When we experience serious loss, panic takes over and everything can seem like a blur. Your mind goes blank, and without a plan, finding a resolution can seem impossible. Coming out of work and seeing your bike gone and your bike lock broken can certainly be considered a staggering loss. Whether you use your bike for commuting to work, exercise, or just for trips around town, being a victim of bike theft can leave you frustrated, upset, and confused. Hopefully, you never have to be in this situation, but if your bike is stolen, here are some steps to help ease the anxiety and — fingers crossed — get your bike back safe and sound.

How to prevent bike theft:

If you see a theft in progress:

What to do after your bike has been stolen:

Register your bike

If you didn’t know this already, every bike comes with a custom serial number, much like a car’s VIN. Either memorize it or write it down somewhere and keep it safe! This is valuable information when reporting a bike stolen or registering it online. You can find your bike’s serial number on the bottom of the bottom bracket.

And yes, there are stolen bike databases! If you are a student, most universities have some sort of bike registry, which is super helpful on a big campus. Once you join a registry, they may send you a sticker to place on your bicycle, making it easier to identify and prove ownership if the bike is recovered. Alternatively, check out the following sites and register your bike with the most up-to-date registration. Another good tip is to take a picture of yourself with the bike and some defining feature. Again, this backs up your claim that you are the bike’s rightful owner and can help with the police report.

Mark your bike as recognizable

This tip might seem a little crazy, but we promise it works! Make your bike less appealing to thieves by adding fake rust to make it look old. Go one step further and remove the manufacturer names and logos, or covering them with spray paint or duct tape. Or put that duct tape to further good use by creating a “faux damaged” look with duct tape around the bike’s frame and seats.

If that seems too radical to do to your aluminum baby, personalize your bike. This makes it easy to identify and often discourages buyers. Write your initials or your name somewhere visible on the tires on each tire with a Sharpie, at the 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock spots.­ Another great idea is to write your name on the top frame and cover it with several layers of clear tape. Packing tape would be best for this.

Useful tech and best bike locks to use

If you’re a bike enthusiast, you know bike locks are your friends. Be aware of bike locks that can be cut by a long handle lopper, so thicker chains tend to be more useful. Stay clear of locks with cylindrical keys. These locks can be opened easily with a ball-point pen.

Of course, use the best lock for the available bike rack or object you’re using to anchor your bike. Many cyclists claim the U-lock is the best option, using several different locks if possible. If you are choosing to use a U-lock, wrap the lock around the rear wheel, right where it passes through the frame’s rear triangle.

For those really serious about preventing bike theft, many cyclists also recommend a bike GPS that tracks the location of your bike at all times. Some of them are very discreet and allow for hidden placement, like under the seat or in a wheel. As technology evolves, companies like Sherlock have developed an app to accompany their secret GPS trackers. Tech that tracks your bike’s location and provides loud warning alarms to ward off potential thieves is well-worth the peace of mind at night.

Consider replacing the quick releases on your wheels with security skewers. Anti-theft skewers are designed in a unique shape that requires a special key to open. Unless the thief has the key that comes with the set (hopefully you haven’t been handing out the key like candy), this makes it very difficult for someone just to walk off with your wheels.

Where to park your bike

So, you’re prepped and ready to go with the best tech out there to keep your bike secure and under the radar. But keeping a few security reminders in mind when leaving your bike parked for the day could possibly be even more valuable. Let’s review a few.

If you’re going to park your bike outside, try to keep it in your line of sight when you come indoors. If you’re going to the same location regularly, be sure to change where you to park from time to time. If possible, avoid crowded bike racks. This may sound counterintuitive, but often times it’s easier for a thief to break through a lock or two when given good cover by other riders and bikes themselves. Finally, those big crowded areas might not be the anti-theft solution; loiterers may tip off thieves in exchange for a cut of the sales profit. As an additional reminder, never park in front of a fire exit.

After you’ve found the perfect location, try to secure your bike to something secured to the concrete, as sign posts and brackets can be uprooted easily. Be sure to position the bike in just the right way: with the wheels parallel to the gutter, on the sidewalk side of signposts. Prevent the theft of your bike seat by either locking it with another cable/lock or take it off entirely and take it with you. If that’s not possible, then be sure to lock both the wheels and the bike frame. If you have any other valuables attached to your bike — like lights or a bike computer — pop those puppies of as well and throw them into your backpack. After attaching your lock, be sure to keep the lock away from the ground. Even if they can’t be cut, most locks can be sledge hammered easily.

Tips and tricks to prevent bike theft

Here are some additional do-it-yourself maintenance tips to keep bike thieves out of your business.

