Thieves like bikes too
How to protect your bike—and get it back when it’s stolen
Chico State sophomore kinesiology major Christina Jacobs was sitting in Jon & Bon’s Yogurt Shoppe on Nord Avenue with a friend one evening when she got the fright of a lifetime.
Glancing outside the window while eating her yogurt, she spotted a teenage boy riding a pink cruiser, initially thinking to herself how strange it was. Then, as she realized what she had just seen, she ran out of the shop and began chasing the young man through the parking lot. “Hey! That’s my bike!” she screamed. Turning around swiftly, angrily, the boy yelled back, wielding a knife.
As he tried to make his escape, Safeway employees came out and chased him across the street before he hit a curb and bailed. The police caught him hiding in a nearby gas station, though the knife couldn’t be found, and it was difficult to prove the bike belonged to Jacobs because she had not registered it with the city.
After promising not to press charges against the young man for wielding the knife that both she and Safeway employees had seen, Jacobs got her bike back. A month later, it was swiped from in front of her apartment for a second time. Another of her bike locks had been cut. She never saw the bike again.
“Oh, I know it was the same kid,” Jacobs now says two years later. “He knew where my bike was from the first time he stole it, so it was definitely him.”
Jacobs is far from alone. Bike theft is common in this town. Whether the target is a $100 Huffy or a brand worth $7,000, bike thievery has permeated Chico for years. Bike vandalism is a relative non-issue by comparison, Chico Police Department Sgt. Rob Merrifield says.
Between April 1, 2010, and April 1, 2011, there were 232 stolen bikes reported to the Chico Police Department, while there were 197 lost or unattended bikes that the CPD found lying around the city. Of the stolen bicycles, only 31 were recovered, said Merrifield, adding that the majority of the rare bike recoveries in Chico occur at routine traffic stops or searches and seizures.
“Bikes have always been popular here,” Merrifield said, “as well as bike theft.”
Perhaps the biggest reason why so many reported stolen bicycles don’t get recovered is because most bike owners do not register their bikes with the CPD or the University Police Department at Chico State upon purchase, and they forget to save their bike’s serial number as well. A bike’s serial number, usually found under the bike’s frame beneath the seat, allows officers to identify it as stolen if they come across it.
It costs $10 to register a bike for three years, and $5 to re-register for each three-year period following.
Strangely enough, despite the fact that bike owners are required by Butte County law to register their bikes following purchase, the majority of them don’t do so. This failure backfires on them when their bikes are lost or stolen, said UPD Sgt. Corinne Beck.
Typically, even when a stolen bike is recovered, it can be difficult to prove a thief’s guilt, even if someone was riding the bicycle when it was found. One common excuse: “I bought it from someone on Craigslist just the other day.” That may sound fishy, but proving that it’s a lie is hard to do. The suspected thief appears to be simply an unlucky link in the bike-circulating chain who just “happened” to come across the bike without knowledge of its previous circumstances.
Still, even excuses like these rarely fly with officers, as it would still be the person’s responsibility to have registered the bicycle upon purchase, assuming there really was a purchase.
Even when a bike is recovered, there are certain red flags to be aware of in the suspected thief’s story.
“If you find a guy who tells you he traded a pack of cigarettes outside of 7-Eleven for that $1,200 bike that he’s riding, that’s not going to fly,” Merrifield said.
Suspected bike thieves are charged with either petty theft or grand theft, depending on the value of the bike they swiped. If the bicycle was purchased for more than $950, it is grand theft, which is a felony; anything below that is considered petty theft, which is a misdemeanor.
Even if a person is not suspected of stealing the bicycle, he or she can still be booked for possession of stolen property and issued a citation.
Steve O’Bryan, who with his wife, Katy, owns Pullins Cyclery, recalls an event that shows just how much bicycles switch hands in Chico. He sold a bike to a customer one afternoon; the bike was stolen by 9 that evening and sold to another bike shop the next morning. That same day it was bought by another customer, who then took the bike back to Pullins to have some repairs done on it just before the rightful owner called Pullins to report her bike stolen.
The best advice that Merrifield, Beck, and O’Bryan give is to always lock your bike, no matter how late you are to class, how short your stop at the store is going to be, or how well you think your bike is hidden. And if you’ve got an expensive bike, take the time to invest in an expensive lock as well.
“Get a good lock for your bike, and use it properly,” Beck said. “Make sure you always lock up the bike; it’s not worth relying on luck to keep it safe.”
Christina Jacobs has since bought another bicycle, this time a mountain bike, and insists she always uses her U-lock when she rides around town and will need to lock it on a bike rack. Otherwise, she keeps it inside her apartment.