LESSONS LEARNED FROM MY BIKE THEFT

last week, i received an unexpected call from the seattle police. the sergeant i spoke with was calling to inform me that he had found one of the two bikes stolen from me last year. i was shocked. i had given up hope late last year after a couple of hits from various tools i had set up didn't lead to anything. 

yet, here i was listening to the officer tell me how my bike was discovered and what was going to happen in the next couple of days, including how i'd be able to get it back. i gave a statement attesting that the purported thief didn't have permission to take my bike and then i sat back and waited. suddenly i was thrust back into the stomach ache inducing agony of reliving the heartbreak felt when something you love is taken from you and the anger that comes with knowing a complete stranger had entered your personal space. that's not a happy place. twenty four hours later i received confirmation that the thief had been arrested and that my bike had indeed been recovered. i still couldn't believe my luck.

now, out of respect for all the hard work the police have done and because the case is still active, i'm going to refrain from going into detail about what led to my bike recovery but you better believe i'll revisit this post and update it when it's appropriate. 

what i can share with you are the lessons i learned from this experience, because every experience -- good or bad -- is a learning opportunity. these lessons/tips aren't exhaustive nor will they prevent theft, but maybe, just maybe, they will help you get your bike back in the event it's stolen. 

THINGS TO DO NOW:

  1. take pictures (plural) of your bike. take a wide shot of the entire bike, as well as detailed pics of parts, the serial number, and anything unique on the bike that would help identify it as yours.  bonus: ensure there is a picture of you AND the bike.
  2. write a description of your bike and like what you did when you took pictures, write down descriptions and locations of anything unique. why do this now? because after your bike is stolen, your head will probably be somewhere else. if you already have a description drafted, then all you have to do is copy and paste and you're ready to start getting the info out on the interwebs. time is crucial.
  3. start a journal/spreadsheet that tracks all of your bike related purchases. this is useful for insurance reasons and can also be of help to the detectives. as for my situation, i have receipts for everything i have bought for my bike, but i didn't keep a journal so i forgot to list a couple of parts when i submitted my insurance claim. 
  4. put all the data you generated from steps 1-3 above in the cloud. why? you never know when you might need the info. say you get lucky and run into your bike on the street. it's much easier to pull out your smartphone and show the person with your bike that the bike is yours. 
  5. register your bike with your city (where available), an online database (e.g. nationalbikeregistry.com or bikeregistry.com), etc. BEFORE it's stolen. call this a preemptive move.
  6. if you have to store your bike in a place where you don't have easy line of sight, then you need to check on it regularly. why? knowing the theft window is helpful for when you file a police report, insurance claim, register your bike on the stolen bike registry and when you make a plea on your social networks. depending on where you live, bikes can be moved easily to neighboring cities (e.g. in the bay area) so having a narrow window can be crucial for activating social networks to help you search for your bike. additionally, because time is critical, if you don't have a good idea for when your bike was stolen, then there is a chance the thief already listed and sold it on ebay or craigslist or moved it to another city. in my case, i was dealing with a 3 day window for when the theft happened.
  7. purchase renter's insurance if you are renting (if you own a home, i'm hoping you already have homeowner's insurance). you should have renter's insurance anyways, but this could be the difference from a total loss to getting money to replace your bike. 

THINGS TO DO IF YOUR BIKE IS STOLEN

  1. Call the police and file a police report
  2. Register your bike on the stolen bike registry.
  3. Call local bike shops that deal in used bikes. Give them the description and serial number and your contact info.
  4. Set up a "recipe" on IFTTT to scour Craigslist, eBay, etc. for your bike. This tool is amazing. It does all the work for you.
  5. Post on your social networks -- share pics, the description, and don't be afraid to offer up a reward.
    • If you live in Seattle, follow @getyourbikeback and check their feed for bikes SPD has recovered.
    • check out stolen bike registry's homepage to see if there is a city specific twitter account for your city (e.g. @stolenbikesea in Seattle), follow it and tweet at it.
  6. If you live in a market with a flea market, hit it up!
  7. Go visit those local shops that sell used bikes in person.
  8. Follow up with police.
  9. File an insurance claim.
  10. Don't give up hope. Clearly, i failed on this one.
  11. Don't blame yourself.

If you want more tips, i highly recommend you read this post from a fellow bike theft victim, Jenny Oh Hatfield, who lives in the Bay Area (and also because she's rad). I hope this never happens to you but if it does and you follow these tips, i guarantee you'll have a head start.

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