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Bike thefts spike across U.S. as cycling becomes more popular

Bike thefts on the rise across U.S.
Bike thefts on the rise across U.S. 01:47

Edit Nagy, a Harlem, New York-based general contractor had her third bicycle stolen from New York City's streets last month.

A thief cut her red Schwinn's bike lock from the street sign pole it was wrapped around in broad daylight while she was working at a job site on West 12th Street. 

"I can't really bring my bike to the buildings so I just chain them up against a post," she said of her habit of leaving a bicycle locked but unattended.

Still, the crime stung. "You really feel like you're punched in the stomach. I couldn't sleep for a few days; I just felt violated," she told CBS MoneyWatch. 

That hasn't deterred Nagy from replacing her two-wheeler for a third time over the course of her life as a cyclist: "I immediately ordered another one because in my experience that's the best medicine — to move forward," she said. 

More New Yorkers than usual have been victims of bike theft of late, as cycling has become an increasingly popular mode of transportation during the pandemic

From March 1 to September 21, New Yorkers filed 4,477 complaints related to stolen bicycles, including electric bicycles. That's up nearly 28%, from 3,507 complaints over the same period a year earlier, according to the New York City Police Department.

Rise of bike riders during pandemic 01:42

An uptick in theft has occurred in other cities across the U.S., too. 

It's a growing problem in Denver, Colorado, where 3,205 bikes have been stolen so far this year, compared to 3,283 bikes stolen in all of 2019. 

From January through September, bike theft in Denver is up 23% compared to the same period a year earlier, Jay Casillas, public information officer for the Denver Police Department, told CBS MoneyWatch.

J Allard, founder of Project 529, a bicycle-registry service, agrees that bike theft is a long-standing problem that has only become worse because more people are cycling for recreation and commuting. 

"That's the main culprit, because under lockdown more people are dusting off their bikes and riding more. Sales are up dramatically and you're creating more opportunities [for theft] because it's a good socially distanced activity," Allard said.

He estimates that the real number of bikes stolen in the U.S. each year — including crimes that aren't reported to the police — is around 2 million. 

Bike hunters

Bicycle makers also recognize theft is an issue, and are starting to build theft-prevention and tracking tools into their frames. VanMoof, an Amsterdam-based electric bike company with retail stores in the U.S., has a built-in SIM card that can indicate a bike's location when it's reported stolen. 

The company has a dedicated team of so-called "bike hunters" who track down and recover stolen bicycles. 

In San Francisco, theft of VanMoof bikes has risen by 10% from January - October compared to the same period in 2019. There are more of them on the streets, though: Sales are up threefold in 2020 compared to last year. 

"It's no surprise as more and more bikes are out, that bike theft is everywhere," said Barry Bracken, a spokesperson for the company.

Allard of Project 529 urges cyclists to take a few different steps to prevent theft. 

First, he recommends that riders register their bikes, like they would a car, by taking photographs and recording the bike's serial number and other unique characteristics through an app. 

"That way, if your bike gets ripped off and you call the police, you have all of the info you need," he said. 

Sweating at home with Peloton 05:49

Locks are important too, but still defeatable. Invest in a high-quality "U-lock" that requires large bolt cutters or an angle grinder to break, Allard said. "Then it will be evident the thief is taking the bike," he said. 

He also recommends disabling the bike by feeding a lock through both the frame and wheel of the bike so that it has to be carried and not ridden. 

"In either case, you'll attract attention," he said. 

Nagy's new bike, an electric model by Story Bikes, is expected to arrive by Halloween. It cost about $1,800, nearly twice as much as the red Schwinn she had stolen. 

She will still use it to commute, but plans to invest in a second bicycle lock she hopes will encumber any would-be thieves long enough for them to be caught in the act.

"If you use two different types of locks that require different tools to cut, it will buy time," she said. 

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