May 29, 2014

"Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?"

The New York Times has picked up on the subject of BTB's May 7 post, namely the use of bait bikes by the San Francisco Police Department. The Grey Lady ran "Police Use High-Tech Lures to Reel in Bike Thieves" on Tuesday and included with the story a short video prominently featuring San Francisco police officer Matt Friedman, who heads SFPD's anti-bike-theft unit:

Two notes:
  • I take issue with Matt Richtel's characterization of bike theft as an "urban nuisance" (first sentence after the first photograph). Anyone who has had a bike stolen can testify that it's a not insignificant financial—and emotional—hit.
  • Check out Officer Friedman's task lamp (visible at 0:42, 1:11, and 1:30). Notice anything? Look familiar?

May 22, 2014

Should You Adopt the Sheldon Brown?

I admit to proclaiming this rashly, but... My new goal in life is to have a bike locking strategy named after me.

The late Sheldon Brown does, so there's precedent.

Who's Sheldon Brown? Well, according to Wikipedia, Mr. Brown (1944-2008) "was an American bicycle mechanic and a recognized technical expert and author on bicycles." The longtime parts manager, webmaster, and technical consultant at the Harris Cyclery in West Newton, Massachusetts, Brown maintained a website offering a wealth of bike-related information. The site remains live, updated as necessary by Harris Cyclery, Brown's widow, and his friend (and fellow bicycle expert) John Allen.

On his page devoted to lock strategy, Brown described the locking method that now bears his name. Here's how the San Francisco Police Department's Anti Bike Theft Unit depicts it:

Take a good look at that U-lock placement. "People tend to buy the big clunky U-locks because they don't know how to use them properly," wrote Brown.
"A U-lock should go around the rear rim and tire, somewhere inside the rear triangle of the frame. There is no need to loop it around the seat tube as well, because the wheel cannot be pulled through the rear triangle. 
Some will object that felons might cut the rear rim and tire to remove the lock. Believe me, this just doesn't happen in the real world. It is indeed possible to cut the rim [hyperlink added] with a hacksaw, working from the outside to the inside, but first, the tire must be removed or cut through. It would be a lot of work to steal a frame without a usable rear wheel, the most expensive part of a bike, after the frame."
Will I adopt the Sheldon Brown as my go-to locking method? Perhaps. What I'd really like, though, is to figure out a way to improve upon it. Stay tuned...

May 19, 2014

"I try to make your life into an A-locking experience"

The James Bond franchise still has Hal beat, but, with the release of the fourth installment, Hal Grades Your Bike Locking is hot on the heels of Home Alone in the race to rack up sequels.

I introduced readers to bike mechanic and, it turns out, international celebrity Hal Ruzal in an October post and am pleased now to bring you Part IV, in which the purple-socked locking expert commends Citi Bike's security features, poses for a photograph with a Brazilian fan, and awards an A+ to New York cyclist Jen Petersen's lock job. Petersen's reaction to the stellar marks...well, watch the video:

May 13, 2014


Can we all agree that there are not enough bike racks?

Just this past Sunday, I locked my Ogre to a railing outside an otherwise lovely—aside from its lack of bike rack, that is—Indian restaurant in Vienna, VA. With my lunch companion's sick Ridley occupying the opposite railing, the trio of cyclists who arrived after us had to look farther afield for lock-ups. We felt bad, but couldn't exactly fabricate a rack for them on the spot.

So there we all were, fly-parking, both the security of our bikes and the tidiness of suburbia suffering for it.

I only realized what a connoisseur of bike racks I'd become when I got teased for photographing them on a family vacation last week. Then I looked back through my pictures and realized I'd been snapping shots of the things on all my recent travels.

A slideshow of the racks that have caught my eye appears both below and in miniature at right. Got a shot of an out-of-the-ordinary bike rack you'd like to see included? Send it along. The diversity of designs may lead to a future post about which achieve the best mix of aesthetics and security.

May 7, 2014

Can You Spot the Bait Bike?

The Bike Theft Unit of the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) wants would-be bike thieves to think twice before making off with the shiny Schwinn propped in the alleyway or the Cannondale cable-locked to the parking meter. "Does that bike have a GPS tracker?" they want the could-be criminal to ask himself. "Will taking it land me behind bars?"

As part of its recently launched bait bike program, SFPD printed 30,000 yellow stickers aimed at making potential thieves uneasy: "Is this a bait bike?" they read.

San Francisco is far from the first city to fight its bike theft problem by planting un- or poorly-secured GPS-equipped bikes and then apprehending whoever decides to walk off with them. WashCycle reported in August 2008 that DC police used bait bikes in an attempt to combat a spate of bike thefts in the Capitol Hill area. Two unsecured bikes left on the 600 block of H Street NE were stolen five times in less than an hour!

Universities have also gone the bait bike route, with the University of Wisconsin—Madison widely credited as among the first to adopt the strategy. The UW—Madison Police Department reported a 40% decrease in bicycle thefts during the first year of bait bike deployment, and will be launching the program again to combat a rise in thefts. Other schools credit bait bikes with reductions in bike thefts of as much as 75%. Of course the publicity of the campaigns is key. Bait bikes allow police to apprehend thieves; wariness of bait bikes has the potential to deter theft before it happens.

SFPD sought to raise awareness of its bait bike program with what turned out to be a short-lived post on Craigslist. "We Have our Bait Bikes Out" read the headline above a graphic of a skeleton on a bike. The post was swiftly flagged for removal, but not before Grist snagged a screenshot.

Awareness, though, can be a double-edged sword. Thieves in Madison have gotten wise to the bait bike game, and the UW—Madison Police Department now contends with criminals who locate and remove the GPS trackers. Until stealthier GPS units hit the market, officers rely on ingenuity to conceal existing technology more effectively.

Nor is it just thieves who have it out for bait bikes. The low-hanging fruit of an unlocked bike, Christopher Moraff argues in Philadelphia Magazine, is more likely to attract the opportunist than the crime kingpin:
"If you present an absurdly easy opportunity for a petty property crime you’re probably not going to nab the Al Capone of stolen Schwinns. You’re going to get the kid on his way home from school, or the unemployed middle-aged janitor, or the homeless drug addict, who heard opportunity knock and decided to listen."
That said, an April 29 operation involving officers from SFPD, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police, and the Contra Costa Sheriff's Department brought in two thieves, one of whom is a repeat bike theft offender and being called one of the "top three bike thieves in the area." So perhaps the bait bike net can catch more than small fry.