April 30, 2014

Leave the Lock at Home, Says PubLock

You can gain admittance to an Ivy League school, apparently, and still not know your way around a U-lock. According to the Daily Pennsylvanian's crime reports, 23 of the 43 bike thefts on the University of Pennsylvania's campus in a given month were due to incorrect locking technique.

This statistic inspired Penn engineering students Alex Neier, Justin Starr, Joseph Polin, and Joseph Hill to design PubLock, a public bike locking system that not only eliminates the need for cyclists to lug around weighty chains or beefy U-locks but also safeguards against the incompetence factor that seems to plague a regrettable number of bike owners. PubLock is so simple and foolproof, claims publock.com, "it’s nearly impossible to use the lock incorrectly."

So how does it work? Just align the frame of your bike with an available rack, grab the handle and pull the chain around the frame and through your front wheel, and insert the handle into the locking mechanism. Then engage the lock with a tap of your personal RFID card. It's certainly faster than the process I go through with my combination of TiGr and cable!

There's lots to love about this concept. Not having to carry a lock, for one thing. And the team put a commendable amount of thought and effort into the fabrication of the system's components and the materials used. You can read all about it—or just watch a video of a professional locksmith taking an angle grinder to the chain to test it for susceptibility to cutting. The Daily Pennsylvanian trumpets PubLock's modularity and low cost. But...I've got one niggling concern born, perhaps, of overcaution bordering on paranoia: What about that rear wheel??

April 23, 2014

Word of the Day: "Fly-Parking"

So I read the paper referenced in last week's post, and here are my takeaways:

  • Car owners would not stand for this. The paper cites the statistic that cyclists are slightly more than four times as likely to be victims of bicycle theft than automobile owners are to be victims of automobile theft. Imagine the uproar if car theft were as rampant as bike theft...
  • My Surly in East Potomac Park
  • There's a word for that?? I may never have locked my bike to a park bench, but many a railing and parking meter has stood in for a proper bike rack when none was available. Design Against Crime's Adam Thorpe coins the term "fly-parking" to describe this widespread behavior (see this paper). Fly-parking is "the securing of bicycles to street furniture not intended for that purpose, i.e. railings, lamp-posts, parking meters, benches, street signs and so on." 
  • Not everyone adapts enough. While the Montreal study found that those victims of bike theft who keep cycling seem to adapt to reduce their risk of being victimized again—61.1% change what kind of lock they use, for example—some fail to sufficiently safeguard their replacement rides. Nearly 20% of the survey's respondents had been victims of bike theft three times or more (!).
  • Cyclists who register their bikes are...what?! I'm just going to quote the paper on this one:
The model reports that cyclists who did not register their bicycles were 55.8% less likely to have been victims of bicycle theft than cyclists who did register their bicycles. This could be due to cyclists who knew about registration but consciously chose not to register their bicycles being more aware of the risk of theft, bicycle security, and locking techniques. Another hypothesis is that cyclists who did register their bicycles experienced a false sense of invulnerability and became more careless with bicycle security after registration.
  • Photograph your bikes, b!+¢hes! Only 27.8% of survey participants reported having photographs of their bicycle that they could give to the police to assist in an investigation. Most people are walking around with camera-equipped phones in their pockets these days, so there is no excuse for this!  

April 18, 2014

Crime Occurs Closer Than You Think

Writing in The Atlantic Cities, Eric Jaffe gives the highlights (or lowlights, as the case may be) of a paper in the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation. The paper reports the results of a survey of 2,000 Montreal cyclists conducted by Dea van Lierop and colleagues at McGill University in an attempt to better understand the problem of bike theft.

Jaffe extracts from the paper what he calls "the most important—and, from a perspective of urban mobility, most depressing—statistics." I list them below, but by all means go read Jaffe's full treatment:
  • About half of all active cyclists have their bikes stolen.
  • Few riders report bike theft, and fewer register their bikes.
  • But only 2.4 percent of stolen bikes were recovered.
  • Year-round cyclists are 90 percent more likely than others to have a bike stolen.
  • The crime occurs closer to home than cyclists believe.
  • Only 37 percent of cyclists are willing to pay for better parking.
  • 76 percent of stolen bikes cost less than $500.
  • 7 percent of victims never replaced their bikes.

Could be a follow-up post on the paper later, after I've had a chance to read and digest it myself.

April 14, 2014

Thieves Love Three Things

I've been mistaken for a bike thief before (subject of a future post, perhaps?), and it's an uncomfortable feeling. So when I go around tagging bikes, I do it stealthily, wary of appearing to be inspecting lock jobs with suspicious care. This means, of course, that I am sometimes not as observant as I could or should be. Case in point, courtesy of a comment received last week:
you tagged my bike without noticing.that my wheels are secured.with hose.clamps. i've had my bike locked at that spot every day for years. Colleagues have had their bikes stolen from spots right next to mine several times, but they havent taken mine. I think you need to learn a bit more about securing bikes.
Indeed I do need to learn more! About, for one thing, hose clamps and their potential to thwart would-be wheel thieves.

