The Low Down on the Rise in Theft

[Pic of actual stolen bike from the UK, click for info]

Here’s how most people picture it: Some punk walks up to your bike and disables the lock with some sleight of hand, then starts the engine by putting two wires together, and rides off with your baby… Probably to a chop shop where it will be taken apart in a matter of minutes and sold on the black market… If that’s what you think then congratulations, you’re not a thief!  But unfortunately that also means many of things you do to protect your bike from theft will be absolutely useless.

The problem is unless we can think like the bike thieves, it will be hard to defend against their attacks on our precious wheels. So here’s the inside scoop on how motorcycles get stolen in NY.

A Profile of a Thief
Who are these bike thieves? Although there are organized crime rings that steal things for profit, many of bike thieves (stealing sport bikes) around NY are 20-30 something male “amateurs.” Like the rest of us, they love to ride, only instead of working for it they want to get their rides the “easy” way – and don’t have the frontal lobe activity to recognize it’s not worth jail time. Lucky for them they usually don’t get caught. And when they do, the maximum time they will do is a year and a half (which to the frontal-lobe-impaired seems not-too-bad). You can see some of these guys doing wheelies down by the park in Astoria. Yes, they are punks, but no, they’re not die-hard criminals (they’re not smart enough)…for the most part.

Now I know that other sites will tell you that stealing motorcycles is a lucrative business, but from what I can tell there are many better things to steal that will make more money with less risk.  Bikes are easy to steal, but stolen bikes and parts are difficult to sell.  The market is too small and specialized to make a lot of money doing this.

New or highly-in-demand bikes can be stripped and sold for parts. But many of the bikes that are stolen, are simply ridden around. Motorcycles are “recovered” frequently…although not often enough and in poor condition.

The Tools of the Trade
The main tools used for bike theft are trucks, vans, U-Haul rentals…  Didn’t think of that did ya?  If you’ve ever had to haul a bike somewhere on a truck, it seems like a lot of work… but if you actually see how easy it is for three guys to pick up a sportbike and put it in a van, you will think twice about ever parking your bike on the street.

Trucks and vans are the main way bikes get stolen in the city.  If you have wheel locks, each wheel can be lifted onto a dolly and rolled up a platform – or with a U-Haul truck, put onto the automatic lift – or (for sportbikes) lifted by two or three guys into a van. The whole process takes around a minute. You can park right in front of your house and chances are you won’t catch them: the city is too noisy to look out the window at every truck or van that passes by. Once they have your bike, it’s just a matter of time (less than an hour) before they get the locks off and take your bike for a spin.

The Method
They often check out your bike before coming back with a truck. So if you have a bike for sale, they might just see your ad and come check out your bike, and all your other bikes, along with the kind of security you use. Most people with garages don’t bother to chain up their bikes in any serious way… Garages can give you a false sense of security.

If you don’t have anything for sale they might see you lubing the chain or follow you coming back from a ride to see where you park. These guys have more time on their hands than you or me, so it’s nothing for them to check out a few bikes a day and keep a mental catalog of possible hits.

For whatever reason, my informal poll in NY bike thefts indicates the thieves usually hit between 1AM and 3AM in the morning. Perhaps this gives them time to stash the bikes and get through the locks before morning – or perhaps these are the best times to show up with a truck.

Preventative Measures
So how can we prevent our bikes from being stolen? Some bikes are more likely targets than others. But keep in mind, even if your bike is a few years old and too worn to sell for parts, it can still be a target (especially H-D’s, CBR’s GSXR’s, R6’s and Ninjas). So the threat level might help determine how far you’re willing to go for your bike’s security.

Once you know how the thieves work, you have a few options. Here are a few easy suggestions:

1. Disc locks may be good for day-time parking on busy streets, but for the evening hours and not-so-busy-streets, you might want to step up the security a bit…

2. Alarm your bike – I hate car alarms! But…IF you park in places where your bike is always close or within viewing distance, an alarm with motion sensor will give you a little heads-up before they leave with your bike. Or better yet, get a 2-way alarm with a remote receiver that beeps in your pocket when your alarm sounds. The problem with bike theft is that lifting and trucking your bike happens so quickly (and quietly), a little bit of noise would make this more difficult to pull off smoothly.

3. Chain the front wheel to something immovable – just make sure it is actually immovable. Plumbing is easy to undo, and anything that “anchors” to the ground is (surprisingly) easy to pull up with a crow-bar. Street signs and telephone poles are good, but the only way to do this (usually) is to park on the sidewalk (which is fine on some streets, but will get you a ticket in others).

Why the front wheel? The rear wheel is a little easier to remove, and it’s (a little) easier to maneuver most bikes w/o a rear wheel rather than the front. I’ve seen articles recommend chaining the frame – but I’ve never personally owned a bike that you could do that with…the frame is too flush, and the chain is too heavy to get in there.

And by the way…Get a good chain! OnGuard chains and locks are heavy and can’t be cut with a regular bolt cutter…but they’re too heavy to carry around. Kryptonite has some lighter models that combine lighter weight with strength, but it’s always a trade off between the two.

4. Location Devices – this is the priciest suggestion, but for around $500 you can have LoJack installed. The problem with this is that it relies solely on the Police to recover your bike, and it is not activated until the Police file a report. Also, when the Police do recover a stolen motorcycle (when you are not present), it can be weeks before your motorcycle surfaces at the pound… I don’t know what they do, but motorcycles mysteriously disappear from police property for a time before arriving at the pound. For a little extra (plus a hefty monthly charge) there are remote GPS tracking devices that can track your bike in real time, anytime.

For some statistics on what types of motorcycles get stolen most and in which cities, check out this article by Progressive. Have any other security tips? Share the wealth and post a comment! Cheers!


3 responses to “The Low Down on the Rise in Theft

  1. 1.Park next to a more expensive bike. Kidding.
    2. Use a cover when parking.
    3. Try if possible to park at the front of the block, where there is a lot of foot traffic and cars stop at red lights, making it hard for trucks to stop there.

  2. alot of bikes stolen in the bronx, UWS. what are the politicians doing?

  3. lots of times after stealing a high end bike they let it (Cool Off) for a while. meaning they Park it in some garage or let it sit in an old Van for a couple of days to make sure it doesn’t have GPS or something. But the Flipside is if a Smart Cop finds it, he might let it sit and watch it for a couple of days and see if he can catch them when they come back for it.

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