As summer approaches and hibernation gives way to outdoor adventuring, the number of bike thefts in Alameda begins to heat up.
In the first three months of 2011, there have already been 69 stolen bicycles — an increase of 18 from the same period last year. But by the end of the summer, that number will likely increase significantly.
“People need to be more diligent about locking their bikes up and parking them in visible spots,” said Lt. Jill Ottaviano of the .
July and August traditionally rack up the highest number bike thefts in Alameda. In 2010, bike thefts doubled from June to July.
MONTH 2008 2009 2010 2011 Jan 8 30 16 15 Feb 3 12 12 35 March 15 26 23 19 April 20 15 24 May 7 23 25 June 15 25 20 July 21 44 49 Aug 19 49 21 Sep 13 61 32 Oct 9 29 30 Nov 17 26 20 Dec 21 18 12 TOTAL 168 358 284
“There are a lot more bikes out in the summer,” explained Bonnie Wehmann, board member of and education director for the East Bay Bicycle Coalition. “There are also a lot more casual riders that aren't very serious about locking their bikes up.”
According to the , bike thieves are given ample opportunities to steal. Riders leave bikes unattended or unlocked, and park in secluded areas.
But bike thieves are brazen, according to Wehmann. Bicycles are not only being stolen from public streets, but also porches, yards and garages.
“They're getting a little bolder with their activities,” said Wehmann.
Sebastian Brown, an Alameda cyclist who works for , witnessed first hand the audacity of some thieves. He was returning to his bike, which was parked around the corner from on Park Street, when he caught someone attempting to “pop” open his U-lock with a car jack.
Brown chased the would-be thief away and now uses a much smaller U-lock. He says he never leaves his bike parked overnight and always opts for a place with lots of foot traffic.
“I never leave my bike unlocked unless it’s within arms reach,” said Brown.
A U-lock is the safest option for locking your bike, says Wehmann, and definitely worth the higher cost. “A lot of people are using the cable locks,” said Wehmann. “But bike thieves are carrying around bolt cutters in their back packs.”
A number of bike thefts from the Civic Center Garage next to the last year prompted the city to remove the racks there, though cyclists can still use the secure BikeLink storage lockers inside. The lockers cost 3 to 5 cents per hour, and access cards can be purchased online, over the phone, or at participating retailers.
“They're absolutely secure,” said Wehmann.
Bicycle parking is an issue that BikeAlameda is working with the city to improve, according to Wehmann.
Although stolen bikes are sometimes found, the rate of recovery is low. Last month, for example, a total of 19 bikes were stolen and only two were recovered.
Simple Ways to Lower Your Chances of Bike Theft
Get a good lock: Invest in a higher-end bike lock and thieves may be deterred. Avoid chains and cable locks and opt instead for a decent U-lock. “U-locks are higher quality,” said Ottaviano. “Cables are basically useless. Bolt cutters will cut right through them.”
Lock the wheels as well as the frame: The downside of having an expensive bike with quick release wheels is the ability for thieves to steal only certain parts of a bike, leaving the frame or the wheels behind. Make sure your frame and your wheels are locked. If you can only lock one wheel, rear wheels are usually much more expensive to replace that front wheels.
Don’t leave your bike unattended: Even if you’re only grabbing a quick coffee-to-go, lock your bike. Many bikes are stolen by thieves who simply hop on an unattended bike and ride away. “Bike theft is a crime of opportunity,” said Ottaviano. “A lot of bikes are stolen because people are complacent. Leaving the bike unattended is never a good plan.”
Keep a note of your bike’s serial number, model and make: Write down your bike’s serial number, model and make and keep the information in a safe place. If you bike ever does get stolen, this information will make the task of finding it much easier for the police. “If someone is caught riding that bike and we run the serial number and it comes back stolen then we can make arrests,” said Ottaviano. Knowing your bike’s serial number will also enable you to prove ownership of the bike if it is found.
Park your bike in a visible spot with lots of foot traffic: Parking your bike in a secluded area gives bike thieves more opportunity to steal your bike without being noticed. Parking garages are a high risk for bike owners. Instead, opt for bike racks out in the open on a busy street.