time for the bi-annual bicycle theft

Yes, it's that time again: the time where our indiginous crackhead population reminds me never to get too attached to my bicycle. This time it was stolen from in front of Metreon. I think I must have fucked up, though, since the lock was still locked around the post I chained it to, so the best explanation is that somehow I managed to completely miss the bike with the lock. I mean, I've only been locking up my bike once a day for my entire life. After so short a time, it's easy to get that wrong. But the only other explanation is that someone had a master key, and re-locked it just to fuck with me, which seems more than a little unlikely.

Our score so far:

    Nov 2000:   stolen from outside the Market @ 3rd BART entrance, 5pm
    Jun 2002:   stolen from DNA Lounge back room
    Jul 2002:   handlebars stolen from outside netik's place, 4am
    Sep 2004:   stolen from outside Metreon, 7pm

Before 2000, I'd had the same bike since a theft in 1991 or so, which was a pretty good run.

Tags: , , ,

69 Responses:

  1. baconmonkey says:

    so, is a sticker-covered rusted hooptie in your future?
    or are you going to stick with decent bikes?

    Should we start a pool on how long before JNA's bike evolves self-pedaling capabilities?

    • jwz says:

      Nah, john's just never, ever going to ride his bike, making himself yet another one of those people who bought a bike so expensive that they're afraid to ever take it out except on "special occasions."

      • baconmonkey says:

        that or he'll absent/drunken mindedly lock it someplace and forget where he left it. I'll probably stay there for several days before he either remembers, or someone finally breaks the lock.

      • netik says:

        The thing is is that I can commute from home to office w/o ever having to lock the bike to -anything-. That'll happen on a daily basis.

        As far as riding it around town goes, I'll do it, but It'll have to be locked somewhere where I can see the damn thing.

        Btw, the bike wasn't that expensive. It was < $700. I had wanted to spend $400, but spent alittle bit more because I liked this one so much.

  2. drkscrtlv says:

    it occurred to me that they might have cut through the bike instead of the chain/lock, but that would be rather... odd.

    • Not so odd -- ff it had nice components, they could easily make plenty by selling off the components and the fork, and just discarding the frame.

      • jwz says:

        I always lock it around the rear wheel inside the rear frame triangle, so to do that they'd have to cut through the wheel and the tire. That does not sound like the sort of thing one could subtly do on a well lit, heavily trafficked sidewalk right in front of the main entrance of a mall/movie theatre.

        • Yeah, that's not likely they cut the bike at all then. That would require power tools.

          The top tube of most bikes can be cut with a hacksaw (admitedly, that would take a crackhead with some serious biceps to do it fast enough), but the wheel would need a reciprocating saw -- the tension from the spokes makes it basically impossible to saw through a wheel by hand, as it causes the edges of the cut to clamp down on the saw blade.

          • vatine says:

            Even when sawing from the inside?

            • zuvembi says:


              Even when sawing from inside the tension in the spokes will pull the rim inward, causing anything like a hacksaw to seize. A decent wheel does have an awful lot of tension in it. It's really an incredible structure in terms of strength for it's weight.

          • cbustapeck says:

            There are cordless reciprocating saws, now. I haven't personally tested them, but the knowledge that they are out there... it makes life a bit more interesting. I'm waiting for the day when I leave work to find that someone has liberated, say, the rear clip of my minivan.

  3. It's entirely possible someone has a master key for at least some brand of lock. I've seen several stolen bike posts on Craigslist saying exactly the same thing -- bike gone, unbroken lock still attached to post/fence/parking meter.

  4. supersat says:

    Duct tape a coke can to your next bike? ;)

  5. jotunheim says:

    That bike might end up on ebay. I mean, there are some folks out there that bought Britney Spears' used chewing gum.

    • taffer says:

      That's probably to extract DNA so they can build an army of Britney clones as sex slaves.

      Of course, these bozos don't realise that with enough makeup and plastic surgery, you could turn a greyhound into Britney.

  6. ivorjawa says:

    Agh. What kind of bike?