So here's the deal: Hose clamps are an imperfect remedy to the problem posed by the now ubiquitous quick release wheel. While it's great to be able to whip your wheel off quickly to change a flat or transport your bike on a roof rack, the possibility of speedy removal also makes your wheels attractive targets for thieves. As Bike Man Dan says, "Thieves love three things: transit stations, cable locks and quick releases."

Deploying a suitably sized hose clamp in the manner that Dan describes won't guarantee that you retain your wheels, but it may make stealing them enough of a hassle to send thieves in search of easier pickings. Seems to have worked for my anonymous commenter...

And the strategy receives Hal Ruzal's seal of approval in "Hal (and Kerri) Grade Your Bike Locking" (around the one-minute mark). The captioning on the screenshot below doesn't accurately reflect Ruzal's commentary, so I've included a more faithful transcription:

"Hose clamp here. Very nice. That keeps your thief honest. And it prevents the quick release 
from opening without someone having either a screwdriver or an 8 mm wrench here to push 
the hose clamp up."

I'm not ready to go the hose clamp route myself yet, but I did learn something from rewatching Hal (and being chastised for not noticing the commenter's hose clamps): Inspectors of bike locks shouldn't be shy. Hell, Hal straight up removes someone's saddle at ~1:40 just to show that he can! 

April 7, 2014

They Can't Take That Away from Me

My life took a dark turn in the months after my bike got stolen. I bought a "Death to bike thieves" sticker and displayed it prominently on my replacement ride. I started sporting black nail polish and a short, punk haircut.  

I got piercings and launched a blog (you're looking at it) to channel what I called my "post-theft fury." 

Had a vengeful spirit consumed me? Was I descending into a joyless abyss of bitterness and hatred and suspicion? Had the thief robbed me of the delight I once derived from biking? 


A March email from my boyfriend began:
if you had an engraving somewhere on your bike that could only take 14 characters, what would you want it to say?   
His suggestion (he was sticking with my sticker's theme):
Death Thieves 
I answered:
Maybe "Thief beware," but I kind of don't want thieves to be the dictating force behind everything I do (or don't do) with my bike... Maybe something having to do with the freedom biking makes possible?
A dozen emails later we'd settled on something to do with the need to breathe deeply and be happy and relax. I had no idea what was up, and my fondness for surprises kept me from inquiring, but before the week was out a pair of Lizard Skins lock-on grips arrived in the mail, bearing a personalized and much needed message:

So now when I cruise the capital on my bike—newly gripped and more precious to me than ever—I glance down at my handlebars, inhale positivity, and feel the tension fade. 

You will not get the better of me, bike thieves. 

April 3, 2014

Gone, But Not Forgotten

My Cannondale 29er got stolen a year ago today, and one of my biggest regrets—aside from the obvious damn-it-why-was-I-naive-enough-to-rely-on-a-cable-"lock"—is that I didn't take more pictures of it. Besides the "In Memoriam" shot at right, all I've got is the photo below. And neither of the extant portraits shows the bike as it was when snatched from behind my Dupont Circle office. The stock Kendas haven't been swapped out for the Continental Race Kings yet, and the bike's godfather and I had not yet, at the time I took this picture, spent the better part of a Saturday replacing the BB5s with BB7s.

In preparation for the one-year anniversary of my bike's theft, I poked around the internet for tributes to stolen two-wheelers. I found fewer than expected. I did, though, come upon a poem that British septuagenarian Jean Orton wrote when a thief relieved her of the bike she'd been riding for half a century (!). The chorus of "Ode to a Stolen Bike"? 
Bring back, bring back, oh bring back my cycle to me, to me. Bring back, bring back, oh bring back my cycle to me.
Not Shakespeare, perhaps, but all in all I like how the Brits respond to cycle theft better than how my fellow Americans do. I'd like Ryan van Duzer to get his New Belgium cruiser back as much as the next guy, but I prefer Joe Myerscough's edgy, snarky, quirky prose to Duzer's platitudes ("I forgive the thief"?!) and patriotism any day. An excerpt:
My bike has been there for me. He’s been reliable, dependable, always promising that wherever we are he’ll get me home quicker than the tube. True, we haven’t always got on, at times I have resented his very existence, the way he’d always make me cycle home when it’s raining and I’d rather get the bus or the way he’d decide not the brake fast enough.
(For more—including the grisly punishment Myerscough has in mind for whoever stole his bike—read the full post. I like the sketch Myerscough gives of how his story could take a film noir turn.)

The prevalence of bicycle theft is often cited as a deterrent to riding, but many riders are too hooked on two-wheeled transport to be so deterred. One blogger's list of every bike he has ever owned included no fewer than eight instances of theft! While I'm taking measures to decrease my chances of ever again having a bike stolen, I will not let caution prevent me from getting out and about on my Surly. And though the Ogre and I might not mount excursions quite as grand as those undertaken by Bryan Keith and his Long Haul Trucker, I plan to do a better job in future of photographically documenting our time together. Should have gotten a shot of us both, chilled and dripping, returning home on Sunday after an hour-long slog through the second snow of the D.C. spring...