March 28, 2014

Booby-Trap Your Own Bike??

It happens to even the most conscientious of bike owners. You bring the lock but not the key. Or you plan a no-stops recreational or training ride but end up having to run an errand on the way home. For one reason or another, you need to leave your bike for a few minutes and you have no way to secure it. What's a rider to do?

Bicycling magazine's list of ways to "booby-trap your bike" includes undoing the quick releases and rigging the chain (shift into the big-cog/big-chainring combination and then, after you park—no pedaling—shift to the small cog and small chainring), and these same strategies are featured in the Global Cycling Network's video on the subject:

This all seemed unambiguously lawful and legitimate to me...until I watched this video, in which a man soaps a bike's handlebar grips, loosens its stem, and monkeys with its chain. Then he leaves the two-wheeler unlocked and waits around so he can videotape a would-be thief taking a spill. Commenters on the video question the cameraman's priorities, whether his crusade against theft justifies his creation of "a situation that potentially endangers the life and limb of people."

Maybe it's okay to rig your bike in a pinch, but not to booby-trap bikes for the express purpose of giving thieves a nasty—and possibly injurious—surprise?

Not according to the Environmental Transport Association (ETA), a provider of cycle insurance in the United Kingdom. Folks who call to request a quote from the company are asked how they secure their bikes, and, as director Andrew Davis told the London Evening Standard in 2010, a few have confessed to taking some pretty nonstandard antitheft measures.

A Londoner reported securing his bike with a length of transparent fishing line, reasoning that a thief would be thrown over the handlebars when the line drew taut and stopped the bike abruptly. Another cyclist said he wired his bike to his home burglar alarm, while a third parked his ride such that moving it would release a guard dog from behind a gate. (For more on canine bike security, see here and here.)

Davis not only discourages such behavior, but calls it criminal: “Illegal booby-trapped bicycles of this kind might appeal to the victims of theft," he was quoted as saying in 2010, "but luckily most cyclists realise that a good insurance policy will quickly arrange for a stolen bike to be replaced.”

Spoken like a true insurance salesman, one who fails to recognize that a bike is often worth more to its owner than its ticket price. I'll have to contact some U.S. experts to find out whether bicycle booby-trappers on this side of the pond risk prosecution should a would-be thief come to harm while trying to make a getaway.

March 21, 2014

Bike Theft Comes to YA Fiction

I have declared Patrick Symmes's long-form Outside piece "Who Pinched My Ride?" a classic of bike theft literature. I have written about a cinematic gem with bike theft at its center. Now, though, I bring news of a bike theft novel: Rita Feutl's Bike Thief (Orca, 2014).

The Edmondton Journal reports that Feutl wrote the book, geared toward young adult readers, after hearing about The Spoke, a program that not only teaches Edmonton teens to repair and maintain bikes, but gives each participant a bike upon completion of the six-week training. Herself a victim of bike theft and no stranger to the struggles that might lead a youth to take to the streets and perhaps fall in with the wrong crowd, Feutl challenged herself with this novel to get into the head of a juvenile offender. She narrates Bike Thief from the point of view of its protagonist, 16-year old Nick, who begins stealing and rebuilding bikes after his sister breaks the television in their foster home and he needs to pay to replace it.  

Comprised of short chapters themselves comprised of short sentences, the fast-paced Bike Thief will, The Edmondton Journal predicts, "appeal to kids who might not normally pick up a book."

Now one of my ulterior motives in starting BTB was to collect material for an eventual novel. Question is: Can I churn it out in time to catch Feutl's readers when they graduate from the YA stuff to fiction proper?

March 18, 2014

SHYSPY's Kickstarter Campaign Nears Final Hours

Now's your chance to get in on the ground floor of what could be the next big thing in bike security: SHYSPY. With a Kickstarter campaign wrapping up in less than 36 hours, SHYSPY is trying to bring to market trackers that integrate into bike frames, where they will be invisible to would-be thieves.

SHYSPY will offer two versions of the tracker, one that uses GPS technology and a lower-cost model that relies instead on less accurate GSM. Both will fit inside a seat tube, as shown in the installation video.

The device's anti-theft features include (1) a built-in motion sensor that can alert a cyclist to a bike's movement and (2) the ability to deliver tracking data to a desktop or mobile device.

The video below gives a concise introduction to the SHYSPY product, and much more information—including plans to possibly implement an audible alarm—is provided on the Kickstarter page.

March 12, 2014

Coming Soon to a Poorly Locked Bike near You

I started tagging recently. Not the kind that involves aerosol cans and a talent for bubble lettering, though.

