Chasing My Stolen Bike

When Justin Jouvenal’s bike was stolen — the third bike he’d
lost to stealthy San Francisco thieves in five years — he didn’t
go straight to the police. He figured he’d have better luck
recovering the bike on his own, so he asked around and learned of a
few back-alley fencing operations where stolen bikes were likely to
be found.

‘Unwittingly, I pedaled right into San Francisco’s underworld,’
Jouvenal writes for the
Bay Guardian.

Jouvenal enlisted the help of Victor Veysey, ‘the Yoda of San
Francisco’s bike world,’ to aid his search. He also spoke with Sgt.
Joe McCloskey, the San Francisco Police Department’s resident
expert on bike theft. Veysey and McCloskey told remarkably similar
tales about the role of stolen bikes in the city’s underground
economy. ‘Bikes are one of the four commodities of the street —
cash, drugs, sex, and bikes,’ said Veysey. ‘You can virtually
exchange one for another.’

The National Bike Registry, which maintains the
country’s largest stolen-bike database, echoes Veysey’s observation
on its website: ‘Within the drug trade, stolen bicycles are so
common they can almost be used as currency.’ And there are a lot of
stolen bikes. As Jouvenal reports, ‘Thieves steal nearly $50
million worth of bikes each year in the United States, far
outstripping the take of bank robbers, according to the FBI.’

With stolen bikes nearly as fluid as cash in the underground
economy, you’d think stopping bike theft would be a high priority
for law enforcement. It’s not. Sgt. McCloskey pointed out that, as
far as police priorities go, ‘Bike theft has gone to the bottom of
the list.’ Bikes are abundant on the underground market because
bike thieves keep getting away with stealing them. Lock-breaking
gadgets — like a certain brand of foreign car jack — make the
dirty work easy; police inattention and lack of person-power make
it lucrative.

A solution seems elusive. Jouvenal notes that San Francisco
police and bicycle groups have approached city officials with
proposals — one officer suggested a city-wide bike registration
system — but with little effect. The director of San Francisco’s
Bicycle Coalition told Jouvenal that what’ll be most effective in
stopping bike theft are safer places to park bikes. ‘The coalition
is crafting legislation that would require all commercial buildings
to allow cyclists to bring their bikes inside — something many
currently prohibit,’ Jouvenal writes. ‘The coalition would also
like to see bike parking lots spring up around the city, with
attendants to monitor them.’

For most cyclists, such proposals sound like the stuff of
dreams. But even as you invest in a better lock, there are ways to
get involved. Most states have bicycle advocacy groups working
toward improving conditions for riders, and both the
League of American Bicyclists and the
National Bike Registry coordinate nationwide
programs. — Evelyn Hampton

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Chasing My Stolen Bike

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