January 30, 2014

Patrick Symmes: "I am not done with this."

As a follow-up to an October post directing readers to check out Patrick Symmes's Outside piece about his exploration of the "dangerous underworld of vanished bicycles," I contacted Symmes to see if he'd answer a handful of questions for posting on BTB. He graciously agreed:

BTB: Are you still riding Bike Six [a black, single speed Symmes bought on a San Francisco street for $125]? And are you still securing it with the "11 pounds of chain" you mention at the end of your Outside piece?

PS: I still ride Bike Six daily. However, I stopped using the 11-lb chain. I have a Kryptonite U-lock, in my analysis those are more than adequate. A chain was helpful in New York and San Francisco, high-theft environments where I really worried about losing the front wheel or needed to secure it to elaborate structures, but in Portland where I live now, theft is less common.

BTB: What's your opinion on the crop of tech locks—LOCK8, for one—hitting the market? 

PS: This is welcome, and represents the future. The smart-phone features are exciting. However, current models are unimpressive to me. My Garmin GTU10 trackers continue to give me problems from a software perspective, they just don't work right sometimes. The LOCK8 seems to have all the right goals for notification and alerts, for sensors of various kinds, but it is large and very obvious—perhaps there is a deterrent value in that. But regular bike thieves are savvy about GPS trackers already, and will know exactly what they are facing with such an obvious lock. I like a subtle or hidden approach, surprise is always important for catching thieves. And I'll note, the cable they are using is obviously too small for certain high-theft areas. Basically, there are two kinds of locks—U-locks and all others. Many thieves simply won't bother with a U-lock, regardless of who makes it. My ideal lock would be a regular U-lock and a separate, built-in GPS or other tracker, preferably hidden inside the frame tubes, where a thief cannot see or remove it.

BTB: Have you seen enough of "America's bike-crime underbelly," or could you see yourself venturing into that world again sometime? 

PS: I am not done with this. I continue to keep a charged GPS tracker installed under the bike seat, in case the bike is stolen. I even skip using the U-lock sometimes, and lock the bike with only a wafer thin cable for children's bikes, a cable you could cut with a pair of nail clippers. Part of me wants to tempt robbers—less to get revenge or to chase someone down than to continue to investigate and expose how thieves work, where they take bikes, and particularly how a bike moves from thief to middleman to seller to customer. I want to expose it and write about it. I almost feel disappointed when I come outside and it wasn't stolen!

BTB: Do you keep up with bike theft news, and, if so, do any stories stand out? 

PS: I hear from a lot of people now. Clearly, emotions run very high on this matter, so high that I compare it to the way 19th century people felt about horse thieves. Sometimes a story about a bike thief goes viral—like the Facebook post by a Canadian woman who stole back her own bike after seeing it for sale online. She asked the "seller" if she could take it for a test ride. She just kept going. People cheered her on. This is a result of a the sense of impunity, the idea that criminals face really no consequences at all for stealing bikes. [BTB wrote about the incident Symmes is talking about.]

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