Bikes get stolen every day. Give yourself a chance to get yours back.

Bikes get stolen every day. Give yourself a chance to get yours back.

by Charles Youel April 18, 2020

Artwork: Death To Bike Thieves, by Josh Holland

Hey, friends. Got some time on your hands?

I certainly do, which is why I wrote this thing that started as a Twitter thread, reproduced here for the sake convenience. Someday, in what seems like your darkest hour, you will be glad you read it.

This is a simple project that will let you accomplish something important and useful that just might save your ass in the event that your bike ever gets stolen. At minimum, you’ll need your bike and your mobile phone or computer. The fact that you’re reading this suggests that you almost certainly have both. You may also want to grab some rags and whatever cleaners and lubricants you use to keep your two-wheeled BFF looking shiny and running smoothly.

OK, let’s get started.

Step One: Find and record your bike’s serial number
Your bike’s serial number is perhaps the most powerful and useful bit of information you can have if you ever need to prove that it belongs to you. Do you have your bike’s serial number recorded and kept safely in a place that’s easy for you to find when you’re in throes of a full-on rage panic freak-out induced by the heartless jackass who made off with your ride?

That’s what I thought.

The serial number is usually stamped somewhere on the frame. Most of the time, you’ll find it on the underside of the bottom bracket shell, a.k.a. that thingee where the cranks are. You’ll need this information to file a police report and, fingers crossed, successfully recover your precious in the event it goes missing. Take a photo of it. Write it down somewhere easy to find.

Better yet, create a document where you can record it, along with the make, model and year of your bike. (I do mine in Microsoft Word because that's the application I work with the most, but design software like Adobe InDesign makes it easier to add photos. More on that in just a few sentences...)

Step Two: List the parts and components on your bike
As long as your bike’s right there in front of you, let’s get serious about this. That document you just created? Add a list of all the key components that make your bike unique.

Record the make and model of the wheels (hubs and rims), fork, stem, handlebars, grips, brakes, crankset, chainrings, pedals, seat post, and saddle. The more detail you have, the easier it’ll be to prove your bike belongs to you. Make sure you note any accessories (bags, mounts, lights, etc.) that are typically on the bike as well.

Step Three: Describe and photograph any damage to your bike
Next, make note of any scratches, dents and other damage or imperfections. While you’re at it, grab that fancy phone and take some photos of them, along with pics of the components previously listed. Again, this is the kind of detail that can help you prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that a bike belongs to you in a recover situation. The more detail you have, the easier it is to prove.

Step Four: Take good, clear photos of your bike from multiple angles
Now, take some pics of your full bike from both sides, the back, and the front. Add them to the document you’ve created if possible. Or create a new album for them on your phone.

And just like that, you’ve got a detailed record of everything that makes your bike yours. Here’s hoping you never have to use it.

Will having a complete and detailed inventory of your bike and everything that makes it uniquely yours guarantee that you’ll get it back if it’s ever stolen? In short, no. But bike theft is a crime of opportunity, and most bike thieves are not criminal masterminds. Stolen bikes often turn up for sale on Craig’s List, Facebook and similar spots not long after they’ve been grabbed. Armed with your document and photos, you’re ready to help the police recover your ride if it turns up online, at a local pawn shop, etc.

On a related note, there are Facebook Groups dedicated to tracking and locating stolen bikes in various cities. The one for the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and Saint Paul) has a pretty impressive track record of helping reunite owners with their bikes. It's a simple way to share information with the people who are most likely to encounter stolen bikes on the street or online — other bike nuts. If there's a Facebook Group for your city, join it. If there isn't consider starting one.

More Stolen Bike Resources
Many cities maintain their own bike registration databases to aid in the recovery of stolen bikes. For example, this one for the city of Minneapolis, where I live. If your city offers a bike registry, it's worth taking a few minutes to add your bike(s). Especially since you've got all of the information right in front of you now.

Extra Credit: Cleaning and Maintenance
This being spring, your bike is probably due for a good cleaning. As long as you’re going over it in detail to record and photograph all of this stuff, grab some rags, cleaner and lubricant and show it some proper love.

Even if you usually do all of your own repairs and maintenance, this is a good time to get your bike in to your favorite local shop for a tune-up and/or some upgrades. In many places, bike shops have been classified as essential businesses and remain open. The bike business has narrow margins at the best of times, and these are obviously not the best of times. Kick a few bucks their way for a tune-up, a new chain or drivetrain, etc. And always tip your mechanics.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled quarantine. Cheers!

Note to future readers: This was written in April 2020 at a time when a good part of the world was under some level of stay-at-home order or quarantine because of the COVID-19 virus. Which is hopefully a distant memory at the time you read this.

Charles Youel


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