its anti-theft program what amounts to an admission of its locks' vulnerability to the tools of the more tricked out thief: The manufacturer is not liable if "torches, battery operated tools or power tools were used to open the lock."
    The owner of this lock would be out of
    luck warranty-wise. 
  4. Bye-bye upgrades: Master Lock offers an anti-theft guarantee—in one case up to a not-to-be-scoffed-at $3500—on some of its products, but know that it's essentially only the purchase price that's covered: the "purchase price of the stolen bicycle including manufacturer’s original equipment and excluding separately purchased accessories or taxes," as Master Lock puts it. Considering that many if not most bicyclists upgrade their ride eventually, seems to me there ought to be a provision for reimbursing them in the event that a their stolen bike was sporting a pair of none-too-cheap but oh-so-functional aftermarket BB7s.
  5. One lock, one bike: It strikes me as entirely reasonable and responsible for an individual to have, say, two bikes and one bike lock. You can only ever ride one bike at a time, after all, and if you leave the unridden ride behind the locked door of your apartment while you're out on the other, you should be good, right? Well, not if you registered the unridden bike with the lock and then the ridden bike gets stolen while under its (apparently inadequate) protection. Only "one vehicle may be registered per lock," says OnGuard. Sorry. (Apology mine.)
  6. Term limit?: I can't quite figure out if three years is the longest you can get anti-theft protection on an OnGuard or Kryptonite lock. I get that, as outlined in this document, I can extend the initial one year term, but can I do so indefinitely? Do the one-, two-, and three-year prices just mean that I can only extend my coverage in one-, two-, or three-year increments? OnGuard's initial statement seems clear enough (parenthetical numerals, for pete's sake!)—"the limited anti-theft program offer applies only to the original purchaser for a period of at least one (1), but no more than three (3), years from the purchase of your OnGuard lock"—but then they go confusing me: "To purchase additional coverage, enclose a check (USD) made payable to Todson, Inc." Huh?
The bottom line? If you're considering purchasing anti-theft coverage, read the small print. All of it. And carefully.