Current State of Affairs
Mountain biking today can be an expensive sport to partake in. Sure, you don’t have to pay $1000 for a winter season pass to your ski hill (although the gravity assisted side of our sport isn’t far off from this), and our stomping grounds don’t typically cost anything to access. Even so, start-up costs for a newcomer to mountain biking are often in excess of $1000, and when it comes time to upgrade, many find themselves forking over at least $3000 for a full-suspension bike.
Yes they're expensive, but the pleasure many of us get from riding mountain bikes justifies the cost. We go to great lengths to protect our investments in various ways, whether that be painstakingly applying protective tape on the frame, buying a new bike rack for safe transportation, building a home bike hanging system, etc, etc. We all know bikes can get stolen, but are we doing everything we can to protect our beloved two-wheeled machines? Working in the bike industry I see bike theft happen again and again, from bikes nabbed off car racks, out of garages, and from inside trailers. And while we all know it can really happen at any time, it always comes as a jarring slap in the face when it happens to you.
What Can be Done?
The first line of defense against bike theft is straight up common sense. The majority of these thefts are crimes of opportunity. Imagine, a person hard on cash sees a $7,000 toy that will literally roll itself away, sitting inside an open garage. Depending on that person’s disposition, they may decide that it would be better off in their hands than in those of that Mercedes Benz owner’s. So don’t give them that opportunity. Keep your garage closed, regardless of what sort of neighborhood you live in. If you have to run into the grocery store after a ride, make sure your bike is locked to your rack or truck-bed. Not just with a thin cable lock; these can be cut with a set of wire cutters in a matter of minutes. Get yourself a U-lock, heavy cable, or chain and use it. These things are heavy and cumbersome, but it is easy enough to leave one in your car.
The Boy Scout motto holds true in many aspects of life, and this is another example of one of these cases. Having photos of your bike and of your bike’s serial number will come in handy for recuperation if it were ever to be stolen. Providing these to your local police department will allow them to identify and recover your bike if they are able to find it. You should also alert your local bike and pawn shops, and provide them with all the pertinent information to keep an eye out for you. Stolen bikes will also frequently end up on Craigslist, so check that site periodically. If you find your bike listed, call the police non-emergency number to alert them you may have found your bike. One resource you can use to consolidate all the information you need is Project529.com. This website and phone app allows you to very quickly create a profile to upload several photos of your bike, it’s serial number, and your sales receipt. You will then be able to retrieve this info wherever you are. It also gives you access to a large community of people that can keep an eye out for your baby.
We all (supposedly) have health insurance, so why not insure your possessions? Both homeowner's insurance and renter’s insurance will cover your bicycles, if you provide them with the required info and get a police report filed for any theft or loss. Some renters insurance will charge you an extra premium for every extra thousand dollars that your bike is worth, and all insurance policies have a deductible, so shop around and get the details before assuming that you are covered. That being said, this insurance is not typically very expensive, and can be a life saver. Or at least bike saver. Just to hammer it home, you MUST declare the value of your bikes and often provide receipts to your insurance company. Many insurance companies consider any bike over $500 to be "professional sporting goods", and won't cover it unless specifically arranged when signing up for a plan.
A smaller subset of bike thefts are more calculated. There have been reports of sophisticated bike thieves using the public activity feed on the popular Strava smartphone app to determine where people are starting and ending their rides. As a Strava user myself, I know how many times I’ve started and ended a ride inside my garage, and now realize this is a potential threat. Fortunately, there are several ways to prevent thieves from tracking you on this app.
The first option is to make your account private. Chances are you already “follow” or are being “followed” by all your friends, and unless you have an insatiable need to show the masses your latest crushed Strava times, it's probably best to make your account private.
This can be done both from within the app, or here on your desktop. Head to strava.com/settings/privacy, or, if in your app, click the three vertical dots on the top right of the screen. Go to Settings and then Privacy, and turn on “Enhanced Privacy Mode”. Remember to hit “Save.”
If indeed your cravings for the public eye are great, your KOMs are numerous, and you want the whole world to know how bad-ass you are, there is a second option. The smart folks behind that app have made a way to conceal a specified radius around your home. This can only be done on the Strava website, and not on the app itself. Click that same link to go to the privacy settings, and scroll down to “Hide your house/office on your activity maps.” Here, you can add an address and a specified radius around this address that will be kept private from all users. Do keep in mind that you will no longer appear on any Strava segments within that radius, so your KOM from the couch to the fridge will be lost to the cosmos.
There have also been murmurings that Strava’s new project, Strava Metro, poses a threat to users. Metro collects aggregate data about where people are riding, running and walking, in an effort to give city planners and DOTs better information about how people travel and recreate. This effort also creates a very cool heat map of all this data. There is in fact no personal threat created by this feature. Although the data collection setting is turned on by default, it can be turned off on that same privacy settings page for the more paranoid among you. All user info, private activities, and hidden areas (like your house or office), are excluded from this data. Strava even takes the extra step of automatically excluding the first and last kilometer of each activity recorded. To top it all off, no one can actually look at the data on an individual level; it can only be seen cumulatively.
Be smart, have fun, and go ride your bike
Bike theft is a major bummer, but can be avoided by taking fairly minimal precaution. With a little bit of common sense, a dash of luck, and a sense of vigilance, you should never have to undergo this ordeal. If it does happen to you, hopefully you have learned something here today, and are ready to deal with the situation. If you have any questions or additional advice, leave us a comment below. Happy trails - Dan P.
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