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What Happens to Stolen Bicycles? (priceonomics.com)
534 points by rohin on Aug 28, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 347 comments

Bike theft seems like one of those quality-of-life crimes (like graffiti and coercive squeegee-monkeys) that's begging for some kind of creative enforcement strategy.

- If there's an open-air bike market at 7th and Market, it seems like you could use some of the same strategies that have been used to shut down open-air drug markets.

- Police in the greater Vancouver area have had a lot of success with bait cars, but I'm not aware of bait bikes being used more than experimentally (cf. tocatchabiketheif.com)

- If one could devise a concentrated enforcement strategy, one might not need to "take six guys off a murder" for very long. Basically the idea would be to tip a high-crime-low-probability-of-punishment equilibrium and into a low-crime-high-probability-of-punishment equilibrium that should presumably remain equally stable. One approach would be to target a geographic area and communicate (and follow through on) a threat to throw the book at anyone caught stealing a bike.

(pretty much all of these are stolen from the book When Brute Force Fails).

I've done some work with a local (university) police force that used bait bikes. They'd attach a GPS device, secure it with a poor lock, and wait a couple of days. I went with them once to track down where the stolen bike was parked. Every once in a while they'd land on a ring selling all kinds of stuff on Ebay, but that was less common.

Part of their trouble was, being an underfunded public agency, their bike wasn't of the expensive sort, so I got the impression they were seeing diminishing returns over time as the bike became less desirable. They did this with laptops too, although their "bait" laptop no longer worked, and was really old. I could never get anyone to steal it.

I don't know what happened when the case(s) were turned over to the D.A.

When I was in Japan, the bikes-stealing dynamic was a bit different: the most common place to find your bike was at the nearest train station. The typical thief seemed to be running late for the train, and would borrow whatever was available.

> When I was in Japan, the bikes-stealing dynamic was a bit different: the most common place to find your bike was at the nearest train station. The typical thief seemed to be running late for the train, and would borrow whatever was available.

I feel terrible for finding this side-splittingly hilarious.

It actually happens quite a bit... I was just the slightest bit startled when even my fiancée suggested it like it was nothing. "It's better than being late, they'll get it back..."

There are GPS modules you can attach to your bike, if nothing else it could at least get the police interested if you say "My bike was stolen, it has a GPS and right now it is here"

I'm not so sure. A friend once had a laptop stolen with the Prey anti-theft software [1] installed, which transmits the location, a screencap and a webcam photo of whoever is using your laptop once every ten minutes. He still couldn't get the police interested.

[1] http://preyproject.com/

How about a pressurized U-lock that releases a neon-pink paint cloud if the cylinder or restraining bar is cut-through?

I guess the trick would be making it get on the thief and all over the bicycle.

The best would be if it also stank to high heaven.

You can also directly attack the economics of bike resale. Make an inexpensive bike with a combined drive shaft, shifting mechanism, and lock mechanism internal to the frame. Put it together in such a way that it's quite possible to disable the lock, but impossible to do that without rendering the bicycle inoperable.

Then, instead of selling these bikes, one leases them. It would be impossible to sell such a bike without the buyer knowing it was stolen. (It may also be impossible to manufacture such a bike in the first place, but I'm not sure one could know without trying.)

Puma (the shoe people) sold a bike for several years with a lock comprising part of the frame. If the lock were cut, it would make the bike frame unstable, theoretically discouraging theft. I don't know if it was successful in any objective way, but it was an interesting idea: http://www.bikeoff.org/design_resource/DR_bikes_examples_pum...

Making the bike frame unstable isn't strong enough. People still ride unstable bikes. A fabrication method that involves squeezing spring loaded parts into a tube could serve to make the bike inoperable when dismantled, even to the point of immobilizing the rear wheel.

I heard about thieves vandalizing apartments where there is nothing precious to steal, so you might just get your bike destroyed in anger. On the other hand, they may as well just take a less secured bike. That would really need to be tested in practice.

You'd probably be sued for damage to clothing and emotional stress.

That's great, until you lose your key

That's a problem with cars right now. The combination of a wallet key, a spare at home and always being able to go back to the dealer make it not-that-big-a-deal, in my experience.

With bikes, at the moment, it seems to be a significant problem: there are a ton of bikes in Copenhagen that end up stuck somewhere because the owner lost the key or forgot the combination. Sometimes the owners get a bolt cutter and cut the lock off; other times the police eventually show up to an area that's getting full of abandoned bikes, cut all the locks (after tagging them for a few weeks, which basically declares open season for anyone else too), and haul out a whole set of bikes. I'm not sure the economics work out for it to be worth doing the equivalent of going back to a car dealer for a new set of keys, when just buying another used bike costs $150-300. A car's worth doing it for because it's expensive, so even a dealer charging you $200 is worth it. But with bikes, even with the current economics many people don't bother: figuring out how to cut a U-Lock is more hassle than buying another cheap bike, and not much cheaper.

Really? Wrap it up with a newspaper and do whatever those bad guys usually do to the U-locks. Just make sure it's your bike.

That argument applies to any effective antitheft device. Shall we take it you're against all effective antitheft devices in general?

If you lose your key to your U-Lock, you cut it off. If you lose the key to your frame... saw your bike in half?

You plan ahead. I made duplicate keys to my condo and my car and gave them to a couple friends who can be relied on.

In a system with electronic lock you could have unique factory key stored at the manufacturer, and recovered for a $30 fee upon inspection of id/receipt/etc.

That's what copies are for. Store one in a secure place.

I heard a story, but I have no idea whether it's true: bike shop in San Francisco leaves very shiny, high end bike outside. Thief hops on bike, heads down hill to make a quick getaway. Thief soon discovers that the bicycle's brake cables are not connected. CRASH.

I believe that it's illegal to booby-trap one's house, and I've heard of (apocryphal?) cases of burglars suing homeowners for injuries sustained during a burglary...

I imagine such a brake-less bike would fall in that category.


This is the only case I could find on wikipedia. Placing a bicycle outside with no brakes hooked up is a far cry from rigging a spring loaded shotgun to the door of an unoccupied building.

It isn't even unheard of for people to legitimately (well, not legally I think...) ride bicycles without brakes, so where would you draw the line? If the police used a Ford Pinto as a bate car, could they be similarly at fault?

If the police used a Ford Pinto as a bate car, could they be similarly at fault?

I'm cracking up over here! I guess it would have to at least be a Pinto, nobody would ever steal a Chevette or Yugo...

>>Placing a bicycle outside with no brakes hooked up is a far cry from rigging a spring loaded shotgun to the door of an unoccupied building.

Until the lack of brakes causes you to get hit by a car, or crash into a pedestrian and cause severe injury.

Obviously the only way to know for sure is for it to happen, but my money is on there being no way in hell there would be a conviction.

A concealed spring-loaded shotgun hidden behind a door is, without any doubt whatsoever, intended to maim an unsuspecting person. A bicycle placed outside without breaks though? There are far too many plausible less than evil explanations for that to say with any certainty that a jury would side with the plaintiff. (Unless the shop did something particularly stupid like admit they put it there in that condition with intent to harm...)

Now, could the guy still sue? Yeah, of course. He could also sue if a perfectly normal bike that he stole gave him blisters. That would be pretty dumb, and he wouldn't win, but he could still do it. The only thing that really matters at the end of the day is "can you get away with it".

If there are better cases than the shotgun out there (and I imagine there should be if it is really so easy to sue for things like that), then I will of course re-evaluate my position.

I put good odds on a jury drawing the line by putting the shopowner in considerable debt if not in jail.

Thieves should avoid stealing fixies then. Especially from the top of a hill.

It wasn't a fixed gear bicycle: you can obviously bring one of those to a halt by preventing the pedals from going around.

How about super glue on the seats ans handle bars?

Regardless of what you think should happen to the thief, that's extremely irresponsible given bystanders or other people's property.

This is a very middle-class idea, if you don't mind me saying. Most of the bikes we had growing up were cobbled together from bits of other old bikes, and the method of stopping was to use the arch of your foot in the space at the back where the brakes should be.

It wore out one shoe faster then the other, but you could do cool skids.

Bike theft seems like one of those quality-of-life crimes (like graffiti and coercive squeegee-monkeys) that's begging for some kind of creative enforcement strategy.

Or just plain old boring regular enforcement, like Germany and Japan have, which is how they end up with a far lower crime rate than the US or the UK for example.

(They also have a better social safety net, that's part of their low crime rates too.)

Having had two regular bicycles stolen over ten years in Tokyo, I would disagree that the problem is non-existent in Japan, though street crime is indeed relatively rare. Bicycles are commonly used by the majority of people. Authorities need staff dedicated to keeping streets near stations from getting clogged up with secured bikes. An unsecured bicycle near a station might be used as a free ride home by a drunken salaryman, but rarely stolen as a cash generator I guess. No social safety net really exists in Japan. Yet in general, Japanese would not even consider crime when in financial dire straits. I don't believe this has as much to do with enforcement as acute social awareness.

Much of the fabric of American society has dissolved. This is a kind of social capital which is very powerful and hard to quantify. (It's also threatening to certain governments for precisely this reason.)

Having had two regular bicycles stolen over ten years in Tokyo, I would disagree that the problem is non-existent in Japan

Two bicycles over ten years compared to how many you would get stolen in the US is "nothing".