    This is probably the biggest reason that I don't use any of my bikes as day-to-day transportation: I can't imagine putting any bike I liked enough to actually ride in a situation where it could be stolen. Even the crappy Schwinn hardtail MTB that I use for spring and fall riding. My road bike, I like more than most people I've ever met. If it went missing, I would cry.

    • jwz says:

      I can't imagine owning a bike I was afraid to ride. What do you do, wipe it with a diaper and admire how pretty it is?

      • ivorjawa says:

        I'm not afraid to ride it -- I ride it 150 miles a week or so. But they're all club rides, 25 mile rides a couple nights a week after work, 40-60 mile rides on saturday and sunday.

        I'll ride to work (well, I would my last job. I don't get up early enough to do 20 miles before work now), but for going to the movies or getting groceries, I'd be far too paranoid.

        On the other hand, I'm pondering dropping $250 on a single-speed cruiser in the near future and attempting to use it for exactly those tasks. But I wouldn't want to ride such a bike for more than a mile or two at a shot. I could never love such a bike.

        • Don't bother with a cruiser -- they'll be targets too. Just find some nice old lugged steel frame bike on craigslist for $40 and convert that to single speed. Cheap, easy, you won't care much about it if it's stolen. Plus you may end up with something that rides much nicer than a cheap cruiser, which will probably feel like riding knee deep in Jello if a nice roadie is what you're used to.

          • ivorjawa says:

            That's a good point. A friend of mine, who's one hell of a wrench, just opened his own shop a couple of miles from where I live. His stock is currently made up entirely of resurrected 10-speeds, and what money he makes he makes from wrenching. (He's way undercharging. I had to beg him to charge me some labor when he put a new chain on my roadie today. I brought him a six of homebrew last week when he did some work for me, because he's a nice guy but he's vastly underselling. I hope he jacks his prices before he goes out of business.)

            I should buy a bike from him. Or three.

          • dear adam:

            while babbling obssessively about cool-ass beater bikes on the playa, i was directed to http://www.playabike.com/.

            can't you just see jwz on a nice ol' cruiser?

            cool-ass shit, man.

        • xenogram says:

          My old ten-speed has never been pinched. It's no mountain bike, but I don't live on a mountain myself.

  7. greatbiggary says:

    That sucks. Back in college, a guy snuck into our dorm and and walked out the other end with the only two bikes in the hallway - mine and some other dude's. When a security guard spotted him making for the gate, he dropped the other dude's and sped off on mine.

    Anyway, you should get one of those impossible illusion bikes. I've been waiting for someone to invent a bike where all the components are also pieces of a wearable computer. When you get to your destination, you pull it all apart, and assemble yourself into something like a mechwarrior. I'm not saying this is a good idea - I'm just sure it'll be invented.

  8. pjammer says:

    you might have had the life of this poor sap.

    My first lesson in urban bike defense came years ago when someone stole my rear tire. OK, not a surprise, it happens all the time, right? But not in front of the friggin' DC COURTHOUSE!!!! There are cops walking and driving by all the time! What idiot steals a bike tire right after getting out of lockup? You almost have to admire someone who's in the very heart of the forces of public order, and still feels the need to fuck with someone else's shit.

    Sorry to hear about your loss man, all kidding aside. It sucks. :(

    • greatbiggary says:

      That story is awesome, but he's missing the most obvious culprits. The bike shop owners are playing him for the fool. How much money have they made off of him just by stealing back everything he buys, so he'll come back and buy the more expensive "theft-proof" version?

      Also, if I was a bike thief, it would take me all of a minute to realize I should take a small bit of my profits and buy one of those anti-theft bolt systems and just bring the wrench with me on my heists to make up the loss.

  9. injector says:

    Aren't we supposed to have bikes with electro-static protection systems that charge themselves just by riding by now? I guess that quake didn't take out the Golden Gate Bridge yet either.

  10. karlshea says:

    My bike was stolen out of our locked garage. Along with the snowblower and lawn mower. We didn't know how they were getting in until I saw someone kick in the door and run off. They were kicking hard enough to open the door but not to break the jam.


    I didn't get outside fast enough to catch the guy who stole the lawn mower, either.

