Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bicycle thieves go to the special hell

Perhaps in connection with the sluggish economy, perhaps with skyrocketing gas prices, perhaps any combination thereof, bicycle thefts seem to be increasing exponentially here in Madison (and probably elsewhere, too).

The stolen-and-recovered $8,000 bike story is more humorous cautionary tale than anything, but it's worth mentioning. And all one needs to do is troll the Madison craigslist bicycle listings to see other tales of woe. Plus, there's a whole thread on the Daily Page forums dedicated to the phenomenon.

Theft of almost any kind is wrong (I'll make exceptions for the Jean Valjean variety of bread stealing), but I hold a special malice toward those who take bicycles.

Thing is, there are so many programs that provide cheap, decent bikes to people in need, and plenty of second hand shops that sell them for next to nothing, that there's little excuse for the practice. I suspect that, rather than some real need, most bicycle thieves are in it for one of two reasons: stupidity, and/or greed.

And with the way the economy is going these days, petty crime in general is, perhaps unsurprisingly, on the rise. Bike theft is probably just one facet of a larger problem, but I admit that it provokes an especially strong reaction in me. I suspect, too, that I'm not alone in feeling this way. People ride bicycles for all kinds of reasons--recreation, transportation, fitness--and people ride all sorts of bikes. No matter if its a $20 Huffy or a $3,000 Trek Madone, stealing someone's bike is just as bad as stealing their car. To me, it's almost worse.

There are lots of folks who rely on their bikes to get them to and from work, to the grocery store, and to all sorts of other crucial places. On top of that, anyone who rides is, in at least a small way, helping to alleviate problems like air pollution and traffic congestion. Stealing bikes flies in the face of efforts that benefit everyone.

To compound this problem, it appears as though the Madison Police Department doesn't take bicycle theft in a manner that could be called "serious." I understand that there are more pressing matters on their plates than when someone forgets to lock up their beater bike and it gets nabbed. But many stolen bikes are taken by force, through someone cutting a lock and making off, bandit-like, with something that is, oftentimes, a person's main mode of getting around. This should be taken a little more seriously--at least as much as when someone's car is stolen.

Sadly, that doesn't currently seem to be the case. Bicycles are still seen by too many people as toys, as something silly that certain people ride, but certainly nothing worth serious attention. Hopefully, with fuel prices going crazier by the day and concerns over climate change increasing, more and more people will begin to look at the bicycle in a different, more positive light. And maybe they'll start taking bike theft a little more seriously, too.

In the meantime, there are steps you can take to protect your ass:
  • Register your bike with the city. It's just $10 for a 4-year registration, and it will increase the likelihood that, should your bike be stolen and recovered, you'll get it back. It's not a foolproof plan, but it helps.
  • Keep your bike in a secure, indoor location if at all possible.
  • If you don't have an indoor place to stash your ride, invest in a heavy-duty lock. Check out's reviews and recommendations for the best ones.
  • If your bike is nabbed, keep an eye on the aforementioned Madison craigslist page, as it's not entirely unlikely that it may pop up there, and you'll be able to track down the thief.
  • Push for better, properly installed bike racks at local businesses and on city property. And remember: not all bike racks are created equal. Also, look for places that provide bike lockers. There are several places around the city that do (certain city parking garages, and I think the Terrace--if anyone knows of other locations, please say so in the comments section).
There are also several good resources for bicycling in Wisconsin on the net that you should consider checking out:
It's also important to remember to be a conscientious cyclist, obeying appropriate laws, wearing proper safety gear (I don't care if you hate what it does to your precious hair, WEAR A HELMET), and generally not being a jerk. Too many motorists already harbor an irrational hatred of cyclists, so there's no reason to give them rational reasons, too.


illusory tenant said...

Preach it sister!

M Big Mistake said...

Wheels for Winners provides a free bike/helmet/lock/Madison registration to anyone who does 15 hours of community service or (for kids) reads 5 books and does a report. We're listed on Timebank too.

Emily said...

MBM - Thanks for the Wheels for Winners reminder. I apologize for leaving them out!

michael d said...

Another reason bike theft can be worse than car theft -- the odds are a lot higher of a car being insured.

Dustin Christopher said...

The special hell? I thought that was reserved for child molestors...and people who talk at the theater.

Emily said...

DC - I'm so glad someone caught that reference. ;)

Dustin Christopher said...

Happy myself to find another Browncoat trolling the Madison blogosphere. But I sure would have felt weird if "special hell" was just a coincidence and you had NO IDEA what I was talking about.

Emily said...


Nataraj Hauser said...

It's not just bicycles, it's theft in general that MPD doesn't take seriously. When my motorcycle was stolen in September, the officer responding to my call flat out told me I'd probably never see my cycle again (a functional but absolutely unstunning Honda CB200, scarcely larger than a moped). The next spring I went to the police auction and lo and behold, there was my cycle, WITH MY CASE NUMBER WRITTEN ON THE SEAT. MPD had recovered the bike 24 hours after I reported it stolen, yet couldn't be bothered to TELL ME they had recovered it. Instead they were going to sell it at auction. If I were only slightly more cynical, I'd assume collusion. Lose a bike? Check the auction next spring.

Emily said...

NH - That sucks, and it doesn't make any sense. It's that kind of lack of follow-through that has me most worried about the MPD in general.

The Lost Albatross