That's the problem when comparing crime rates in the US and Japan, people in Japan still feel like there's tons of crime. I suggest you spend a couple of years living in a large US city. I hear San Francisco is very nice.

I don't think being in financial dire straits is usually a reason for people to turn to crime anywhere in the world. Usually the "conversion" to criminal activities happens before they reach financial issues. The whole link between unemployment <-> crime does not make sense in most cases. There are many ways to survive before resorting to crime.

Bike theft is common in Germany. There are also gangs who drive around with a truck at 3am and steal bikes from backyards. Brilliant: nobody sees them unlocking the bikes in the backyards.

Violent crime, maybe, but bike theft is pretty common in Japanese cities. It's not so organized as it is in the West, but usually drunk people who "borrow" bikes to get home.

I disagree. I spend much of my time working in Japan, and notice that people rarely ever lock their bikes, and am told by the locals that bicycle theft (and theft, in general) is rare. I have personally witnessed, in fact, a colleague leave a laptop on a bench in a busy district of Tokyo and when he realized it _an hour later_ he returned to find the laptop there, untouched.

There's a lot of cultural difference to factor into the analysis. I think the article holds true for the U.S., and especially the Bay Area. I've had my own bicycle stolen there (despite a hefty U-lock).

Also, the Japanese police can hold you for 23 days without trial or formal accusation, if they suspect you stole a bicycle.

If you are charged, you can choose a no-jury trial, or a jury trial with no right to appeal; and Japan has an extremely high conviction rate (though few people are actually charged, the prosecutors are very selective).

If you see a laptop on a park bench, you either leave it or call the police. If you pick it (to check the browser for the owner's email address) and a policeman catches you with it (and they don't need a warrant or even good cause to search you), you can undergo a lot of hassle.

I think the problem is not catching the bike thieves, more that the punishment given for stealing bikes is minimal, so it's not worth the police doing much about it.

But you could make possession of stolen property (the bike) a major crime with prison and financial punishment and you weaken the demand side of things.

Then using RFID or similar technology, you could embed a RFID tag somewhere in the frame. Then allow someone to report a stolen bike with a police report, very similar to a stolen vehicle report and then using remote scanners you could scan for stolen bikes very easily. All it takes is fear of a stolen bike to scare away potential buyers.

But you could make possession of stolen property (the bike) a major crime with prison and financial punishment and you weaken the demand side of things.

In legal terms, you'd have a problem with proportionality—that is, the idea that the punishment needs to fit the crime. This is partially a problem with fairness and partially a problem with incentives: if you give someone the same punishment for, say, stealing a bike and for beating someone up, then if you want to steal someone's bike you might as well beat them up to steal the bike.

If you follow this logic, you eventually get to something like 18th C England, where a LOT of stuff was punishable by death, which led to large problems with murder: if you're going to be killed for stealing, you might as well kill someone, then steal, since you've just eliminated the witness.

Your example doesn't apply because death is the ceiling. It's impossible to kill someone twice, so ultimately it makes no difference to the criminal.

However, if the criminal gets 5 years for stealing a bike, and 10 years for beating someone up, the criminal might be swayed by 5 years vs 15 years.

I can see the situation where the criminal thinks "I'm already probably going to jail, might as well decrease my chances as much as possible" by beating someone up. I think most bike crimes occur when the owner isn't around though.

You are not taking into account concurrent sentencing. So if the punishment for stealing a bike was 5, and if assault was also 5, the guy would only serve 5. Theoretically at least.

Or you end up with Singapore, which just has very strict punishments for minor crimes.

Making possession a crime at the level of first party theft doesn't have this problem.

The US already proportionally has the most prisoners out of any country in the world, and I'm wary of any solution that includes making that problem worse. That kind of thing has giant socioeconomic costs and, looking at the crime rates, doesn't seem to work at making the country safer. I just don't think that finding yet another reason to put a whole bunch of people in prison (average cost per month between $2000 and $4000 at a quick google) over a bike worth $1000 is really going to make anything better in the long run.

I don't think you can measure the worth of a bicycle so simply. For many people, $1000 represents a very significant sum of money and their bicycle is their means of transportation. The theft of a bicycle can be a very life disrupting event.

There is a reason horse theft used to be dealt with so severely: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Horse_thief_hanging.png

Now, obviously we should not start hanging bike thieves (as tempting as that may seem) but I definitely think this is not a crime to take lightly at all.

Actually, it has made the country significantly safer: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/glance/cv2.cfm

Whether or not the decline in violent crime justifies the rise in imprisonment and the decline in prison standards, or whether there might be other ways to achieve the same declines are different questions. But the United States has become significantly safer over the last ten, twenty and fifty years.

That statement is incredibly misleading.

Criminologists aren't anywhere close to a consensus on the causes of the crime rate reduction of the last few decades. Many theories have been offered, from decreased crack use, to fewer unwanted children resulting from legalized abortions, to your suggestion of harsher sentencing.

Yes, Harsher sentencing may have something to do with it, but it could just as well have increased our crime rate and been counteracted by one of the other factors.

There is no scientific consensus to support your claim.

Video games are actually one of the leading suspects for the drop in violent crimes.

The US also has a lot of crime. More people need to be in prison.

Surely that's an over simplistic view?

The real answer to your first sentence is clearly "people need to commit less crime". I would suggest there's a lot of evidence showing that the threat of prison isn't deterring crime at least amongst some demographics. Do you really think greater risk of prison is going to stop bike theft by crackheads? Or homeless? Or the poor?

It's quite possible that fixing some of the social problems would be a way more powerful motivator to stop bike theft then increasing enforcement/punishment alone. Possibly way more cost effective too.

> It's quite possible that fixing some of the social problems would be a way more powerful motivator to stop bike theft

I want to live in a society free of crime. Where children and other vulnerable people move free from violence and theft.

Is that unreasonable?

No, I think everybody agrees with you there.

What I'm questioning is your proposed method of achieving that - putting more people in prison - is it likely to help?

Does anybody seriously think that the threat of prison is deterring people from committing drug-related crime? Do you suppose a typical homeless person considers risking being put in jail for stealing to eat to be a significantly worse option than sleeping hungry and cold under a freeway overpass?

Wikipedia has some quite alarming numbers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incarceration_in_the_United_St... - one in every 31 adults, one in every 11 African-Americans " behind bars, or being monitored (probation and parole)". Surely that's pretty clear evidence that the problems leading people into committing crimes are significantly more powerful than the deterrent of prison time?

>Is that unreasonable?

No it's not unreasonable to want that, but it's probably a bit ridiculous to believe it will ever happen. And it's definitely ridiculous to believe we're going to get there by just locking more people up.

America has 5% of the world's population, but nearly 25% of the world's prisoners--do you really think we need to increase that. Over 3% of adults are under some kind of correctional supervision--where do we stop?

Care to back that up? Does the US really have that much more crime that justifies locking up more people? Recent stuff I've read on this agrees with Cass (http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2012/01/30/120...).

dmm's point was made by several people in the comments thread for the very article you cite, some of them quoting statistics: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3691372

tl;dr: In the U.S. in only 20% of murder cases the perpetrator is found and convicted of murder, compared with (allegedly) 90% in Japan. At the same time, even if all non-violent offenders (that includes all drug offenses) were released from prisons in the U.S. tomorrow, the U.S. would still have double the incarceration rate of Western Europe.

I don't know enough to have an opinion either way, but intuitively this message has a true ring to it: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3696583

Going from 7 times Europe's rate to double Europe's rate is still pretty significant.

On your second link, the first half is reasonable, but the second half utterly misses the point. The reason why the police wait in 'The Wire' and in real life is because they're gathering evidence. If they don't have enough evidence, the case won't stick. Similarly, they're trying to catch the kingpins. If you catch the front-line dudes you can fill your prisons with them, but there will always be more (in places where it's bad, like where the Wire is set).

It's weird that given the US already has such an immense problem with overincarceration that you think the solution is to lock people up over even more trivial issues. Where are those people going to be stored? Given the already clogged courts, aren't you going to have to abandon due process in order to get so many through?

You still haven't shown that overincarceration is actually a problem in any meaningful sense. The solution could just as easily be to open more courts.

There already is too little money for courts (and the prisons the subsequent influx of prisoners are going to need), so where is it going to come from?

It's pointless, really, because if you honestly don't think that overincarceration is 'actually a problem', then you're so one-eyed that nothing I say will sway you.

There are stories all the time about prisons being run for profit. If the prison industry is profitable, perhaps it can be made profitable enough to pay for more courts as well. More prisons would of course be a net gain rather than a loss.

Who is it that you think pays for the prisons that are profitable? Who is their customer?

I mean, you're saying here that somehow the state would get more money back from the private prisons than they paid them, so they could spend this surplus on courts?

I have no idea. If the state is the customer, who is running the prisons? (And why are prisons allowed to be run by a non-state entity?)

I don't give a damn about statistics. I want to be able to live anywhere in the US safely.

Would you allow your 6yo to walk alone at night through any city in the US?

I think you should be able to. I think a person should be able to live anywhere in the US without encountering violence on a daily basis, without hearing gunshots every night.

Because that isn't true, I think there is too much crime.

There is a solution. A totalitarian police state with no privacy and draconian punishments.

Increased incarceration and police powers reach an eventual point of diminishing returns.

