Bike Thefts Becoming a Growing Problem in Los Angeles. What Can Be Done?

11_23_09_lance.jpgNot even Lance is safe. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Last weekend, when I was a guest on Bike Talk, the conversation in the room turned to what can be done about the growing number and boldness of bicycle thieves in Los Angeles.  After lamenting that the LAPD basically declared it a non-priority, unless you can hand them the case on a silver platter, at a meeting at Echo Park there was a brief debate concerning personal responsibility and "street justice."

I have to admit, I was unprepared for the debate.  Sure, I had seen the quirky and popular "Hal Grades Your Bike Lock" and I remembered the story of a group calling itself the Stolen Bike Recovery Unit getting a bike back from someone who was either a bike thief or "bicycle launderer" by just waiting for the bike to appear on Craig’s List.  But I had to admit, I’m far from an expert on the issue.

I do know that trying to take the law into your own hands is a bad idea.  Westside BikeSIDE’s Alex Thompson describes why in two posts from September of this year entitled, "Stupid bike thefts lead to stupid fantasies," and "Bike thief arrested, was carrying a .357." Turns out the bike thief in this story was packing heat, which is one reason to avoid confronting the thief yourself.  A stun gun and pepper spray would be more than trumped by the .357. Thompson mentions another one,

Moreover, it’s irrational.  If you catch a bike thief and you beat
the shit out of them, you can no longer turn them in.  If you do,
you’ll be brought up on assault charges.  If you catch them and detain
them, instead of beating them up, you’ve caught a thief, and
potentially you’ve got a shot at catching any collaborators.

Here’s the rub – you don’t know what you’re doing.   You’ve got no
experience setting up stings, and the thief has experience stealing
bikes.  There’s a good chance that your lack of experience will just
turn out to be embarrassing for you.  On the other hand, there’s a
chance that a confrontation will ensue, and someone could get hurt. 
Your bike just isn’t worth that.

So what can we do?  After reading the suggestions from sites around the Internet, the best suggestions I can see are three fold.

The first is that we all need to be responsible for protecting our own bikes when parked and ourselves when riding.  When the bike is parked, lock it up.  The "Hal Grades Your Bike Lock" series may be funny at times, but it’s also packed full of good advice.  When I park my bike, a Kryptonite U-Lock on the front wheel and chain, and a chain combination lock on the rear wheel, it’s one of the more secure bikes that I see.  But I’m pretty sure Hal would give me a C or a D.

As for self-protection on the road, I know several riders who carry some sort of self-defense on them.  That’s a good second-defense, because we do live in a city, and you do never know, but the most important thing you can do to be safe on your bike from thieves and robbers is to know your route and bike a safe route.  I don’t care how "bike friendly" a route is, when it’s late at night I’m biking on major streets where there will be a lot of witnesses to any violence.

Of course, if you can bike with another rider on routes or at times that might be more dangerous; that’s a good idea as well.  Strength in numbers after all.

Second, if your bike is stolen, don’t try to be a super hero.  The team from the "Bike Recovery Unit" was lucky that their thief wasn’t packing anything that would trump a video camera.  If you want to read more on this, check out Thompson’s two pieces.  He does an excellent job breaking it down.  And if you can work with the LAPD on a sting of some sort, more power to you.

Third, once you’re ready, get back on a bike.  There’s strength in numbers, so don’t let some thieves reduce our group strength.  We need you out there to help make the streets a little safer for all of us.

  • Bike thieves in LA have managed to break the Kryptonite U-Lock…so even having that is not very comforting.

    LAPD needs to take the broken window approach. Those stealing bikes are the same people who graffiti the city and break into cars. Put one guy in kail and you may just have solved 5 crimes.

  • Will Campbell

    I used to lock my bike up on my front porch with a basic cable lock. A miraculously timed look outside one night just before turning in found two punks creeping up my front steps. They retreated post haste when I threw open the front door and charged after them knowing full well they weren’t trying to steal my shrubs.

    Had I not happened to look at that particular moment my bike would’ve been gone. The bike comes indoors at nights now — and into my office with me at work during the days.

    On my commutes I carry that same half-inch cable lock for short stops. I know I’m inviting trouble or at least a failing grade from Hal, but even a cheap lock is better than none at all.

    I’m also guilty of riding some sketchy stretches after dark on my commute home, such as the near pitch-dark Ballona Creek. That’s even less intelligent than my choice of locks, but it’s tough saying no to that couple miles of car-free riding.

