July 13, 2017

Anti-Chop-Shop Bill Opposed by Homeless Advocates

More bike theft news out of San Francisco: Controversial legislation aimed at cracking down on "chop shops" passed the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee on Monday.

"Countless bicycles are stolen in San Francisco every year, at great cost to local residents, and taken to open-air 'chop shops' in San Francisco where they are disassembled, stripped of identifying information, and/or sold," reads Supervisor Jeff Sheehy's bill. 

"Prohibiting the operation of chop shops, and allowing the Police Department (SFPD) to seize any bicycles or bicycle parts from persons who operate chop shops, will help SFPD hold chop shop operators accountable and will help restore stolen bicycles to their rightful owners. Prohibiting chop shops will also clear the public rights-of way and improve the quality of life for City residents." 

But what is a chop shop exactly? The legislation commendably does not cop a we-know-it-when-we-see-it, instead specifying precise behaviors to be prohibited. If you're outside on public property—on a sidewalk, say, or under a bridge—and assembling, disassembling, selling, offering to sell, or offering to distribute five or more bicycles or bicycle parts, three or more bicycles with missing parts, or a bicycle frame with cut cables, Sheehy's bill authorizes San Francisco police to not only seize your wares but also issue you an administrative citation.

Exceptions written into the legislation ensure that neither those with valid business licenses nor folks holding yard sales would run afoul of the new law, but the bill met opposition from homeless advocacy groups, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, and the Democratic Socialists of America: San Francisco. Opponents of the measure contend that it will target the city's homeless population without seriously combatting the bike theft scourge.

"Bicycle theft is a real problem in the City and County of San Francisco and I am happy to hear that this is being discussed in this chamber," said San Francisco Bicycle Coalition executive director Brian Wiedenmeier. "If the legislation could be amended to target those who buy and sell in stolen property that would be an ordinance that the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition could enthusiastically support, but right now we are not there yet."

July 10, 2017

BART Pilots Bikeep Racks

In case there weren't enough reasons to envy San Franciscans, now there are "zero theft" bike racks at BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) stations.

Making good on its promise of a year or so ago, BART is the first transit agency in the United States to test "smart" bike racks from Estonian-born startup Bikeep.

The racks, deployed at the Mission District and Pleasant Hill stations as part of a pilot project, are racks and locks in one, with automatic locking mechanisms users can operate after a short online registration process with mere swipes of their Clipper reloadable transit cards.

The industrial grade steel bars that secure a bike's frame and front wheel sport square cross sections to foil pipe cutter attacks. They enclose wires that, if cut, both trigger an earsplitting alarm and alert authorities.

"So far out of 1 million parking sessions we haven't had a single bike theft incident," said Bikeep CEO Kristjan Lind.

Though they sound too good to be true (use of the Bikeep racks is even free, at least for now), San Francisco's latest attempt to save its residents' two-wheelers from theft is not without drawbacks. The racks are pricey, for one thing, at $1000 each. And while the locking mechanism fits most bicycles, folks with unusual rides—a large e-bike, say, or a diminutive folder—might not be able to secure their front wheel.

Users with locking skewers or a portable lock (kind of kills the initial leave-your-lock-at-home appeal of the system...) can safeguard their rear wheels, but otherwise they're left vulnerable to what one resident recently termed "thieves...like honey badgers," shameless in their plunder of any part left untethered.

If the photo above is any indication, any Bikeep installation needs to be paired with a user education program.

June 15, 2017

Time to Beef Up the Bike Racks

Above left, from DC's Scott Circle neighborhood (by way of the Bike Rack's Facebook page), is an indication that the nation's capital should consider following Portland, Oregon's lead in upgrading its bike racks—see above right.

As BTB reported in March 2016, the Portland Bureau of Transportation was prompted by instances of thieves cutting through racks to upgrade the ubiquitous staple rack. The new racks, slowly replacing old ones on the city's streets, sport some security features. A free-floating, steel-wire cable is routed through the rack's hollow steel piping, making it more difficult to sever. A crossbar 10 inches above the ground prevents would-be thieves from unscrewing the bolts and slipping a lock off the bottom of the rack. Might these safeguards become industry standards?

June 13, 2017


In December, an Aussie couple vacationing on the Indonesian island of Gili Trawangan endured a flip-flopped walk of shame wearing "I AM THIEVE" placards after they were caught on CCTV stealing a bike.

Last week a pair of twenty-something vigilantes in Brazil tattooed "EU SOU LADRÃO E VACILÃO"—"I'M A THIEF AND LOSER"—on the forehead of a 17-year-old as punishment, they claim, for attempted bike theft.