Do you know what the likelihood of a 6 year old being abducted or killed by a stranger are? Do a google search and you'll probably be surprised by how uncommon it is. Fewer children are abducted in the classic "stranger danger" manner (unknown attacker as opposed to a friend or family member) than are struck by lightning each year.

If we can save 10 6 year olds per year, is it worth incarcerating 100 extra people, 1000, 10,000...1,000,000? At what point does the increased risk of snaring innocent people, and the financial cost outweigh the small gains in "safety"?

> I don't give a damn about statistics.

This is a surprising stance to encounter on HN. The article I linked to asserted that although crime in NYC has gone drastically down, incarceration rates have not gone up. I found that interesting, do you?

Elsewhere in this thread you suggest executing bike thieves as they commit theft, and although I'm not sure you were entirely serious, I'm afraid we're going to agree on much about this issue.

we're not going to agree on much about this issue.

> I don't give a damn about statistics. I want to be able to live anywhere in the US safely.

That would be a statistic, too.

compared to Germany the percentage of criminals seems the same - it's just that our criminals are on the streets, yours in prison.

Can you make an RFID tag that you can embed in the bike such that it's easy to scan at a small distance, but also hard for the thieves to fry it or remove it? Because in order to be successful it would be to be standardized and if standardized the thieves would fry it if easy.


Already exists:


Goes down the seat tube and is a one-way insert only. Cannot be pulled back out, and is too large to push down and get out of the bottom bracket shell.

I actually have those installed in all my bikes.

Far simpler though: Every one of my bikes is littered with very small notes saying "If this bike was not brought into the shop by David Kitchen it is stolen, please call 07740949xxx".

Those notes are in the stem, under the bar tape, under the rim tape, in the bottom bracket shell, in the seat tube, in the seat post. Everywhere you can hide a small note whilst building the bike that will be found when servicing the bike.

I printed them on plastic using a Dymo machine, they weigh nothing... and if my bikes were stolen then one day they will arrive in a bike store for a service, and be returned to me.

That sounds great. Now you need volunteers who run readers everywhere and upload them to a common website. People can see where their bike shows up.

http://Taggle.com.au (I'm an investor) has a small device that allows remote tracking of assets like bicycles for years without an external power supply. The tiny devices broadcast a low powered wide spectrum ping every 20 mins to 1 hour and very smart receivers triangulate to provide coordinates. The transmitters can also send data, generally a meter reading or if a secure element is broken.

Taggle Systems are focussing first on remote reading of water meters and other water utility use cases, but once networks are in place then tracking bikes will be doable.

In Cali, theft of anything under $400 in value is a misdemeanor...that means stealing your typical bike under about $1000 isn't a major crime.

Increasing severity of penalties doesn't generally work for cutting recidivism (and you'd have to steal a lot of bikes to make the caused harm proportionate to jail time for a person, even if you subscribe to the lizard brain "revenge" school of thought on punishment).

Not in Vancouver or even on the new continent, but http://translate.google.nl/translate?sl=nl&tl=en&u=h... shows an arrest from the Dutch supreme court on bait bicycles ("lokfietsen") that shows the method gets used.

The Netherlands seems to be a good place look if there are any solutions - they have a huge percentage of people using bicycles in their cities.

And we have a huge bike theft issue that's been going on for decades. Keep looking...

Seriously, the only things that have somewhat alleviated the problem is better locks and guarded bike parking facilities.

Agreed. Further, take the PD out of the equation. There needs to be a grassroots effort. Each new bike purchase should be in tied to register and be active in an online community to police the used bike market and put the swueeze on organized bike thieves.

"- Police in the greater Vancouver area have had a lot of success with bait cars, but I'm not aware of bait bikes being used more than experimentally"

I know Santa Clara PD has (is?) using bait bikes to some extent. AFAIK the units themselves are made by pegtech.com .

When I was a kid (GET OFF MY LAWN!!!)

We used to be able to register our bikes with the police department. They'd stamp a registration number onto the frame of the bike using lettered taps and a hammer. The only way to take off the registration is to either file it down or cover it over, in either case a clear indication the bike is stolen.

I got a bike stolen 3 times. Twice I got one back when the police found it (once the bike had upgrades too. Better front fork, better grips and 2nd rider peddels had been added)

Anyway, I'm sure someone will cite "budget cuts" but I certainly wish they still registered bikes. It seems like in a city like SF there are enough cyclists, revenues from registering the bikes could pay for a few bike police.

According to their website https://www.nationalbikeregistry.com/, the SFPD as well as other police departments in the Bay Area use the National Bike Registry.

That's still how they do it in Japan. Registration is mandatory for all bicycles. From what I hear you need to bring proof when there's a transfer of ownership, etc.

Yep. The only downside is that if a policeman is in a bad mood you may get stopped and checked to make sure you aren't a thief. Only heard of it happening to foreigners (not myself though) but it's a good idea to keep a card in your wallet or a photo of your registration (which is actually a really good idea for anyone traveling/living abroad: if you can keep them in a safe/encrypted place, carrying a photo of your passport, gaijin card, etc. is a pretty good idea in case you put on the wrong pants one day).

I imagine that just the fear of being stopped by an officer would deter people from buying stolen bikes, thus effectively making stealing bikes much less valuable.

I'm in Tokyo and I got stopped twice by police officers wanting to check my bike, on a 3 month period (I do 2 rides of 30 mins a day). For basically no reason (other than being a foreigner in a country where the police is racist?)

Many places in Japan are basically bike theft free. I used to live in a town in Kansai where people just left the bikes in the train station for their commutes without any kind of locks, and just found them in the evening when they were back. I was completely amazed by this. In Tokyo they mostly used basic locks that came with the bike, not sure what's the situation now, a decade later.

Now, some "gaijin" saw a business opportunity there and basically this level of safety is over in most big cities. I think it's totally understandable that they target foreigners. Japan is one of the safest places in the world and they want it to remain that way.

Do you have any evidence it was a 'gaijin' or is that just racism?

If you are < 30 then it's not racism. It's profiling. The fact of the matter is that most young foreigners in Tokyo are complete hooligans. They're there because their families are on business or in the military. They freely roam one of the world's largest cities with almost no fear of the police. And, yes, they steal bikes with impunity, amongst other things.

Even if you do get stopped for genuine wrong-doing, the worst that happens is you get a talking to or a citation at the nearest kōban. Better yet, if you learn even the tiniest bit of Japanese that will generally set the policeman at ease.

I've been stopped numerous times as well. I am ethnically Japanese and speak Japanese as well. Usually this happens to me after the trains have stopped running and while I'm stopped at a light anyways.

This has stopped recently though... I am wearing a cycling kit, switched to a road bicycle, and riding in traffic. So likely I've dropped out casual thief profile.

Foreigners want to buy cheap bikes because they don't stay long, they are not sure to resell bike when they leave and they usually take the bike back with them. Stolen bikes are cheap.

That sounds like a very minor inconvenience. Just keep proof of ownership with you and the problem is solved? After all, the only way the system can work, is if it's actually policed.

In Tokyo they were really active in checking it too. Police going around and randomly stopping you to check your bike registration. I think I was checked three times in two years (maybe because I'm a foreigner).

They used to do this in D.C. , but the problem was engraving into your new bike will void the frame warranty. The police used to use this registration as a way to stop any bike messenger and check if your bike was registered. If it wasn't they impounded it and you had to pay a fine to get it back, usually $5.

My local police station in San Francisco still does bike registration: http://www.inglesidepolicestation.com/#!__bike-registration

The website looks like something out of the late 90's, and the form is a Word document, but it's nice that it exists. It evidently gets some use too, as they occasionally recover a stash of stolen bicycles and post pictures of the ones that weren't registered.

The problem is that if the police do bike registration, but nobody actually expects bikes to be registered, then nobody cares that their stolen bike is registered.

Bike registration would be a great service to outsource to bike shops. It generates foot traffic for the shop, costs almost nothing, and the local PDs can work with the bike shops in a fashion similar to how PDs work with pawn shops.

Provide a national registry, sell ads, viola! YC 2013, baby! (Okay, maybe not, but a useful public service niche.)

Police stations in the UK will do this also, however they use some kind of UV ink as not to draw so much attention to it.

Various Police forces also do cycle marking for free, worth checking the website of your local force. This isn't UV ink but a unique number that is etched into the frame (they've different etches for different frame materials, I've had both steel and carbon fibre frames done).

MET: http://www.met.police.uk/transport/cycle_marking.html BTP: http://www.btp.police.uk/neighbourhood_policing/london_south...

Always used to be postcodes stamped on an unobstrusive bit of the frame when I was a kid (a looooong time ago).

Yup, I had the same on my bike of 25 years ago! Not easily transferred though if you wanted to sell the bike to someone else.

The unique number etched into the frame can be transferred though. The one you get free from the UK Police is the same as the Silver Kit here: https://www.bikeregister.com/

It makes sense that large-scale operations are common in locations with a big bike scene. These will likely require a distribution network, so fighting bike theft might benefit from focusing on infiltrating those networks.

I had a friend who bought a bike lock that was insured against any thefts (whether they were quick with the insurance, I don't know). When he went to register it, he saw that there were two exceptions, one of which was the city in which he lived: Eugene Oregon, a town with tens of thousands of students. After asking around, he was told bike thieves there loaded entire bike racks onto trucks in a couple minutes, then removed each lock at their leisure in a storage facility.