  • Spokker

    The police should put GPS on some bikes and leave them out to be stolen in some kind of sting operation. Follow the bikes and you’ll probably find a lot more crimes happening wherever they take them.

  • Folks, the solution is easy: buy a new bike at Flying Pigeon LA this weekend after thanksgiving. Bring in a metro pass and nearly all my bikes will be 10 or 15 percent off retail.

    Shameless self promotion has never felt so good.

  • Paul

    I would recommend people buy the New York Fahgettaboudit 1415. Now it’s a big and heavy lock, but it’s worth carrying around the weight to be able to come out of a cafe or where ever to find your bike waiting for you. I recently heard that they have a new and stronger lock.

  • Okay, funny story about that lock (which is bad ass).

    There is a coffee shop on Figueroa that someone locked their bike to using that very same Fahgedeaboudditt (Whatever on the spelling of that one) lock to secure their bike.

    I know this because the lock is still there. The bike … not so much.

    You have to properly lock your bike using whatever lock you have.

    Those little licorice strips people use are not effective – but then again, so is wrapping a $130 uber-strong lock around your handlebars and thinking you’re good to go for your two-week trip abroad while your bike sits outside by the bus station.

  • My friend and I had our bike locked up together last week. We hung out in Hollywood in a coffee shop. When we came out of the shop at 5pm, both locks were cut, the outside bike was stolen and so was the helmet from the other bike that was previously locked. One safety conscious mofo thief stole one of the bikes in the broad daylight in front of a busy coffee shop.

    This person was very skilled and very fast. I was so upset, I was scared to ride for a week, I felt violated! Two days ago I got me a new Kryptonite from Orange 20 as well as a new helmet.

    I reported to the police right away. I’m pissed off because bike thefts have been going on for years and it has always been ignored. Now the bike thefts are out of hand and there is still nothing being done about it.

  • It is super duper easy to rock a six inch bolt cutter ( $15 at a hardware store) tucked into your belt and snip those cheap ass cable locks. 99 cent store u locks are for decoration only – a hammer hit will take those things out in a jiffy.

    I learned the hard way at UCSB how to properly lock a bike.

  • Hey this is a real serious trouble to me. I got a gift from my parents on my last birthday n somebody stole my bike away. I felt very bad for it. I would also like to know a very suggestions from all. I have got a new bike last week. I want to make sure that I dont lose this.

  • Just wanted to pop in here and point out that you can list (and search for) stolen bikes, for free, over at

    There’s even a mobile interface ( if you’re out in the field and want to run a serial number on a bike and see if it has been reported stolen.

    It’s a long shot, but the SBR has had some fantastic recoveries over the years and helped nail a fair number of thieves.

  • Did I mention that my bike was stolen from right outside my place of business, I called to report it and told the officer that we had video footage of the theft. They told me the officer would call me to get the footage, and he never followed up. Even with point blank footage of the guy stealing it. They just don’t care.

  • The most important thing you can do to be safe on your bike from thieves and robbers is to know your route and bike a safe route. I don’t care how “bike friendly” a route is, when it’s late at night I’m biking on major streets where there will be a lot of witnesses to any violence.


The Issue of Bike Theft in L.A. Goes Mainstream

Now THAT’s vigilantiasm. Photo: Prawnpie/Flickr As cycling grows more and more popular, both in Los Angeles and across the country, the problem with bike thieves also grows.  All of a sudden, those bicycles that were safe chained to a poll with a U-Lock are easy targets for thieves instead of safe.  In response to growing […]

Behind the Scenes of Bike Nation’s Deal with Los Angeles

On the morning of April 15th, Mayor Villaraigosa walked up to the press conference kicking off CicLAvia and announced that Bike Nation, a new bike share company, would invest $16 million in creating a bike share program for Los Angeles.  Bike Nation would bring 4,000 bikes, 400 kiosks to communities in Downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood, […]

More on the Bike Plan: Strength and Weaknesses

(As you may have noticed, Streetsblog is running a series gathering different people’s opinions on the Bike Master Plan.  You can read statements by a group of different bike activists from Monday,  Dan Koepel on Tuesday, Kent Strumpell in the comments section yesterday and now LACBC Founder and Green L.A. Transportation Working Group Chair Joe […]

The Times Looks at the State of Cycling in Los Angeles

Image by Ken Kwok/ Los Angeles Times Over the past two days, the Times has written five articles about bicycling in Los Angeles.  Because these articles appear in L.A.’s paper of record, and this is the largest look the Times has given to cycling in Los Angeles in recent memory, Streetsblog is going to take […]