Increase Your Odds of Recovering a Stolen Bike

The only downside to the growing popularity of bicycling in New York City is that more bikes are being stolen. Bike theft increased by 70 percent between 2011 and last year, according to New York City Police Department data.

It’s a heart-breaking experience to discover that your bike has vanished from where you parked it. But there are a few easy steps you can take right now to improve the odds of getting it back if it’s swiped.

First, the best defense is always offense: Secure your bike with a quality lock in a high-traffic location every time you leave it on the street, says David Vollbach, manager of Bicycle Habitat in Soho. For the best methods, read this post on how to lock a bike in NYC.

But in case the worst happens, make sure you’ve got your bike ownership bases covered to file a police report or insurance claim. Here’s what to do:

1. Record the serial number: It sounds so simple, right? But how many of us actually record the unique number that ties the bike to us? It’s typically found stamped on the underside of the bottom bracket shell, as shown in the white area of the top photo. Flip the bike over to get a good view of it. The serial number may also be located elsewhere on the frame, as shown here:

Bicycle Serial Number Locations

Reader tip: Rub a contrasting crayon over the engraved serial number before photographing. Wipe away excess crayon and the serial number will be several times more legible.

Vollback notes that most bike shops maintain sales records of new bicycles. “So if for any reason you don’t have or you don’t know your serial number and are a victim of theft, you can contact the shop where you purchased the bike,” he says. “They should be able to provide the original owner with the bike’s serial number and a copy of the proof of purchase.”

2. Shoot photos:  As bike lovers, most of us aren’t shy about photographing of our steeds. But don’t stop at the wide angle. Take close-ups of distinguishing features or customizations that identify the bike as yours: The upgraded pedals you swapped out for the original equipment, or the ergonomic handlebar grips that you added. No distinguishing features? Create your own. For example, paint a strip of fingernail polish in an inconspicuous place on the frame. Photograph that, too.

3. Store it all in the cloud:  Upload images of the serial number, the bicycle and the sales receipt, if you’ve got it, to cloud-based storage for easy access from anywhere.

4. Register your bike: You can register your bike’s serial number with various data bases that help law enforcement officials connect owners with recovered stolen bikes. Here are some examples:

  • Bike Index is a free, searchable national data base on which you can register a stolen bike.
  • If you’re a college student, many campus security departments provide free bike registration.

5. Check your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy: “Most providers have specific policies that can allow bikes to be covered even against off-site theft,” Vollbach says.

Coverage varies, so be aware, for example, of the difference between actual cash value (the cost to replace an article at its current age) versus replacement value (based on what you paid originally). You are likely to need to present proof of ownership and value, along with a police report, in filing an insurance claim.

A few minutes of time spent now to establish clear ownership of your bike may mean the difference between a happy reunion and lingering disappointment if your beloved ride goes missing. So arise, grab your smartphone, hunt down that serial number and snap away.

Top photo: velojoy

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