I find it hard to imagine that they sold them off individually: it's too suspicious to have a few people selling hundreds of bikes. Likewise, delegating to underlings to sell the bikes also seems too risky, as several people now know about the enterprise. I suppose they sell wholesale to used bike shops in other towns who are in the know.

The solution in this case would seem to be turning criminals into witnesses, a la drug enforcement. Enforcement on an individual-basis wouldn't work: mere possession of a single stolen bicycle is unlikely to prove criminality. I doubt penalizing individuals for owning a bike (as with counterfeit money) would work either: if I go to a used bike shop to buy a bike, they're not going to give me the "stolen discount" - the shop is going to mark it up to the same price as legitimate used bikes.

i just had my bike stolen on 8/3 in portland. the thief tried selling it on craigslist up in seattle, and i made a youtube video about it...


i've been looking into the thief... his usual m.o. is to take them down to eugene. he also picks up different ones while he's down there, and sells them here in portland and seattle. i think his theft ring has a couple of other people involved, but i haven't been able to confirm it. i am hoping to do a follow-up video about this.

> Likewise, delegating to underlings to sell the bikes also seems too risky, as several people now know about the enterprise.

It seems to work for drug dealers.

Well, but with drugs I assume a lot of purchases are from repeat costumers, so it's easier to call less attention.

There is a bike seller in Manhattan who uses an interesting system in reselling his (more than likely) stolen bikes.

Once a buyer contacts him via craigslist, he finds out the persons general vicinity, brings the bike to the area and locks it up with a combo lock based chain. He will give you the address of the bike, and if you like it, can make the purchase online and you receive the combination. If you don't want it, he can pick it up who knows when - or leave it for someone else to check out. If the bike gets stolen, he hasn't lost anything on his bottom line and at no point is he in physical communication with the actual purchaser.

I'd say a more enterprising bike thief could really take advantage of this guy. Multiple email addresses to contact seller, regularly arrange viewings of these bikes and just steal them, probably using the same sort of equipment the seller uses to 'acquire' the bike originally!

interesting; i’d say that's pretty damn brilliant.

then again, if the risk of being caught (and punished) is as low in NY as it appears to be in SF, that seems like a bit of an overkill; wonder what the scale of his organization is..?

This same concept was debated within the realm of drug trade - which obviously is at a different risk level. With special compartment style locks on a chain, the same concept is possible - without a dealer having to ever interact directly with the buyer. Same concept can also exist for hiding information (whistle blowers hiding a SD card with data, a key, who knows what).

I don't know about SF, but it is not uncommon to see just a bike chain hanging on a post - it just fits in to the environment and no one will notice someone just walking up and taking their chain with the right combination.

>Same concept can also exist for hiding information

In which case it is known as a "cold drop".

considered drugs in this case, but couldn't figure out how that would work; how would you prevent theft (from your would-be customer)?

there’s no conceivable way i can think of to present a drug for someone to ‘check-out’ without enabling that person to steal it..

I've been reading a lot of books on the subject lately and I think that's exactly how a lot street-level dealers (the lowest ranked members of the empire) are operating. The dealer would hide their product somewhere close by, for example in an empty soda can in a garbage bin or in a crack in the pavement. Once a client has made a purchase the dealer would tell the client where his stuff is hidden and the client can then go and take it.

If a dealer was busted he would never have any product on him, and the risk is relatively low if you consider that these people usually deal in units worth probably less than 20$ each. So if a package gets stolen or lost it's no big deal really.

This is illustrated at length in The Wire season 1.

Presumably people will want to buy drugs from a dealer more than once so it wouldn't be worth ruining the relationship. Also dealers are usually connected to some sort of crime network so it's probably a risky proposition to simply steal from them outright.

As mentioned there are combination locks that contain a compartment - i.e. http://www.armstronglock.com/product_info.php?products_id=17...

While in this case perhaps it wouldn't be to 'check it out' but certainly post purchase or whatever requirements needed to exist prior to getting the combination. It is subtle enough to blend in to an urban landscape where abandoned(?) locks on chains aren't all that out of the norm.

Just give them a free sample.

If the risk of theft weren't so high that would be a pretty cool way to do a zipcar-style bike service.

boston has a zipcar bike system [better than zipcar because the bikes can be returned at any designated drop off/pickup location] called "hubway" but it is heavily subsidized [maybe entirely, im not sure]

I think a useful tactic to curb loss of expensive bikes would be to legally target the people who buy them, these are the people that cause the market to exist and perpetuate the situation. My guess is that most of these people are not crooks, i.e. they are just young people who want to but can't afford a nice bike and they know exactly what they are buying. I don't understand anything about bikes so can't give an example there, but if a person would approach me to sell, say, a 2010 Prius for $5K, I just know that is a stolen car. If knowingly buying a stolen car carries even a small legal charge, most people wouldn't do it.

Tangentially, and pardon my ignorance, I'm not a biker: I can't understand people who shell out thousands of dollars for a bike, are these so much better than a $500 one?

"I just know that is a stolen car"

Which is why criminals do not charge half of its used value -- they charge 100% of the used value just like everyone else.

You cannot tell a stolen bike on craigslist apart from a non-stolen bike based on the price alone.

The problem of stolen cars is addressed through licensing and registration. Not to mention, bicycles do not have a reliable and standardized VIN system like cars do. The fact is, the hassle of creating and enforcing such a system probably outweighs the positive aspects of preventing bike crime.

I lived in a town that required all bikes to be registered and licensed, and all sales of bikes to go through the local government. It was such a big pain that I would rather just live with the higher risk of theft and the lack of enforcement.

What town was this?

Many towns have laws like this from the 1970s that are unenforced (except, perhaps, as an excuse to bother the people police don't like).

San Diego just repealed theirs: http://www.bikesd.org/2012/08/02/city-of-san-diego-to-remove...

The LAPD was ticketing riders on large group rides a while back for not having their bikes registered. It was a misapplication of the law, since the law was supposed to protect cyclists from theft, not get them ticketed if they didn't have their stamp. The idea was that the bike shop registered your bike when you purchased it.

The cyclists stormed city hall and complained loudly, and the police were forced to stop doing this.

More often they charge 75-90% of its used value, enough of a discount to move it quickly but high enough of a price to avoid looking "too good to be true."

Not sure if it applies to all of Japan or just the city where I lived, but there was a requirement to license and register your bike with the local police department. Despite that my bike still got stolen from my apartment building, and from what I heard from others bike theft was not uncommon.

>Tangentially, and pardon my ignorance, I'm not a biker: I can't >understand people who shell out thousands of dollars for a bike, >are these so much better than a $500 one?

They are better. They aren't 5x better (as if this was even quantifiable)... but if you are passionate about biking and you spend a lot of time on your bike, it can seem worth it.

I spend much more time on my bike than in my car... and I appreciate the improved ride of associated with an extra $1000 on a bike more than I'd appreciate the improvements from spending an extra $5000 on a car. So, it certainly seems reasonable to me.

> I can't understand people who shell out thousands of dollars for a bike, are these so much better than a $500 one

They are significantly and astonishingly better if you do something that style of bike is designed to do - eg. ride 40km as efficiently as possible, go up mountains all day, sprint finishes, etc.

They aren't 10 times better, but that's not how subjective value works.

How do you charge someone with knowingly buying a stolen product in a legal system where someone can plead the 5th? How do you prove they knew?

Typically legal systems don't go after end consumers of stolen or counterfeit products, they go after suppliers, because they can prove that suppliers are actively breaking the law.

Knowingly purchasing stolen goods is already illegal in most places. The key is the "knowingly" part.

You would have to have a ubiquitous BikeID system in a central registry of stolen bikes. It would have to be incredibly easy to check the status of a BikeID (web/email/phone/sms). It would have to have incredible traction.

At that point if someone bought a bike which was tagged in the system as stolen, and didn't check/report it within 48 hours, they could be considered complicit in the theft.

We're getting pretty close to this with cars. I'm pretty libertarian in my ideology, but at some point the barrier is so low to running a CarFax-esque check that even I wouldn't mind penalizing buyers who don't do due diligence. It is, of course, easier to justify with higher ticket items than with bikes or phones...

Actually, purchasing stolen goods is illegal in most places, full stop. The reason is that it's practically impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt what somebody did or didn't know, and when.

The BikeID idea is about as old as bike theft, but it's pretty difficult to enforce. If you care enough about not buying a stolen bike, the solution is simple: Ask for the original invoice. If not, you're not going to bother looking up the bike.

You could sweep parking areas, but you'd only return the bikes to their owners, at considerable cost to operate - and buying a stolen bike is still free of risk of punishment.

> Actually, purchasing stolen goods is illegal in most places, full stop.

In my state, the statute says "such person knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe the same to have been feloniously stolen or taken".

I doubt any state makes receiving stolen goods in complete ignorance a crime. However, the stolen goods are generally recoverable by the original owner, whether or not the person receiving them purchased them in good faith.

And the "reasonable" is in regard to the legal reasonable person, not to the individual in question, so "I just thought it sounded like a really good deal" isn't really a defence (that's how we spell it here) unless you had equally reasonable grounds to believe that the deal was square. If there's one really cheap bike at what appears to be a yard sale, you're probably okay, but if there are ten of them, well, you're legally expected to be at least a little suspicious.

>However, the stolen goods are generally recoverable by the original owner, whether or not the person receiving them purchased them in good faith.

