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Most Chicago Bike Owners Don't Secure Their Bikes Properly, Allowing Thieves To Take Advantage

By Mason Johnson -- This is part three of a series of articles on bike thefts. See past and future articles here.

Let's be honest: Chicagoans get their bikes stolen more often than Liam Neeson's family members get kidnapped in the Taken franchise.

No, I don't blame bike theft victims (or ambiguously Eastern European terrorists, in Neeson's case). The responsibility solely lies on the shoulders of the thieves... But we could at least do our best to make it as hard as possible for them.

According to the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry (CSBR), "Less than a third of our CSBR reports have serial numbers."

CSBR, which gives concerned citizens, bikers and bike shop owners the ability to keep a lookout for stolen bicycles, had 1154 reports of stolen bikes last year. Without a serial number, it's significantly harder for police to identify ownership of a bike if they happen to come across it. According to many bike theft victims, cops don't even want to file a report if you don't have your serial number.

But CSBR is only useful after your bike is stolen, which is why they recommend you register your bike with Bike Index -- the nation's largest online bike registry -- BEFORE it's stolen.

If a reputable bike shop thinks a thief is attempting to sell them a stolen bike, the shop can easily look the bike up online thanks to Bike Index and CSBR. Similarly, if someone buys a bike they fear might be stolen, Bike Index and CSBR make it easy for them to do the right thing and return the bike to the original owner.

Cyclists should also register their bikes with the city they live in. The Chicago Police Department has their own registry, which helps them quickly return bikes that end up in their possession.

"Twenty-five percent of our reports each year are of bikes that were unlocked," CSBR tells me.

Most of these bikes are in places that seem safe, but aren't. Garages are often broken into, and it's not uncommon for bikes to disappear off porches. I'm not talkin' easily accessible porches, mind you. I'm talkin' three stories up, no outside stairs. Yes, thieves will climb multiple stories to steal a bike. Many bike owners are also give a false sense of security by their parking garages and locked foyers. If anyone but you can access where you keep your bike, thieves can too.

"Thirty-five percent of our reports are of bikes locked with some kind of cable (keyed, combination, or cable and padlock)," CSBR points out.

For those keeping track, sixty percent of the stolen bikes registered with CSBR were either not locked at all or improperly locked with inferior locks.

Locking your bike with only a cable is near useless. Most cable locks can be broken within seconds with the right tools. The Chicago Police Department recommends you use a heavy-duty chain lock, u-lock or — better yet — both. They also recommend you make sure whatever you're chaining your bike to is secured to the ground. Sucker poles -- poles that are intentionally loose to make it easier to steal bikes -- do exist in Chicago. [UPDATE: Came upon this City of Chicago bike theft prevention page after this article was published.]

According to CSBR, less than 5% of their 2013 stolen bike reports "were locked with a newer u-lock with a flat key, locked to a bike rack."

Yes, using a decent lock can lower the chances of your bike getting stolen significantly. No lock is foolproof, but using a u-lock with a chain or cable is the least a biker can do when locking their bike outside. Bike owners should lock the u-lock around their frames and a wheel. They should then take their chain or cable and loop it through their other wheel, locking it to the u-lock, to prevent thieves from just stealing the wheel. With that said, anything that seems easy to remove, whether it's a bike seat or your handlebars, should be locked down.

For a more in-depth lesson on locking your bike up, check out Hal, an internet sensation known for his bike-locking abilities.

In Chicago, there are many forces at work making it easy for thieves to steal your bike: Apathy on the part of the Chicago Police Department, a rise in cyclists the past decade and income inequality working as incentive for the thieves, to name a few. We should all do our best to keep "irresponsible bike owners" off that list.

In my next article, I plan on discussing what I learn from the stack of bike theft police reports sitting on my desk. That (along with my previous articles) will be found here.

Mason Johnson is a Web Content Producer for CBS Chicago. You can find him on Twitter.

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