  • Forgot your lock and chain? Use the straps of your helmet and wrap them around your wheel and frame. Snap them into place. It’s not as secure as an actual lock, but it will do in a pinch.
  • If there’s room on your bike, carry a minitool with you. When you’ve parked, loosen the stem of your bike handlebars. Rotate your handlebars parallel to the bike frame and tighten them back up. If you don’t have time for this work-around, try loosening your seat and turning it around backwards. Let’s see a thief drive off with that!
  • When using a U-lock, take up as much of the open space within the U-portion of the lock as possible with your bike frame and wheels. The tighter the lock, the harder it is for a thief to break your lock.

What to do if you see a bike theft in progress

Do NOT approach the thief! Chasing down a would-be robber is much easier and safer ONLY in the movies! You never know what mental state the thief might be in, or what weapons they might be concealing. Your safety is our number one concern, so again, do not approach while a theft is in progress.

Instead, look for any significant details about the thief. What color are his or her pants, shoes, shirt? Are they wearing a jacket? Can you see the design of his or her hair? Are there any tattoos? Smell is one of the most important recall factors for memory — so what smells are around you? What is identifiable? If you catch someone trying to steal a bike that isn’t yours, what is distinguishable about the bike itself? Any stickers, colors, lights? These are all things that can support a police report later on.

Call 911 and report what you’ve seen immediately. If you can make the call without being seen by the thief, that would be ideal for your safety and for the ease of the police, as the thief won’t be tipped off.

There is always be the chance that if your bike is stolen, you might see it again . . . but not because someone recovered it. If you see someone riding around on a bike you know is yours, rest well they probably innocent and don’t know the history. Often times, they have just simply bought a bike off Craigslist without any malice. Report to the police any sightings of your stolen bike, along with your serial number, a photo of you and your bike, the receipt of purchase (if you have it) and the prior police report from when you reported it stolen. The more information you have, the more likely you will be to prove you’re the rightful owner.

Alert EVERYONE!

It may seem like a long shot, but you can get your stolen bike back! It just takes extra work and some digging. Start by filing a police report with identifying photos, receipts, and information you have. The bigger the paper trail you can create, the better your chances are of getting your bike returned.

Spread the word on social media. Most cycling communities have some sort of social media presence and are more than eager to reunite a bike with its owner. If you haven’t already joined these virtual communities, after your bike has been stolen is a great time to do so! This also applies to local bike repair shops as well. More eyes on the lookout are always better.

Consider setting up Google Alerts for eBay or Craigslist for keywords matching the description of your bike. Stolen bikes have been known to show up on these sites, so check them consistently to see if your bike gets advertised for sale.

Lastly, scour pawn shops and thrift stores. Most bike thieves are looking to make a quick buck so be sure to check stores near where your bike went missing and expand your hunt from there.

What is bike insurance and do you need it?

Despite its being a method of transportation, your bike may be covered under your homeowners or renters policy, as opposed to your car or motorcycle insurance policy. This is what is known as world wide property coverage, referring to items stationed outside the listed residence, i.e. if your bike was stolen on campus. Your world wide coverage — personal property coverage and your liability coverage — follows you anywhere in the world, but for a smaller amount of coverage — something around 5% of the total coverage.

However, only if you have a very expensive bike ($3000-$4000), do we recommend considering any additional coverage. If you attempted to add coverage on a bike of lesser value, it would be end up being more expensive than purchasing a new bike entirely because of the rate increase. Your renters/homeowners insurance rate increase would probably be more than the actual claims payout your insurance company would send you. You can call your insurance company to request more information about how much a filing claim would increase your rates.

Before getting requesting additional coverage, follow this quick checklist:

  1. Look for any specific policy limitations in renters/homeowners/personal property that cover an object of a certain dollar value up to a certain limit.
  2. Check your deductible. It your deductible is more than the dollar value of your bike, then do not file an insurance claim.
  3. Determine how much you would receive from your insurance company. This is based on how adjustor values the item. Additionally, keep in mind that what you would get now is not what you paid for when you made the purchase, unless you have a policy addendum for actual cash value.

However, If you do have a bike of exceptional value, consider a floater policy and schedule your bicycle. Generally, items up for schedule must be appraised by a professional, but most valuable bikes will be accepted.

It matters because it’s versatile

Through thick and thin, your bike gets you where you’re going, no questions asked. Losing it to theft can be devastating — we hope you never find yourself in a place like that. If you do, remember you do have a fighting chance to get it back! Hopefully, with these tips and tricks, you can prevent bike theft from ever even happening. And if it does, you have the tools and know-how to do something about it.