While the teen's actions are in doubt—he says he had fallen drunkenly over the bike in question, and was not trying to steal it—those of the tattoo artists are not. In a video they posted online on Friday, they are seen tattooing and taunting the supposed thief.

The 17-year-old, who is said to have mental health and drug abuse problems, was reunited with his family on Sunday, the vigilantes arrested and charged with torture. An online fundraising campaign is collecting money to (translated from Portuguese) "pay for tattoo removal," "assist in the costs of legal proceedings against the torturer," and finance "part of the psychological care and treatment of the child's chemical dependency."

So far over $9,000 has been raised.

May 31, 2017

"Cyclists look out for each other"

Earlier this month, one New York City bike thief decided not to mess with this guy:

Cro-Mags singer (and plant-fueled triathlete) John Joseph, that is.

On a post-meal stroll on May 9, Joseph recounted on Facebook, he saw "this scumbag about to break a lock using a long pipe on two nice bikes."
So he comes up in my face, trying to be hard and asks for a cigarette. I'm like 'Yo step the fuck back dude.' Which he does after he can tell I ain't no East Village import new jack sucker. 
Joseph on a night ride in Central Park, summer 2015
Although the would-be thief then retreated to his nearby lodging, Joseph, "being a cyclist and old school New Yorker," stood guard over the bikes until their owners returned.

"Said scumbag," watching from his stoop, was subsequently picked up by police, his activities having been reported by another onlooker. Apparently he was a serial bike thief.

"So the moral of the story," Joseph concluded his tale, "if i see your ass stealing a bike - I'm stopping you. Cyclists look out for each other, that's what we do."

April 4, 2017


Imagine you're walking home in the wee hours of the morning. You spot a pricey looking bike leaning lockless against a tree or a street sign or a bus shelter.

What do you do? Call the police? Whip a spare cable or U-lock out of your bag and affix the abandoned ride to something immobile?

Or do you hop on and pedal the thing to your place for safe-keeping until you can surrender it to law enforcement in the morning?

That's what Ashland, OR resident Marco Antonio Alvarez-Carreon said he was doing in May 2015 when his movement of one of the city's bait bikes led to his arrest on a felony first-degree theft charge.

The Ashland Police Department began its bait bike program in 2013 using bikes in the $400-500 price range. In 2014, however, the relatively cheap bait bikes were swapped out for models worth $1500. Steal an item less than $1000 in Oregon, and it's a misdemeanor; over that threshold and you've committed a felony. Upping the value of their bait bikes thus allowed the Ashland police to hit thieves with a stiffer charge.

Ashland's bait bike program has enabled the apprehension of some big-time bike thieves, and the city's bike theft numbers have inched downwards since the program's inception. The Ashland Daily Tidings reports, however, that critics worry "good Samaritans merely aiming to protect a stranger’s bike from a would-be thief may be swept up in the sting."

Would-be good Samaritan Alvarez-Carreon, who pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of attempt to commit first-degree theft (thereby avoiding a felony conviction on his record) and was sentenced to 18 months probation, believes that the bait bike program should more narrowly target serious thieves and not, to quote the Ashland Daily Tidings' paraphrase, "foolish people taking bikes for rides."

Ashland police chief Tighe O’Meara defends his department's program, however. The bait bikes are left unlocked, he explains, because most bikes stolen in Ashland are unsecured. O'Meara also notes that a felony charge is by no means a foregone conclusion.

"The alarm going off if the bike has been taken is just the beginning of the investigation," he told the Ashland Daily Tidings, "and if somebody has a plausible explanation for what they are doing then that’s fine. If there’s no crime, there’s no arrest."

Calibrate your good Samaritan instincts accordingly.

March 23, 2017

I Stand Corrected

I alluded in a post last week to having recently obtained an Altor 560G.

I've coveted one of these titanium beauts since Altor's May Kickstarter, but first I doubted that the Bethelem, PA-based start-up could actually bring the product to market. (Wrong.) Then I worried that a single 560G—the $349.99 price tag for the Double 560G didn't fit my budget—wouldn't have the reach to enclose both the frame/rear wheel of my beefy Surly Ogre and a bike rack. Using cardboard, brass fasteners, and rod
widths and lengths I solicited from Altor's Jon Akers, I made a cardboard model of the 560G and experimented with it.

My conclusion? That only under the rarest, most stars-aligned circumstances could I secure my 29er with a 560G.

But I was wrong.

Last month Jon sent me one of the 560Gs he'd been using for demos and photo shoots. He could no longer sell the lock, he told me, but the time in the limelight had not compromised its security.

For weeks the lock sat in its box as I rode my Surly on errands and to events. Maybe the 560G will work with my svelter road bike, I thought, but not with this tank.