This is good. Usually there is just a demand for bikes. With this system there will be a demand for non-stolen bikes. The prices for stolen bikes go down and so does stealing them.

> "The prices for stolen bikes go down and so does stealing them."

If the buyer did not know the bike was stolen, this will only punish the buyer and have no effect on the price of bicycles, since one cannot distinguish between a stolen vs. non-stolen bike (short of, say, suspiciously low prices, which has been called out elsewhere in this thread as a non-issue).

As usual, it's probably more complicated than that…

I wonder how much the "market price" for 2nd hand bikes is driven by the large(?) volume of stolen bikes in the market? Are legitimate bike sellers being forced into selling at lower-then-desired price points by a glut of stolen bikes being offered for 15 or 20% below "current prices", perhaps over time settling on unrealistically low market expectations? I wonder how big a percentage of the total demand for 2nd hand bikes is being met by the supply of stolen bikes? And what the effect of removing the stolen portion of the supply would be on the market price?

It's possible that if you raised barriers against selling stolen bikes, the prices of legitimate 2nd hand bike would rise, creating a "gap" where the time and money customizing/disguising stolen bikes became worthwhile.

Why would a purchaser, after paying, ever check a stolen registry? So they can add themselves to the list of victims as well?

Pre-transaction diligence is workable, post-transaction checks are a non-starter.

Just to avoid getting into legal trouble, for starters.

How can you tell if a bike you are buying is stolen? It would be pretty easy for a bike thief to post an ad on Craigslist saying they are selling their used bike.

>>Tangentially, and pardon my ignorance, I'm not a biker: I can't understand people who shell out thousands of dollars for a bike, are these so much better than a $500 one?

It makes a huge difference. More expensive bikes are built from lighter and stronger materials (such as carbon fiber), are more aerodynamic and have better balance. Just to name a few of the benefits.

I would argue it's often more about falling into the same trap as 'audiophiles' as it is about direct benefits. Few people notice the added weight from drinking 2lb of water but people spend hundreds of dollars shaving 1/10th of that from their bike.

It does make a very considerable difference, if you're serious about your biking, though. Plus, more expensive bikes are not necessarily lighter - there are many variables involved on the price (wrist comfort, seating type, suspensions, frame stiffness/weight, numbers and quality of gears, etc) - many more than the usual 'audiophile' choosing range.

But yeah, a lot of people buy expensive rides for the looks and have no idea what do do with them...

In my experience, it stops making a difference once you have to carry a 20 lb kryptonite chain to lock it. I just spent all that money on a light bike, and now it's 20 pounds heavier. I hate bike thieves.

Just had my bike stolen last week in NYC

It's been said that all appropriately-paired combinations of bikes and locks weigh 50 lbs.

Unlike audiophile "benefits", weight loss to cyclists is directly quantifiable in theory[1] and measurable[2].

It's true that it is usually much cheaper to lose weight on the rider than on the bike, but for some people it is probably easier (and more fun!) to spend the money.

[1] 1.5 kg makes ~8.5 second difference over 2000m on a 3% slope hill http://www.analyticcycling.com/ForcesLessWeight_Page.html

[2] http://www.training4cyclists.com/how-much-time-does-extra-we...

[1] that's assuming your vary light, climbing the whole trip, and have a terrible power output of 250w and uses 3lb which is a fair amount and even then 8.5 seconds after a 2km climb.

A more realistic 400w + 120lb rider +3% grade for 2000km then a negative 3% grade for 2000km and a weight diffidence of .3lb for 300$. End result after 4,000km is less than 5 minutes wow that's worth 300$.

[2] 1 trip using human riders hardly qualify's as measurement. But even still measurement is next to meaningless you can detect cocaine on most people in an international airport that does not mean they have had anything but the most indirect contact with the stuff.

PS: Sure if your racing professionally then things change around, but that's a tiny portion of the bike community.

When you are out riding with your friends, you typically want to beat them to the top of climb. A 2km climb is fairly reasonable for that type of climb.

You are right - 200w is low - I just used the default values. If you look on Strava, most middle-of-the-pack people post power in the low 300watts.

1.5 kg is easily the difference between a < $1000 bike and a $2000 bike. Cycling (as a sport) has a lot of financially wealthy (but time poor) people (the same people who used to play golf). These people aren't interested in the cost effectiveness of an upgrade, just weather it will help them beat their friends up a hill on the Saturday ride.

Personally, I think using ~$200 carbon fiber water bottle cages to save 30 grams is a waste of money. But the truth is that the grams they save do add up, and the weight does make a difference on hills. If you don't care about money (!) then why not spend the money....

To chime in - offroading with a mountain Bike - if I take a drop > ~5 feet or so, the tires on my (former) $500 dollar bike would Taco.So yeah, there's a diff, and its not always weight.

Alas, my bike was targeted and stolen. :(

For me the price isn't about the weight, it's about me commuting in a city with huge hills, rain, and long flat stretches. My commute goes up and down several 300ft hills and across a long bridge (Seattle to Bellevue). So I end up riding a road bike with a large gear range and disc brakes. This isn't easy to setup, and my components cost more than the frame. When you commute every day 45 minutes each way, it also makes sense to spend some money on comfort (I mean that's 400 hours a year you are on the bike). Most people do it when they buy cars, it's the same think.

It completely depends on one's typical ride. If you're climbing 10% grades all day in lycra, then 5 lbs makes an enormous difference. If, on the other hand, you're carrying a 10 lbs lock and 40 lbs of stuff in your panniers, then, yeah, the weight of the bike won't matter that much. In the latter case a heavier bike may actually be better.

As much as everyone obsesses over weight, it's not the only difference between a $500 bike an a $5000. The more expensive components are also going to have more-difficult-to-quantify benefits like fit and finish (i.e., look prettier). The higher-end components also work better: shifting will be much more consistent, bearings will roll more freely, brakes won't require as much force, etc.

This is analogous to a car magazine complaining about how a particular model has a "mushy gearbox." You can still drive it, but the experience isn't as nice.

Most 'serious cyclists' don't actually spend that kind of money on that kind of weight. Some crazy people do, but some people also spend $8k on a desktop PC.

In the range of most cyclists: having carried my $400 iron-frame bike up stairs and a friend's $1500 bike up same, the difference is certainly not "1/10 of 2lb".

> More expensive bikes are built from lighter and stronger materials (such as carbon fiber)

I would recommend anyone thinking carbon fiber makes stronger bikes to visit a topical image blog at http://www.bustedcarbon.com/ :)

The weight issue is addressed elsewhere in comments...

I hate, hate, hate the anti-scientific view that busted carbon promotes.

Carbon fiber's failure mode is different to metal - it breaks rather than bends. In most cases crashes that destroyed carbon frames would have also destroyed metal frames - but a frame bent out of alignment doesn't look as spectacular.

It is possible to build a bike from carbon fiber that fails in surprising ways (eg, clamping it in a bike carrier). That's because CF allows more flexibility in building with it, not because it is inherently weak.

If you want a strong carbon frame buy a cheap one. They typically use the same number of layer of fiber all over the frame (instead of trying to minimize weight in low strain parts) and they use plain woven fiber aligned randomly. That makes the bike heavier than a high-end frame, and not as strong for expected stresses (pedalling) as it could be for the same weight but it makes it more robust in the even on unexpected strains.

I hate, hate, hate the anti-scientific view that busted carbon promotes

WAT? Are you a materials engineer? Its CRP - carbon reinforce PLASTIC. The resin is prone to degradation from fatigue cycles. Raw carbon fiber without resin is brittle, think pencil leads. Bike racers (not sponsered) commonly race aluminum frame because a single "drop" if it doesn't render the fram unusable from catastrophic damage, can render it structurally unsound. That's the nature of carbon fiber. If my CF (CRP) motorcycle helmet so much as drops on the ground, it has to be X-rayed by by SHOEI to test for unseen damage that would render it unfit to work in an accident.

Strength is misleading for a material that is not tough. Steel frames and Titanium frames are far tougher than CF/CRP frames, they can survive crashes without catastrophic failure. Even the Pro-peleton used ALU drop bars for many years for two reasons (1) they bend, dont break in a crash; (2) CF bars don't reveal potentially catastrophic failure to the naked eye (like the moto Helmet example), so even A minor drop (if it looks ok and you keep going) is now a huge risk factor (when racing in close quarters - you bars break, you can take out alot of people).


If you need more "scientific" evidence, for any reason, use Google compare shear/failure points of epoxy resin (vs steel vs titanium vs Alu etc). Yes you can overbuild anything, but you need to understand the materials you are working with. And also, as those pictures show, in the REAL WORLD the stuff that is for sale BREAKS.

How about these quotes from the first page:

"She spent a few days in the hospital over this. On a normal ride with friends and frame let go"

"This shot is of a friend’s seat post sometime after he adjusted the saddle height"

"Just 'popped' when I stood up to do a fast sprint"

"I managed to mostly avoid it but got pushed into a barricade and when I looked down my bike was in two pieces"

"I was sprinting through busy downtown San Jose traffic with a guy a fixed gear when my seatpost went "ka-RACK." Fixie kid laughed."

(well that's just the first half of the page, will stop pasting now)

I'm not sure what your point is?

Yes, people get injured when they have bike crashes.

Yes (as I noted), carbon can fail. Metal can too! [1] is a much better survey of random broken bikes than bustedcarbon. [2] is a good summary of the hysteria around breaking carbon frames and some of the facts.