  11. gths says:

    Hmm. I'm lucky in that where I live isn't quite so urban, and I've somewhere pretty secure to stow it at work, but one time I locked my bike up in the street, and when I came back and unlocked it, the key broke as I turned it in the lock. So I had to come back in the evening with a borrowed pair of boltcutters to cut through the chain. Being a shopping night, there were quite a few passers-by, but none of them thought to question what I was doing. Hmm...

    The frame is probably the most expensive bit on my bike, so I don't know what would be achieved by cutting through it for the bits.

  12. cryptomail says:

    My suggestion is to buy a used bike from craigslist.
    I did that just the other day. I got a 24" BMX bike from some kid who wanted to sell his bike. Paid $100 for my new toy :) I even got him to deliver it from Oakland, CA to downtown SF. Your milage will vary :)

  13. ammonoid says:

    John just bought a bike. Must be some sort of cosmic alignment thing - both of you aren't allowed to have a bike at the same time.

  14. lars_larsen says:

    I bet they have pussy-ass gun laws in SF. Its a shame, you could just get yourself a rifle and stay within line of sight of your bike. Problem solved.

    It is theoretically possible to put a lo-jack style GPS and transmitter in the tubes of a bike frame. Then you just track the fucker down at your leisure. :) I believe it has been done with rental bikes in the past.

    In a Willliam Gibson novel, he wrote of a bike anti-theft device that was a large capacitor charged by riding, set as a booby trap to zap a thief. :) Zzzzzzzzzzap!

    My town had the GREAT idea of having public bikes, that were not locked up and you could just take them wherever you want and then VOLUNTARILY return them to the free-bike racks. That idea lasted about a day. None of the bikes were ever seen again. And they were painted BRIGHT YELLOW.

    • stenz says:

      I seem to recall both Paris and Amsterdam doing that at some point in time. But I have no clue since I wasn't there to see it, just heard from others.

      When I was in college, I brought a hybrid with me that wasn't too expensive, but it was to me since I didn't have any money. I didn't want it stolen, so I randomly spray painted hunter orange splotches all over it very sloppily.
      I don't care about looks, but I figured it would ruin the resale value.
      The very first day it was stolen. Surrounded by multi-thousand dollar bikes that spoiled rich kids were given by their parents and my damn crap bike that actually mattered to me was stolen.

      I later found out that one of my dorm-mate stole it (and then returned it a week later when he found out it was mine). He said he took that one because he "figured whoever owned that bike wouldn't have missed it since it was obviously cheap".
      I wanted to gouge his eyes out with a mechanical pencil. Just as well I didn't since he generally turned out to be a decent guy other than that.

      I took my bike back home the next vacation period.

      • lars_larsen says:

        Sick Boy: Good chips.
        Renton: I cannae believe you did that!
        Sick Boy: I got a great price for it!
        Renton: It was my telly!
        Sick Boy: Well if I'd a' known you were gonna' feel that way about it, I wouldnae bothered!.... You gonna' eat that?

  15. I've definitely mislocked my bike a couple of times (missing one side of the U-lock, missing the frame), but no one has seen fit to steal my piece of shit yet. I once left it unlocked overnight in downtown Ottawa near the mall, and it was there when I came back for it. Weird. Maybe it's just too tall for most people to ride.

    If you ask them nicely maybe you can get Dave's Bike Dump/One Less Car to mail you some "Death Penalty for Bicycle Thieves" stickers. I love when people are so left wing they become right wing again.

  16. marmoset says:

    About a month ago someone stole my girlfriend's bike off of her daughter's porch. I figured it was a crackhead who planned to trade it for a stone, so I got on my bike and rode a mile or so north, to the local open-air crack bazaar. Sure enough, I saw one of a group of about 5 dope dealers riding the bike in lazy circles near the local hotspot. I just rode past and didn't make eye contact -- if I'd said anything, he and his buddies would have just beat the shit out of me and taken my bike (and wallet, and watch, and...)

    I rode back towards the house and stopped at a payphone to call the cops. While I was hanging up, I saw the guy who had our bike riding towards the gas station, alone. With an evil grin, I sped across the street and pulled up next to the bike just as he walked inside the gas station, and calmly picked it up and started walking away with it while he was inside. He comes out of the gas station, yelling "hey, what are you doing with that?", at which point I calmly informed him that it was my bike, stolen off of my porch that morning. Did I mention that I'm a large Black man and that I had a bike chain wrapped around my right hand, swinging the dangling end ever so slightly? I think that may have worked in my favor...

