January 29, 2015

Lose a Mile, Keep a Bike

Warning to anyone who uses route tracking apps like MapMyRide and Strava: You may be leading thieves right to your bike(s)!

Many rides start and end at the cyclist's home, and the GPS data recorded and shared by tracking apps is accurate enough that nefarious characters can use it to pinpoint particular houses. And riders avid enough to track their speed and elevation gain likely own fancier-than-average bikes, the sort thieves might be willing to, say, break into a garage to steal.

"We have noticed an increase in the number of high-value cycles being stolen from sheds and outbuildings across the south of the county," police sergeant Dave Morris of Staffordshire, England, told Adventure Journal's Steve Casimiro. "Our investigations have shown that some of the victims had been using websites and mobile phone apps to log their routes—these sites allow users to view each other’s routes and track their rides."

In a Hully Daily Mail story on the subject, Wayne Preston of Cliff Pratt Cycles offers app users some advice: "If you are going to use apps make sure you switch it off a good distance from your house. Personally, I would much rather lose a mile off my Strava record than have my house or garage burgled and my bikes stolen."

January 27, 2015

"Easier to steal than the mustang used to be"

Think bike theft is a new problem? Or at least new-ish? Think again. Last week the combination of a Willamette Week blog post and a Reddit thread gave me some insight into the sitch at the turn of the century—and not the most recent one.

Here's what I take from the clipping at left (from the May 12, 1899 Oregonian):

-Bikes were called simply "wheels" back in the 19th century.

-There has long been a benefit of stealing a bicycle in one town—Portland, say—and selling it elsewhere. In 1899 it was unnamed "interior towns"; now it's Seattle.

-Bike theft has always been notable for the relative lightness of the penalties it entails. Steal a car and you're a felon; make off with a man's horse and you risk being lynched. Swipe a bike, though, and you more likely than not get off scott free.

Which is not to say that folks weren't peeved by the impunity with which the bicycle thief plied his vocation. The September 20, 1895 Hillsboro Independent indicates that somebody deemed bike theft punishable by death:

And, just like today, police were ever trying to advise bike owners to safeguard their rides more assiduously.

Chief of Police McLauchlan's advice at right (like the typo in the headline?) bears some resemblance to recommendations made today, though of course locks are pricier now. I'm puzzled by the proposed sprocket locking... Am I supposed to loop something through my chainring so the bike can't be ridden? Could work, I guess, as long as the thief doesn't just walk off with the thing—bikes were probably pretty heavy back then—or load it into a van (not possible in the late 1800s, obviously)...

At any rate, times have changed and you'll never hear Hal Ruzal advocating use of a "common padlock." The bicycle thief has upgraded his toolkit—and we wheelmen had best keep pace!

January 20, 2015

Rubber-Coated Flanges, Y'all

Sacramento-based Park A Bike is making inroads into Portland, Oregon, shaken recently by the revelation that thieves can saw through its ubiquitous staple racks.

Nine of the company's Varsity Bike Docks have been installed in front of a commercial building at the intersection of SE Hawthorne and 17th.

The Varsity has wheel troughs and rubber-coated upper flanges and is, BikePortland.org reports, made of tubing twice as thick as the staple rack stuff.

Gina Carlson, whose $2,000 Trek was stolen this month when someone sawed through a staple rack and slipped it off, welcomes the new racks—and her new bike. Park A Bike president Christopher Luyet had been negotiating with a Portland building owner for weeks when Gina's story hit the news. Luyet told the potential buyer that, if he purchased the bike docks, Park A Bike would get Gina a replacement ride. Apparently this sealed the deal.

January 13, 2015

"It turns your bike into a smart bike"

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, Paris-based start-up Connected Cycle unveiled what it's calling the "the first connected pedal."

Cased in aluminum and available in five colors (black, red, blue, green, and orange), the Connected Cycle pedal is both an activity tracker and a theft prevention measure.

The pedal has its own internet connection (!) and can communicate with your smartphone via an app. The app supplies speed, route, incline, and calorie data; notifies you if your ride is moved after you've locked it up; and allows you to track your two-wheeler should a thief make off with it. The pedal generates its own energy and can only be removed with a specially coded key.

Connected Cycle is gearing up for a crowdfunding campaign. Sign up on the company webpage to stay in the loop.

January 9, 2015

"A lot of people deserve to be really worried"

There are lots of bikes in Portland, Oregon, and, at any given time, a fair number of them are locked to one of the city's 6,000 blue staple racks (see here). Unfortunately, as came to light earlier this week, the blue staples don't safeguard the bikes entrusted to them as effectively as everyone had assumed.

Gina Carlson left her Trek Lexa S—named (!) Flora—U-locked overnight to a staple at the corner of Southeast 7th and Morrison. All that remained in the morning, though, was a staple, its cross bar severed clear through.

"This freaks me out," says the Bike Index's (register...) Bryan Hance in the video below, from KPTV-FOX 12. (To hear the bereaved Carlson's wake-up call to bike owners, check out KOIN 6's segment on the brazen theft.)

The moral, dear cyclists? Don't just verify that a rack (1) has all its bolts and (2) can't be yanked from the ground with a pair of passable biceps. Also give the rack a hard thwack. Put your ear down next to it. Try to gauge from the resonance how thick the tubing is—and how long it might take a would-be thief to saw through it.

And never, however reassuring the reverberations, leave your bike out overnight.