Here's a pic of a broken titanium (!) bottom bracket: http://www.pardo.net/bike/pic/fail-001/FAIL-143.html

Assorted mostly steel and aluminium broken frame pics: http://www.pardo.net/bike/pic/fail-001/FAIL-167.html

[1] http://www.pardo.net/bike/pic/fail-001/000.html

[2] http://isolatecyclist.bostonbiker.org/2011/02/21/carbon-bicy...

I guess one point is that carbon fails catastrophically more often, your metal links point to breaks where the bike still stayed in one piece. Yeah, they're not unheard of with metal bikes, but much more rare.

The injury quote was about her getting injured because the carbon frame just fell apart with no warning (no crash, except after the frame failure of course).

I guess one point is that carbon fails catastrophically more often

- There are "scientific" reasons why these things break for no apparent reason. b/c carbon is prone to developing "flaws", not all of which are visible (to naked eye). These happen either through previous impact damage or fatigue cycles.

- Carbon failure can cascade (snap...snap...snap...). Once the structure is compromised, the lack of sheer strength combined with different-from-design force vectors...are not good (a two-sided trianle = wishbone...) Look at how many carbon parts had multiple, complete failures.

- A metal frame will dent or bend if damaged; it doesn't hide flaws nearly to the same extent. You might get a hairline crack, but unlikely 3-4 snapped cross-sections.

-Obviously, getting hit by a truck or whatever doen't matter what you are riding.

That is a cool link. Carbon has tensile but not shear strength. As the evidence shows.

In absolute terms, Tenstile (psi x1,000) for Ti Vs CFRP Tensile = 145 vs 215 Shear= 135 vs 1.5 <<that is why things go crack.

Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer (CFRP) Composition: 70% carbon fibers in epoxy matrix Property Value in metric unit Value in US unit Density 1.6 10³ kg/m³ 101 lb/ft³ Tensile modulus (LW) 181 GPa 26300 ksi Tensile modulus (CW) 10.3 GPa 1500 ksi Tensile strength (LW) 1500 MPa 215000 psi Tensile strength (CW) 40 MPa 5800 psi Thermal expansion (20 ºC, LW) 0.0210-6 ºCˉ¹ 0.0110-6 in/(in ºF) Thermal expansion (20 ºC, CW) 22.510-6 ºCˉ¹ 12.510-6 in/(in* ºF)

LW- Lengthwise direction, CW- Crosswise direction

[1] http://www.substech.com/dokuwiki/doku.php?id=epoxy_matrix_co...

[2] http://www.substech.com/dokuwiki/doku.php?id=titanium_near-a....

These are directinally correct for raw materials; the actual alloys and engineered structures will take into account obvious characteristics of the material.

The difference between a nice "adult" bike and a cheap department store bike is night and day.

The expensive bike won't rust. The expensive bike can be repaired when things break. The expensive bike is half the weight.

If you are using your bike frequently, it's better in the long run to have decent hardware.

Sure, the department store bikes are garbage, but you can get a perfectly good brand name basic city bike for well under $1000.

Bikes mass is marginal compared to your body weight especially if you're average weight. A basic bike is 34 lbs and you are 175 lbs. And the weight only makes a big difference when climbing hills.

You're much better off losing a few pounds of fat than spending a few grand to get 10 lbs off the bike and shaving 2% off the required muscle power per mile :)

In general, about weight, I agree. One exception is rotating mass (i.e., wheels). A light, well-built wheel handles a lot better than a heavy one. No amount of personal weight loss is going to make up for that.

Beyond mass, the behavior of shifters and brakes on nice bikes is much, much crisper and more predictable than on cheaper models. They also have better capacity for tuning (e.g., to eliminate chain rub, or accommodate a high-range sprocket set), and are more likely to stay in proper adjustment for longer. This makes riding a lot more fun -- the machine is very responsive to your wishes, and you forget it's there.

You probably are aware of this, but I felt a need to mention some of the advantages of a nice bike.

You're right about the difference that lowering your body mass makes. It's the easiest way to drop the weight that you have to pedal around. I have a cyclist friend who loves to claim "I just took a $1000 shit," the joke being that that's how much it would cost him to get a $poop_mass lighter bicycle.

However, this doesn't apply to racers. If it's going to speed someone up by 2%, and he's got the money, and he wants that last tiny advantage, he may just drop the cash on a $1500 wheel set.

Heck, if it's going to speed him up enough to make a 50m difference over a 200km road race, it's worth the price to an actual racer. (And there will probably considerable time spent tweaking even the best of things to perfection before each race.) But they are so very, very few in number, even if it's sometimes hard to tell when you pass that one local cafe that is populated exclusively by spandex-wearing, logo-encrusted latte drinkers who gather to talk about their bikes.

And the weight only makes a big difference when climbing hills

For most people the weight makes the biggest difference when climbing stairs (with the bike on your shoulder).

Ah, heh. I can't imagine doing that... would get mud, snow and grease all over even if I could be bothered with all the wrangling.

> Tangentially, and pardon my ignorance, I'm not a biker: I can't understand people who shell out thousands of dollars for a bike, are these so much better than a $500 one?

Think about one thing you're passionate about. There's going to be products that are good enough for the casual, every-day user and there's going to be premium goods, even if there's a decreasing price/performance ratio. Since we're on HN, I feel safe talking about computers.

Compare the $1000 3.9GHz i7 from Intel and the $500 3.8GHz version. Do some people need the minor performance increase enough to pay for it? Sure. Enough to create a market? Nope. It's people wanting to buy things just to show they can pay for it.

Well, given the amount I will use that computer over the 2 years I have it and the disruption to flow that processing pauses cause, a ~10% increase in performance might be worth the premium. I imagine there's similar logic for bikes. But you're right, sometimes people just want to show off.

Wild handwavey ballpark estimate follows.

Your 2 year timeframe for a computer - lets call that 500 days (assuming its for work, and rounding to 2significant digits).

That's $1 per day "extra" for the slightly faster processor.

Which is what, well under two minutes of most people reading here's hourly rate.

If you use that computer for anything more processor bound than word processing, that apparently tiny speed bump of under 3% will probably _easily_ pay for it's $500 premium.

Hell, I'd probably save $1 per day in time spent not waiting for chrome to open/render all the links I click from HN in a day on a slightly faster machine…

If you put it that way, I wonder how much it is worth a day to not read HN..

Yep. It's like the difference between a netbook and a MBP. Can you get work done on both? Yep. Is it Easier/Better/Faster on the MBP? Yep.

The question is, if you see a couple year old Trek on ebay for ~800, with some mix of 105 and Bontrager parts, is it stolen or is it a good deal?

That's assuming that they are selling the bikes at a far lower price than the market rate. Wise crooks probably know to offer a realistic price.

The prices for second hand bicycles are all over the place anyway. There's a significant number of people who will buy a reasonably expensive bike and keep it in the shed for years and then by the time they decide to get rid of it they have no idea what it's worth so will just sell it for below it's value.

> Tangentially, and pardon my ignorance, I'm not a biker: I can't understand people who shell out thousands of dollars for a bike, are these so much better than a $500 one?

Yes, they're considerably better - the price is directly reflected on aspects such as durability and weight of the components (frame, gearing, wheels, etc). Keep in mind, though, that buying the most expensive bike around just to commute 10-20 miles to work won't be a good investment - you should go for a good quality one when you're serious about long distance training or hard core mountain biking, for instance (usually after you're already practicing whichever style you prefer - a lot of people invest in an expensive bike upfront and never really use it to its full capacity).

(or assemble your own. It's fun, specially for hackers/geeks!)

> I can't understand people who shell out thousands of dollars for a bike, are these so much better than a $500 one?

Sure, if you want a MTB for blazing offroad trails or a road bike for touring. For your regular 20 minute commute, a sub-$1000 city bike is pretty much the sweet spot (depending on your available disposable income of course).

I'm torn over policies of targeting buyers of stolen goods. It's easy to think everyone buying stolen goods knows exactly what they are getting into.

Yet, not too long ago, I purchased a vehicle for a wholly reasonable price. I got the original pink slip. I got the keys. There were absolutely no signs of breaking & entering. Yet, I take it to the DMV to get registered, and what do you know- it's stolen property.

I lost my shirt on that deal, and it would have made it a million times worse if I was suddenly facing criminal charges.

Seriously, I hadn't even the slightest clue it was stolen- that is, until the police entered the DMV, looking straight at me. At that point there was only one thing that could be happening.

Shouldn't you have checked the car's plate and registration at the DMV before buying? That's standard procedure here.

Yes, you can meet at the DMV and transfer ownership and registration together, in person. But, that can be a colossal pain, especially when you're busy all week and have to do this sort of thing on the weekend, when the DMV is closed.

These days I phone in to the police records department and ask them if the plate is stolen, but you just wouldn't think that would ever be necessary when you've got the keys, title, etc... Even the officers I spoke with were surprised & confused.

The problem is many bikes are legitimately sold for well below MSRP. When a bicycle manufacturer sponsors a college team, they typically sell just-released models to team members for less than wholesale. The members will sell the bike the following year (when the frame is still considered a current model year) for the same as they paid and buy another new one.

Tangentially, and pardon my ignorance, I'm not a biker: I can't understand people who shell out thousands of dollars for a bike, are these so much better than a $500 one?

As many other answers say, yes, there is a difference.

