Springtime in Chicago: How to Prevent and Report Bike Theft

By Laura M. Browning in News on Mar 18, 2011 4:20PM

2011_03_bike thief.jpg
Photo by silverfuture

With the beautiful weather comes bike season, and with bike season comes bike thieves.

After a friend’s bike was recently snatched, we realized that we were ill-prepared if our beloved bike was ever stolen. According to the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry, upwards of 100 bikes are stolen each month during the summer, and the numbers are rising.

Here are some precautionary measures you can take right now:

Be Organized.


  • First, you must know your bicycle's serial number. If you do nothing else, write it down today. Without it, the chances of your bike being returned to you are about as likely as an 80-degree day in Chicago in early February. Most bike serial numbers are underneath the bottom bracket—flip your bike upside down to find it, and if you don’t see it, check in these five places.

  • Take some glamour shots with you and your bike. You'll want them if you need to post a picture of your stolen bike, or if you need to confirm ownership.

  • Write your name, number, and serial number on a slip of paper and put it inside your handlebar tubes. Hopefully the thief won't think to look there, and it's just one more way to help confirm ownership later.

  • Take note of the make, model, color, size, and any modifications you’ve made. We found an online template from Balloon Biker that you can download and fill in.

Be Smart.


  • Got a fancy shmancy lock? This isn’t a place to skimp. Buy a good quality U-lock from a bike shop. Many lock manufacturers offer a free bike registry, and some offer some type of guarantee if your bike ever gets stolen. Register it!

  • Register your bike with the Chicago Police Department, and also consider registering with the National Bike Registry ($10 fee includes a tamper-proof sticker for your bike) and/or Bike Revolution (free).

  • Find out if your renter’s or homeowner’s insurance covers your bike. If it doesn't, you may be able to add a rider if you want the coverage.

  • Always lock your bike securely, locking both the frame and the wheels. (We like to use a U-lock with a heavy cable. Even heavy chain locks are susceptible to lock-picking or bolt cutters.).

  • Don’t be complacent. The majority of bike thefts take place during the day in front of an open business.

  • Wear 37 pieces of flair. Or at least a few pieces—the more customized your bike (like stickers or reflective tape), the less desirable it will be to the bad guys. (Obviously this alone won’t protect you, but it might not hurt).

If your bike gets stolen:


  • Call 311 and file a police report. The sooner the better.

  • File a theft report on the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry

  • Find out if your renter’s or homeowner’s insurance covers your bike.

  • Use the Interwebs. Use the “save search” features on Craigslist, ebay, and ebay classifieds, and set up a Google alert, so you can be alerted any time somebody is trying to sell a bike that matches yours.

  • A lot of stolen bikes show up at flea markets, often just a few hours after they were stolen, like the Swap-O-Rama at 41st and Ashland on the South Side.

  • Reach out to the cycling community. We got a lot of great advice on the Cycling Sisters listserv, the chainlink, and Balloon Biker. There's also the Active Transportation Alliance and your local bike shops.

  • Know that despite all this, the chances of recovery are pretty slim—only between 3 and 5 percent of stolen bikes in Chicago get reunited with their owners. For what it's worth, we're pretty sure there is a special place in hell for bike thieves.

Have any more tips? Leave them in the comments.