But, like I said, I was wrong.

Over the weekend I brought my 29er and my 560G to the park down the street from my apartment. It took some doing, but I was able to get the single 560G around frame, rear wheel, and rack! (And it's a burly rack.) What made the seemingly impossible in fact possible was the freedom of the lock body to rotate. I initially thought that the 560G was going to almost but not quite get the job done, but then a tiny rotation of the lock allowed the rod to slip in. Success!

I have since similarly succeeded in locking my Surly with the 560G to a signpost next to a cafe and a rack outside my neighborhood Trader Joe's. I am confident enough now in its lock-up potential that it's the only lock I pack when I head out the door. So far, so good.

March 15, 2017

Mind the Asterisk

More than five years since Outside published Patrick Symmes's "Who Pinched My Ride?," the magazine has circled back to the subject of bike theft.

In "The Ultimate Guide to Ensuring Your Bike Never Gets Stolen Again*," Andrew Tilin talks locks, "locking hygiene," and the danger of letting extended runs of lock luck lull you into a false sense of bike security.

"Bike theft is a huge problem," Tilin writes.
The more often you get away with your poorly secured but beloved bicycle remaining in your possession, the more apathy you have about locking it using the best locks and methods. Then, one day, when it’s gone, you can put some of the blame on the fool who didn’t need much skill or many tools to turn your world upside-down.
And then you can put a heap of the blame on yourself.

Much of Tilin's material was familiar to the bike security enthusiast behind BTB, but "The Ultimate Guide" did get me to (1) mull the usefulness of a Knog Frankie as "a minimalist second lock for running errands" and (2) recommit myself to such theft-prevention measures as keeping locks well off the ground to discourage sledgehammering and orienting keyholes downward to make picking trickier.

Tilin's review also made me more excited than I already was to test out the Altor 560G that recently came into my possession. More on that folding titanium beauty in a future post. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, give the Outside piece a read and/or watch the summary below.

February 27, 2017

Because of drunk boys and a dead phone

On February 5, the night of the Super Bowl, a road bike Josh Bowden had owned for 15 years went missing. 

The Pulaski County, VA Deputy Sheriff didn't notice the theft, however, until the bike reappeared two weeks later—with a note of explanation from the thief-turned-unauthorized-borrower:

Some steal bikes for fast cash or a drug fix, others because their so-called friends flake and strand them 16 miles from home.

Himself a father of two, Deputy Bowden wishes the 19-year-old would have knocked on his door and asked for help rather than swiping his bike for a solitary, wee-hour ride. Unsure how to reach the mysterious M to talk some sense into her, Bowden posted a public Facebook message in hopes that social media magic might bring his words of caution to the teen's attention.

February 21, 2017

Protect What's Most Important

Whatever precious person, pet, or possession you're keen to track, Bay Area outfit iotera thinks iota is the device for you. Reviewed by Bike Index's Bryan Hance on BikePortland.org last week, iota is a diminutive—43×22×11 millimeters—GPS tracker that relies on radio rather than cellular signals. So no monthly fees! The iota also boasts a long-lasting battery that only needs recharging every two to four weeks. 

Each iota tracker ships with a "home base" that connects to an in-home wi-fi network and has a 1/2- to 1-mile range. Two crowdsourced networks—a community of iota home bases and every mobile phone running the iota app—enable tracking farther afield.

Although Hance's review notes ways in which the iota could be more useful to bike owners—by fitting into handlebars, say, or mooching power off lights—the tracker has already helped reunite at least one cyclist with a stolen ride:

Iota's reliance on a network of individually owned base stations does mean, though, that the protection offered depends on the extent of community buy-in. I checked out the company's coverage map and was pleasantly surprised by the number of stations already active in and around my Northern Virginia 'hood. I wonder if iotera would consider offering bulk discounts—at $149 a pop, iota is not cheap—to groups of neighbors together capable of adding swathes of acreage to the area covered.  

February 13, 2017

Take It from a Bike Thief

Perhaps you remember reformed bike thief Shenol Shaddouh from this 2013 BTB post. Now, more than four years after his tale of redemption appeared in The Docklands and East London Advertiser, Shaddouh remains on the straight and narrow. He recently offered Cyclist readers advice on how to hold on to their bikes.