    That felt good.

    • Ahhhh, justice!

      Chains are very useful that way. I used to use 3' of 1/2" steel chain to lock my bike (that was the standard in NYC when I rode there regularly), and the chain was definitely a disincentive to a couple of would-be muggers (and I'm definitely not a large black man -- I was a 150-lb white high school kid at the time).

      • baconmonkey says:

        my bike chain weighs about as much as my bike.
        Big heavy sqare tempered steel links and a kryptonite barrel lock. it's funny how quickly the spare-changers scatter when I pull that off the bike.

  17. transgress says:

    that sucks, but is also inevitable. I saw a chain the other day, the best way i can describe it is that it was a super-chain, like a good 8-12 inches thick with the braided steel wires and plastic outside, and just something that looked horribly impossible to break. Where I saw it? cut in two with the lock (equally as big) attached sitting next to a bike rack.

    Have you tried taking the wheel/seat off when you leave it locked up? I know I see a lot of people do that, although I don't know if it helps any, I'd imagine the chances of it getting stolen are lower when they have to carry it off. But, then if you are like me and hate carrying stuff around, this may not be an option.

    I wonder if bike chauffer's exist, like a guy that rides your bike home and then rides it back for you when you need it. Hrm I suddenly feel like I am in 5th grade again offering to bribe people to do things for bubblegum... ;]

    • jwz says:

      It is so totally worth $200/year to me not to have to play "bike construction kit" every fucking time I stop somewhere.

  18. lars_larsen says:

    If nobody notices the spray of sparks, you could cut just about any lock with one of these in a few seconds:

    • jwz says:

      Crackheads don't have power tools, man. That's why they're crackheads.

      • stenz says:

        I think this is the single funniest thing I have read in a LiveJournal comment.

      • lars_larsen says:

        I was just pointing out that there is no lock that can protect your bike for more than 20 seconds or so. I think bike theft is a grab and run operation, they only really come up against civilian resistance, since they're gone before the police could ever possibly respond. So they can be as overt as they want to be about it.

    • seminiferous says:

      if it's a decent quality u-lock, something like this would be more effective:(this particular jack is probably a little wide, but the flames are cool)

      • jwz says:

        I lost the key to a u-lock once, and tried to pop it with a car jack. The jack broke before the lock did! (It was a shitty little came-with-the-car jack, but still, I was impressed...)

      • lars_larsen says:

        Yeah, I think most people use jacks, but they'd only work on a u-bolt. The advantage is that there is no shower of sparks.

        Since I'm not a bike theif, I have no idea how hard it is to cut a hardened steel u-bolt compared to say, a 1/2in rebar. But how hard could it be? Even if it takes twice as long to cut, thats still not very long.

        • seminiferous says:

          Most cutting tools are made out of hardened steel, you'd probably have a tough time unless you had something really exotic. (As far as I know, rebar is not hardened, so that's not a fair comparison.)

          I am not a bike thief either, but I've seen a lot of broken U-locks. I've never seen a [good quality] u-lock cut; always pried open. But, it is apparently still a concern to Kryptonite. If you look at the fine print on their lock guarantees, you get no money if the lock was broken with a power tool.

          • lars_larsen says:

            Cutting disks for an angle grinder are not made of hardened steel. They're usually reinforced with fiberglass and are actually flexible. I believe they are embedded with industrial diamond fragments which actually do the cutting.

        • jwz says:

          When I lost the key to a u-lock, years ago (and broke my car jack trying to pop it) I took the bike down to an auto body shop to have them cut the lock off. They used some kind of diamond-based circular cutter, and it took a long time -- at least a couple minutes. Very pretty thirty foot jets of sparks, too.

          • lars_larsen says:

            Wow, I would expect it to go a lot faster.

            Well, until someone develops a cordless plasma cutter, I guess you're safe. :)

            • zuvembi says:

              That's what lancing rods are for. I figure if you can use them to cut through a steel I-beam, you can probably cut a u-lock with them. Of course, they would hideously cost inefficient unless you're only stealing Dura-Ace equipped high-zoot unobtanium framed bicycles.