Here are some details (for 'racing' road bikes, which I know best):

For around $400, if you buy well online you can get something with an aluminium frame, carbon fibre fork and moderately decent components (eg [1]). It'll probably weigh a bit under 30 pounds (13 kg).

For around $700 you'll get a bike with similar specs from a major manufacturer and you can get it from a bike shop, where they will assemble it for you, make sure you get the right size etc. See [2][3]

For around $1000 you can get a carbon fibre frame on your bike (online, with terrible components[4]) or bikes from major manufactures where the components start getting better (eg Shimano Sora 9 speed). These bikes should be between 20 and 25 pounds. See [5]

At $1500 you get bikes from major manufactures that are suitable for racing (ie, Shimano 105 10 speed, eg [6]), or can get pretty good carbon fiber bikes online. You also start getting decent bikes from high end manufactures (Bianchi, Pinarello, BMC). Most of these bikes will weigh a bit more than 20 pounds (9 kg), but if you choose carefully you might get under that.

Over $2000 you get carbon frames and Shimano's second to top component set, better wheels, and began getting under 20 pounds more often. High end only manufactures (Cervello, Ridley etc) are making their base level bikes.

Around $5000 you start getting electronic shifting, or better aero frames, deep rims on your wheels. You can start considering custom made frames. Your bike should weigh well under 20 pounds, and you can probably get down to the UCI limit of 6kg.

At $10,000 you are getting bike similar to what they ride in the Tour de France. You can get a power meter built into your crankset or wheels. The carbon frameset has been wind tunnel tested and is engineered so carefully that some parts of your frame only have a single layer of carbon, yet you still can't flex the frame at the bottom bracket. You probably have to add things like the power meter as ballast to make sure you are over the UCU weight limit. You can consider custom titanium[7] or trying to buy onto the speedvagen waiting list[8].

Over $10,000: McLaren + Specalized: http://www.bikerumor.com/2011/03/17/specialized-mclaren-veng... (actually, to be fair there are plenty of ways to spend $10K+ on a road bike. This is just one).

[1] http://www.bikesdirect.com/products/windsor/wellington3_IX.h...

[2] http://www.giant-bicycles.com/en-us/bikes/model/defy.5/9014/...

[3] http://www.trekbikes.com/us/en/bikes/road/sport/1_series/

[4] http://www.bikesdirect.com/products/fuji/fuji_sl3.htm

[5] http://www.specialized.com/us/en/bikes/road/allez/allezsport...

[6] http://www.trekbikes.com/us/en/bikes/road/sport/madone_2_ser...

[7] http://www.baumcycles.com/bikes/romano

[8] http://www.adecadentexistence.com/?p=469

Or, if you're me, you're often carrying 20 pounds of stuff in a backpack on your back anyway, which probably obviates the 5 pound difference in bike weight. I'm riding a Big Buzz: http://www.rei.com/product/775488/novara-big-buzz-bike , which is apparently "sold out" right now, and it seems to work tolerable well. I've ridden friends' expensive bikes, and most of them don't seem to be worth it unless you're racing or riding a LOT of miles.

Don't buy upgrades, ride up grades -- (allegedly) Eddy Merckx.

And don't trust doctors.

But if you want to ride fast, why buy an upright bike at all? (Unless you want to compete in races that require it.)

I live in the Netherlands, and bikes here are omnipresent. They also get stolen. A lot. Which is why most bikes you see in cities tend to be not too great looking.

About 10 years ago in the city of Utrecht the bike stealing was a really big problem. Here also the stealing of bikes is really hard to get caught with. The police used decoy bikes to catch thieves trying to steal those, but also this only catches small parts of them.

Ultimately this has been solved by also changing the way people handle this. If your bike got stolen, you just went out into the city, found a junkie, and often he had a bike for sale. If not he would have one 10 minutes later.

The police changed their approach to this, and started cracking down hard on the selling of bikes on the street. Not only the people selling them, but also the people buying the bike. Even going so far as police officers going undercover and trying to get people to buy bikes.

Within months the stealing of bikes dropped to near zero.

Freakonomics discusses the exact same factor with drug dealing and the oldest profession - adding risk to the seller results in increasing margins which attracts more sellers; whereas adding risk to the buyer results in the margins dropping too low to be worth even a small risk for the seller.

Also, when I see somebody on a re-sprayed bike, that hasn't obviously been re-sprayed with purely artistic intent, I want to beat them in the face until they die (lost too many bikes myself).

My bike has been re-painted because the old paint was coming off. I guess that counts as another excuse.

Well, luckily I wouldn't hurt a fly, so none of your type have been harmed :).

If Goldman Sachs didn’t have more profitable market inefficencies to exploit, they might be out there arbitraging stolen bikes.

Funny how no explanation is needed for this line. Goldman Sachs (and hence, Wall Street) is now the poster child for risk-free crime.

It's a curious line, and while when I read it I let it pass with conditional assent, I now think it's incorrect.

Wall Street has poorer-than-usual ethics, and does commit crimes for profit, but in general it is wary of the legal system. Wall Street tends not to exploit opportunities that run afoul of the legal system, even when they are risk-adjusted comparable to other opportunities. They would rather make money legally than illegally, if they can help it.

To use the wording of the article, Goldman Sachs (Wall Street) typically does not commit crimes when "the potential revenue from the crime [is] greater than the probability adjusted weight of getting caught", even if you set the adjusted revenue to average profitability.

In particular, Goldman Sachs (Wall Street) is gunshy with respect to the US legal system. From a charitable standpoint, perhaps this is out of an ethical respect for the law. From a cynical standpoint, perhaps there is another more involved risk calculation which takes into account long-term reputation and the unpredictability of political administrations and legal settlements. Given a long enough outlook cynical self-interest approaches ethics.

The point of grandparent was precisely that you let it pass on a first reading. It doesn't matter whether it's true, it's a huge image shift.

I've always wanted to buy a cheap bike and create a quick release bolt on the rear wheel that unspools as the wheel turns. I figure the culprit could get 3 or 4 revolutions before the back wheel falls off. Or maybe attach a length of wire to the front brake cable that wraps around the rear axel. Suddenly the wire snaps tight and yanks the front brakes. I figure it would make a good youtube series. My main fear is being stabbed to death by an angry bike thief...

This brings to mind Alan Turing's bicycle in Cryptonomicon:

  "So Turing can leave his bicycle anywhere and be confident that, if stolen, it won’t go more than a fifth of a kilometer before the chain falls off."
The whole passage (it relates eventually to Enigma and Cipher Text) is a good read: http://www.euskalnet.net/larraorma/crypto/slide18.html

Of course, the whole book is a good read, so skip the link and head to a bookstore.

Any pics of this mechanism?

No mechanism, just a damaged bicycle.

My guess is that the pros are throwing them into a van or pick-up rather than riding away on the bike.

Being stabbed to death would be a less painful and drawn-out alternative to being sued for the thief's medical bills.

European here. I thought the thief would now(after obamacare) have insurance?

Insurance companies will generally be quite happy to sue anyone they might be able to unload a bill on. If you get someone deliberately or negligently hurt in Europe, their insurance won't just roll over and pay their medical bills, either.

>in Europe, their insurance won't just roll over and pay their medical bills, either.

Sorry for being that European guy yet another time. But it is different in different countries. The Union's laws have higher priority than the countries laws. In this case though, the countries have their individual laws that go about giving everyone health care. So iirc correctly, here in communist Sweden no insurance companiy would be involved in the medical bills at all.

Booby traps are usually illegal.

Would that really be a booby trap though? Both sound more like (funny) anti-theft devices, since neither are intended to maim.

It depends on where the brakes locked up. This could easily toss someone tumbling into traffic.

The "risk" as described here seems to account for only single incidences of bicycle theft. Seems like the more professional the bike thief, the larger the inventory of stolen bikes, thus the greater the penalty for being caught. Given that the value of stolen bikes on the market is relatively low, this might explain why there is no bike thief kingpin: at a certain point the risk exceeds the reward.

As an aside: I am surprised that the risk to kidnappers is considered higher than the risk to bank robbers. Can anyone explain this?

> I am surprised that the risk to kidnappers is considered higher than the risk to bank robbers. Can anyone explain this?

Kidnapping, if you're holding out for ransom, is like playing a game of hot potato but you have to wait for your opponent's go-ahead before you can toss it.

Kidnapping (if you're looking for a random) is about aquiring something you don't want and nobody wants you to have so that you can make a risky deal that exposes you. You run the risk of being set up, and even if the deal is done successfully I'd imagine you'd run the risk of revenge, especially with any target worth a large value.

It's also a more violent crime, and one which gets more police attention. As long as you have a hostage, the police will hunt you like it's a murder case, but with more urgency.

The article links to a story about Igor Kenk, he stole almost 3,000 bicycles. He was caught, sentenced to 30 months and served 16. That's a few hours per bike, I think.


This isn't an American thing apparently, it seems stealing a bike anywhere in the world has absolutely no real risk, even if you still 3,000...

Sixteen months in jail is a pretty big risk, even if it is only a few hours per bike. On the other hand, 22 of the charges were apparently drug-related.

I wonder what his dollars-per-hour-in-jail ratio was.

I believe there are some studies showing that the risk of doing any jail time, as a binary measure, is the main way jail time deters crime, with length of sentence not being a particularly effective deterrent. If there's perceived to be a 1% risk of arrest for some crime, then whether the sentence is 6 months or 6 years tends not to matter a lot, because people tend to optimistically assume they won't be caught anyway and block the other possibility out of their mind.