A couple takeaways:
  1. Foil twist attacks: Back in his thieving days, Shaddouh used a scaffolding pole to twist D-locks. "If the first thing the lock comes into contact with when twisted is whatever it’s locked to, rather than the frame, then you can twist the D-lock to the point of breaking and it won’t damage the frame," Shaddouh told Cyclist. Take this into consideration when positioning your lock.
  2. Adopt the Sheldon Brown: Shaddouh advocates what is known in some circles as the Sheldon Brown locking technique. "The best way to use a D-lock is not to lock your frame but to lock through your rim at the spot between the rear wheel and the top of the rear triangle, with the D-lock within the rear triangle but not through the chainstays," he says. Something to think about...

February 6, 2017

Ben*, Bike Hunter

Buy a VanMoof SmartBike and, if it gets stolen, the Amsterdam outfit will spend two weeks trying to track it down. If they fail to reclaim your bike in a fortnight, they'll replace it. BTB reported on this so-called Peace of Mind service—free for the first two years post-purchase—back in June 2016.

Now, with regular Medium posts, VanMoof is chronicling its bike recovery efforts. The Bike Hunting Broadcasts afford readers a "weekly peek into the wild world of VanMoof’s Bike Hunting Team."

This is the stuff of cinema (or at the very least, television): organized crime, just-in-time arrivals, high-tech gadgetry, international trafficking of stolen property, courageous crime fighters on the verge of losing hope...Casablanca, even!

So follow along, folks, and cheer the good guys on.

A VanMoof Bike Hunter fires up a tracker on the streets of Casablanca

*As VanMoof reiterates in each Bike Hunting Broadcast, their "Bike Hunters prefer to remain stealth and not use their real names."

February 3, 2017

Skylock (Now Ellipse) Debuts

Skylock got a lot of press back in 2014, and, as pre-orders begin to ship, the app-controlled bike lock continues to garner high-profile coverage. It's just not all positive.

Michael Tortorello reports in the Wall Street Journal that while the lock, now called Ellipse, boasts a solar panel and a theft- and accident-detecting accelerometer, it suffers from some unglamorous mechanical difficulties.

"So what happens if the app connects to Ellipse," writes Tortorello, "but the latch won’t clinch properly, preventing you from securing your bike to the rack?" He continues:
Or what if, later on, the latch refuses to release, threatening to leave you stranded 6 miles from home? Can the lock detect profanity, uttered in close proximity and at high volume? 
That’s what happened to us during a recent road test.
(I trust Tortorello means that the lock malfunctioned, not that it detected the frustrated tester's string of expletives.)

Though Ellipse creator Jack Al-Kahwati assured Tortorello that the issue he encountered has been corrected on the locks shipping to customers who pre-ordered them, the reporter sounds unconvinced.

"The technology in the Ellipse may be novel," Tortorello concludes his piece, "but our experience brought back analog memories: It felt just like losing a key."

Note also: The Ellipse is selling for less than the expected $249 reported by BTB in June 2014. The list price is in fact $199 (smart phone not included).

February 2, 2017

Your Chance to Win a Carbon Wheelset or a Top-of-the-Line Lock

I'm decreasing my own chances of winning by telling you this, of course, but...

Project 529's 2017 Bike Theft Survey is live, and, by taking five minutes to answer it, you'll both (1) help the Portland-based outfit amass information they hope will enable "law enforcement, advocacy organizations and the cycling industry to better understand how the cycling community is affected by bike theft" and (2) enter the running for a SRAM or Zipp carbon wheelset or an ABUS folding or U-lock. Do it.

Project 529 should already be familiar to readers. BTB first covered 529 back in June 2014, and subsequently reported on both its wood-bound petition to require online sellers to include serial numbers on bike listings and its fruitful collaboration with officials in Vancouver, BC. Now, in a newsletter that went out Tuesday night, Project 529 has announced a merger: "National Bike Registry and 529 Garage have joined forces," exclaims the email's header, "creating the largest and most advanced bike registry in North America!"

So if you've previously registered a bike or two with either of these parties, take this opportunity to log on to the new post-merger site and make sure you're maxing out the services on offer. And if you still have a unregistered ride in your possession? Get on that!

January 18, 2017

The Thrill of the Campaign

Got another bike lock Kickstarter for you, folks, and it's a good one. 

TiGr has been providing cyclists (me included) with "elegant bike security" since 2011, leaving little doubt that they'll deliver a quality product to campaign supporters.

The TiGr mini+ offers the portability of the award-winning TiGr mini but with the added versatility of a larger locking area.

Though the TiGr mini+ encloses about the same area as a standard U-lock does, TiGr takes pains to differentiate the two. (You know it's that last bullet that sells you!) 

Watch the full pitch below and, if you like what you see, head over to the Kickstarter page to snap up one of these limited edition locks while you still can.

Note: I can personally testify to the usability of the TiGr mini+; I was one of the cyclists who tested a prototype. "Bike security enthusiast"? I'll take it!