              • lars_larsen says:

                Yeah, I believe they're sometimes called "burning bars". That would be something wouldnt it? Those things could burn through a bank vault door if you had enough time :)

          • cesoid says:

            My bike is locked to my landlord's fence. It has now corroded to the point where I can't turn the key - it had been getting harder and harder before that. I finally broke the key by turning it with a wrench.

            I could easily saw through the wooden fence so that I could take the bike to the car place down the street and have them saw through the lock (which is still locking the front wheel to the frame), but I don't think the landlord would appreciate that. So now you've got me pondering the car-jack method. If that's how bike thieves do it, then it seems like you must have positioned it the wrong way. Did you brace it between the sides or top to bottom? Or maybe it matters whether you do it nearer or further from the straight part?

            Or do bike thieves just have better car-jacks?

  19. pinkpaluka says:

    When I was finishing undergrad I decided to get rid of my bike. The brakes had kind of stopped working too, and it was a very hilly campus. So I just left it unlocked for somebody to take. I still wonder if anybody met a nasty high-speed end at the end of Libe Slope...

  20. roseredcity says:

    the meth-addled castro valley dirt bags stole my roommate's bike right from under our balcony. just cut the chain. i told him how you describe the citizens of our fine city and he thought there has never been a better description.

  21. malokai says:

    a 2x4 will take out a u-lock. The current trend is to use motorcycle locks.

    • jwz says:

      I really wonder what the demographic is of bike thieves in SF. I know from talking to cops that the demographic of car break-ins is almost exclusively crackheads (by which I mean literally homeless drug addicts.) I assumed that it was the same for bicycles, except that most bicycle theft seems to require tools, and crackheads just do not have their shit together enough to be that organized.

      Incidentally, a cop told me that, contrary to popular legend, the reason that motorcycles get their spark plugs stolen is not to smoke crack out of the plug; it's because walking down the street and swinging the ceramic part of a spark plug at the end of a string is a really good way to pop a car window. They break the window, then come back an hour later and take their time going through the car.

      Apparently it's hard to break a car window with a big maglite, but easy to do it with a spark plug. Go figure.

      • Go hang out near the streetcar repair yard at Duboce and Market, or the eastern corner of Duboce Park -- you'll see homeless with shopping carts just FULL of wheels, tires, frames, forks, and they're always wrenching on them too. San Francisco, apparently, is home to an army of homeless bicycle mechanics (as ludicrous as that sentence sounds, I'm serious).

        There's a homeless woman who looks like she's in her early 20's I see near my neighborhood a lot, pushing a Safeway cart, which gets more & more full everytime I see her. I saw her again today, and this time her cart had three bicycle wheels, two tires, and she was pushing a brand-new Kona Fire Mountain bicycle next to it as well. I'm just sure she bought that bike with with bottle refunds. Uh huh.

        • baconmonkey says:

          Hmm, I wonder how hard it would be to organize a bike-theif Crackhead beat-down mob from Zeitgeist? I mean just do a little photo-recon snapping pix of crackheads with bike parts, then post a few printouts at ZG with a date and time for the hunt.
          The one that always pisses me off, is seeing a crackhead pedalling away on something, using one hand to steady the riderless bike next to them. Yeah, I'm sure they're just helping a friend.

          • phoenixredux says:

            Next time you see that, you should probably just beat them down on spec. Bicycle thieves are such scum. Don't they realize the impact they have on people's lives? Haven't they seen Vittorio De Sica's The Bicycle Thief? That's the problem with crackheads - no sense of culture.

            Now there's a movie that's screaming to be remade. Someone should grab a camera and document Jamie running around San Francisco looking for his bike amongst all the crackheads in the Castro district.

  22. lars_larsen says:

    I dont own a bike lock, so I cant test this. But it appears to be true.


  23. krick says:

    I lived in Eugene Oregon for about 2 years and had my bike stolen about 2 months after I moved there.

    I think there's some sort of organized bike theft ring there or something because I often saw large trucks with hundreds of bikes tied to them driving around. Lord knows where they take the bikes.