Along the lines of what I hinted in last Thursday's post, I've begun affixing tags—laminated pieces of paper—to bikes I spot on the street and deem insufficiently secured. A bike with only its frame locked, say, and anything relying solely on a cable "lock," for sure. I rubberband a tag over the bike's seatpost or around its handlebars. The first batch of tags features both a scannable QR code that takes the scanner to my post about Hal Ruzal's locking advice and an older-fashioned text version of BTB's URL. I've got two goals, one self-serving and one not: I want to both drive traffic to BTB and coax folks to better safeguard their bikes. I'll be traveling for work over the coming months—to Atlanta and Denver and Portland, OR—and I just might tuck some tags in my carry-on.

March 6, 2014

"I never give up hope of recovering a bike"

As I was writing "Bike Registration Sunday—local edition," I found myself wondering about the effectiveness of local bike registries. Unable to turn up via Google any relevant statistics, I decided to instead reach out to the police lieutenant in charge of the Arlington County (Virginia) Police Department's bicycle registration program, Heather Hurlock.

[commentary in brackets]

BTB: Can you quote me any statistics (or report any anecdotes) that communicate the effectiveness of the Arlington bike registration program?

HH: Happy to. Registration is running yearly around 890 – 1000. Registered bikes do not seem to get stolen, although maybe 5 or 6 a year may be taken because the owner neglected to use a U-lock [that would be me] or just was careless. Since I handle the Recovered Bicycle Program also, I have been fortunate in recovering several of these bikes thanks to residents being aware of the program. The oldest bike returned with an ACPD decal on it had been stolen 10 years prior [!]. It was recovered by Alexandria PD in good working order. I never give up hope of recovering a bike. I have promoted mandatory registration in the condos and apartments and those adopting the program have shown a decrease in larcenies; in some cases, no larcenies for a couple of years. During the summer registration is promoted aggressively by stapling notices on bikes stating "Use a U-lock and register." [I'm thinking about doing something like this to simultaneously promote both BTB and proper bike security. Post to follow.] I have received calls from around the country from those who are registered with ACPD and have moved and had their bikes stolen. The benefit – I have the information they need to aid in recovering their bike. All those who work in Arlington are welcome to register with the Arlington County Police Department. [DO IT.] And one more note: It appears that larcenies are down and it may be that the last offender was given a 12 year sentence [BTB covered that].

March 2, 2014

Bike Registry Sunday—local edition

I have a Google alert set up to deliver to my inbox each day a digest of recent news stories related to bike theft, and lately the lists have been awash in coverage of San Francisco's voluntary bike registration program, which launched on February 12.

Most of the stories about SAFE Bikes give the basics: A centralized database stores serial numbers, photographs, and other identifying information to help law enforcement return to their rightful owners bikes recovered in sting operations or chop shop raids. One oft-cited statistic: Of the 864 bikes recovered by police in 2012, all but 142 remain unclaimed.

Some accounts of San Francisco's latest attempt at combatting bicycle theft, though, include tidbits of human interest. SFGate's Kale Williams, while making the point that bicycle theft is a problem in San Francisco, cited Board of Supervisors President David Chiu's claim that thieves have relieved him of "4.7" bikes during his 18 years in the city. (Apparently that figure translates into "four complete rides, a few wheels and three seats.")

And the San Francisco Bay Guardian's story about how SAFE Bikes had registered 500 two-wheelers in its first two weeks ended with this postscript:
Guardian Editor Steven T. Jones had been planning to register his three bikes with the program, and then two of those bikes were stolen from outside his third floor apartment yesterday. They were a Trek Fast Track 420 road bike, purple with green tires, and a black Rocky Mountain bike with knobby tires and red handlegrips. Let his loss be a lesson to the rest of us: Don’t procrastinate, register today.
Which provides a great segue into this post's plug for local bike registries. While there are a number of national and even international registries out there (a few of them are mentioned here, here, and here), making your bike's existence and ownership known to authorities in your area will not only facilitate its recovery should it go missing but also alert local law enforcement to the presence of concerned and responsible cyclists.

So see if your police department or bike advocacy organization has a registry, and take the time to get your bike(s) on record. (Not knowing where your serial number is is not an excuse. We've been over that.) For readers in the DC area, I know of two registries: the Metro Transit Police Department's and the Arlington County Police Department's.

Check back later in the week for Arlington County police lieutenant Heather Hurlock's take on the effectiveness of local bike registries.