Partly, iirc, because people are emboldened once they've successfully done something a few times and not gotten caught; they start convincing themselves that they've figured out how to beat the system, as opposed to just having gotten lucky so far. Hence I believe one of the most effective ways to deter shoplifting, for example, is just to catch a larger percentage of attempts, even if the punishment is nominal: if someone's caught on one of their first few attempts, many will be deterred from trying further, because getting caught becomes an observed reality rather than just a theoretical possibility that can be rationalized away. Basically, some percentage of people test the boundaries but will stop trying if they get some evidence that the boundaries are really there.

Further, I think most HN readers when giving the opportunity to make $10,000 cash by stealing a bike would not risk it if their total possible punishment was a misdemeanor and 5 days in jail.

I personally want to avoid ever having to step foot in that place for any length of time.

I've spent 24 hours in a holding cell right after high school. It was cold, my seatmates weren't particularly polite, sleeping was an awkward proposition at best.

But if I was paid $2k to do it? Sure.

Aside from the toilet situation, it's not significantly worse than being on a intercontinental flight. (In fact, I'd rather spend 24 hours in that cell than three hours on a turbulent flight.)

You were in a holding cell, not jail. 5 days in jail, you would be with everyone else. Not just some guys going through processing.

My friends that have done both describe the later to be a completely different experience.

My friend who was transferred out of the holding tank into jail actually said it was much nicer once he was processed, and assigned a cell.

I wish I had an extra $10k so I could pay you to get arrested and go to jail for 5 days to see if you would actually agree to it.

I think you're underestimating how a lot of people live and what they value and then people are also underestimating what's bad about jail.

If we assume that death and sexual assault are not going to happen in this 5 days I would guess most people would do it and from what I've read it's pretty rare for either of those things to happen in the short term jails, it's prison that's the bigger risk -- and even then apparently sexual assault is way exaggerated in the media.

Can you describe what your friends have described happening in jail that makes you so against it? From the AMAs people have done on reddit about jail and prison it seems jail is something anyone with the ability to enjoy their own company can get through with ease, although I guess it could be that your country uses jail and prison as an interchangeable term?

I think you're underestimating how a lot of people live and what they value Probably, I view $10K as a lot of money but that I expect to make, and do not need to go to jail to get.

If we assume that death and sexual assault are not going to happen in this 5 days

You can't. You will be in a facility with people awaiting trial for murder, violent acts, prostitution, hardcore drugs etc. They may segregate them, they may not, you won’t know until you get in there.

A holding cell has mainly people arrested for crimes that are not remotely serious.

Can you describe what your friends have described happening in jail that makes you so against it?

My 2 friends that have been to jail primarily mentioned that the people were way different and being stuck there felt much more real. Normally when people go to a holding cell our age they are not sober. After 24 hours you become pretty sober.

although I guess it could be that your country uses jail and prison as an interchangeable term?

I live in the US. Jails are for misdemeanors and people awaiting trail, prisons are for people convicted of felonies.

I do, too - I think I have five vacation days saved up, and I could use the $10k.

it's not the time in jail that would deter me. I mean, let me bring a book, and I'd do 24 hours in a holding cell for two grand. Heck, you could probably talk me into doing it for free if I was reasonably certain of my safety, I had some free time, and I could call it a "journalistic experience" and write about it without anyone thinking I had actually done anything wrong.

This is, I think, one of the weird things about the legal system. As someone without a record, getting any criminal record at all would have a staggeringly high cost to me. I wouldn't take even a misdemeanour for $10K. If I already had a record? eh, what's a few days spent reading?

Kidnapping is a capital crime in some jurisdictions.

I've heard rumors that lots of stolen bikes are exported on container ships leaving the US. The argument is that the shipping is basically free, since most ships are carrying large deliveries to the US and are empty on the return trip.

Does anyone know if this is fact or fiction?

I was at a Wal-Mart in Shenzhen China and noticed a lot of used bicycles. I couldn't explain why they stocked used bicycles. Could have nothing to do with what you're saying, or they could have been stolen bicycles from somewhere else. In the US, bicycles sold at retail stores like Wal-Mart are new. http://www.flickr.com/photos/andyatkinson/392577801/

Not terribly hard to find out -- the bike generates its own power, and is run outside. A few bikes with GPS and call-home device (powered by the bike) would draw traces to their destinations pretty quickly.

From the article: it’s heartbreaking to find out someone stole your bike; bikers love their bikes

Sounds like your idea addresses a real need. I wonder why I haven't heard about this kind of thing already implemented?

Price maybe? http://www.gizmag.com/spybike-gps-tracker/22999/ says $153.58 plus a pay-as-you-go SIM card.

Also http://www.zoombak.com/products/service-plans/

I wonder what it would take to make it more economical.

Would love for someone to do a long form sting. Install gps on 10 bikes and follow them as they get stolen and passed around.

This has been implemented in Madison, WI and is supposedly effective.


I now have napkin designs of just this.

I got hit by what seems to be some kind of paradox: old casual bikes are targeted more often than expensive flashy ones.

For a reason I can't reply to you brk but I used the same ideas.

My last question was about communicating openly or not about it.

    - Openly would make robber aware and probably come up with attacks 
      or blocking means, but that would surely render their activities 
      a lot more complicated. Could be mass-produced.

    - Secretly a few people would have it and use it as bait, and 
      authorities being aware of the scheme would casually catch robbers 
      later. No mass-production
Oh one more thing, I was thinking about using a cellular module with custom firmware to reply to text messages with gps position but I'm not sure it's feasible.

Sometimes I don't see a reply link on certain comments; clicking on the direct link for those comments, though, shows me the "reply" button.

I tried that, without success. It's probably a karma related behavior

Actually, it's time-related and everyone sees it. Deeper comment threads have a timer that prevents comments for several minutes. It's to give people arguing with each other time to cool off.

Are those rules written somewhere ? I like the tree pruning effect of this one

http://ycombinator.com/newsfaq.html has some of them, but not nearly all of them.

The cellular+GPS is a commercial product:


Me too. Especially of it were a factory installed option. You could probably encapsulate the electronics in one of the frame tubes, which would mean it would be welded in to the bike. Impossible to detect casually, and nearly impossible to easily defeat without destroying the bike itself.

Given the ratio of hours ridden to power draw of a small tattletale device, you could probably put a couple of magnets on the crank assembly (inside the tube the connects the crank to the frame), along with a couple hundred coils of wire and create a very nice charging circuit. It might take even 100 hours of riding to build up an initial charge, but I'm guessing that would be no problem in a typical scenario, even if it took 2 weeks to get there.

Isn't this something that would be trivially bypassed by passing a big spark through the frame? Burn out all electronics, without harming the rest of the bike.

Most likely not.

First, how you are going to pass a "big spark" through the frame? Carry around a big ass battery while you're on the hunt for bikes?

Secondly, the current would follow the path of least resistance, through the frame itself. Unlikely to really affect a module inside the frame, especially if that module is wrapped in an insulator.

I imagine it wouldn't be done on the spot - pedal to where you parked your theftomatic van, which comes with a nice, big battery pre-installed.

Good point, but how much current would it require ? wouldn't this be too big to carry noisy and even smelly ?

Metal tubes make a nice Faraday cage.

Agreed. I would fund this on Kickstarter, such stings should be positive externalities in the metro they are set up in. I wonder if there have been any sting initiatives on Kickstarter thus far and what laws would allow for (it's been done before, to catch a predator, anyone?)

Outside Magazine had a story about doing just that: http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/biking/Who-Pi...

A bike doesn't generate it's own power. An in-hub generator is rather expensive and thus rare, so might serve as a hint to the sophisticated thieves to check the bike for the phone-home device.

I doubt they would think of it. Mind you they should sell those generators with GPS included, sealed in. I would buy one.

A pair of low-res cameras - one pointing forward, and one pointing upward - would result in some fantastic shots as well. (Though there may be privacy and legal concerns.)

With recent circuit sizes we could all turn our bikes into wheel powered google cars.

    distance sensors
    front,back,driver cameras
    automatic brakes
    gyroscope balancer
    whatever ...

I think a bike is already a gyroscope balancer. And I do not want my bike to put on the brakes for me - that seems like a great way to send me flying into whatever obstacle it detected.

Right but it can only do so much. I was just wondering how far could we go, a foot driven segway ?

Speaking of cameras: I wonder if bike theft is lower in the UK because of widespread CCTV surveillance?

Almost everyone I work with in London has had a bike stolen (or a least a wheel or two), and everyone I know who owns a bike also has insurance. Not great evidence, but I'm not sure theft is any lower.

Is all the cameras in the UK effective in any way? I mean, to know that the criminal wore a black hoodie and black pants at the time of the crime doesn't give more information than maybe sex, hoodie, pants and maybe a rough estimation of age.

Is it a potent law-tool for Londoners? What was the reasoning for getting so very many? How do people generally feel about them?

These guys are doing that and making a tv show about it: http://www.tocatchabikethief.com/

it's very common for the US to export scrap metal back to China (or any number of manufacturing countries)-- http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/13/business/china-s-need-for-...

When I was younger, I worked for a company that exported cardboard back to China.

I've heard that was a very lucrative business for a while.


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