A Cautionary Tale of My Stolen Bicycle

“The best education is always expensive”
– William Gerhardt (my grandfather)

I emerged late last night – actually early this morning – from an internet cafe on Wilshire Boulevard near Normandie Avenue to see this cut bicycle lock lying in the street:

The cable lock I had been using since 2004

The cable lock I had been using since 2004

I had hoped to see this:

My bike locked properly

My bike (locked properly, in early 2009)

There were some signs that I’d ignored. Earlier this year, Federico (here) and I (here) each blogged about an incident where three eco-villagers had emerged from a movie to find wheels stolen. That night, I felt pretty smug that I always carry around two locks, and that I hadn’t lost any wheels.

Earlier this month, Jimmy Lizama posted an email about a friend’s stolen bike on the eco-village listserve. Alex Thompson posted a couple of blog entries recently about thefts. I should have been on alert.

Yesterday, I took a nap. I had some articles to write for my turn as an actual modestly-paid guest blog writer at L.A. Streetsblog. There were some files that I wanted to use on a PC instead of the (generally wonderful, but now and then incompatible) open source computer where I’ve been working.

I biked out to the internet cafe at around 10:30pm… drank some caffeine and got in a groove writing and didn’t emerge until 3am. I walked home dejected and swearing… and I really don’t swear very often.

So… how did I contribute to this incident? Well… I confess that I locked my bike badly. I did use two locks… but I only locked one – the above cable lock – to the bike rack. The other – a small U-lock – I used to lock the back wheel to the frame. When I arrived, there was another bike locked to the city inverted-U-rack that was perpendicular to the rack, making it very slightly difficult to lock mine properly. My incorrect mental calculus was that I would be in there for an hour or two, and I was right near a subway portal at a pretty busy intersection with lots of pedestrians, so it was ok to just lock it the way I would at a parking meter or other pole. This sort of thing works in front of a restaurant during the day… but, as the results indicate, it’s a bad way to lock a decent bike in the middle of Los Angeles in the middle of the night.

I should have turned the other bike around, so it was parallel to the U-rack, so I would have clear room to secure my bike in two places. This would have taken me all of 20 seconds… but there were a few folks standing and walking around… and I stupidly didn’t want to touch someone else’s bike for the slight fear that they could see me moving it and get upset with me. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks that there’s a possibility that the other bike was placed there by thieves deliberately a bad T-angle so as to discourage others from parking correctly.

So… friends and fellow travelers… be on the lookout for my bike around town… it’s the blue one in the photo above – it looks more-or-less like that picture, though it has more stickers and new kinda-bulky black plastic mountain-biker pedals. It’s a big frame (I am 6’3″) light blue Trek, 24-speed, about 3 years old. Bontrager (sp?) black/gray puncture-resistant slick road tires. Lots of stickers – C.I.C.L.E., FoLAR and others. There’s a faded green paper flower and a large Chinese bell on the straight handlebars. There’s a basic black utilitarian rack on the back.

I hereby resolve to lock my bikes really really well in the future.

14 thoughts on “A Cautionary Tale of My Stolen Bicycle

  1. Sorry to hear it Joe. I’d hook you up, but I won’t make any more commitments till 107 is done!!!

    But, in my opinion, if thieves want your bike, they’re gonna find a way. [One] Solution: ride a bike thieves don’t want. Get “Huffy”, “Murray” or the best “Road Master” stickers. Ride a kick-back break cruiser for near by rides or places you’ll be a while. Use parking facility bike racks and lock your bike well. Use two u-locks, twice locked to a solid post of some sort.

    NYC, Amsterdam, etc., all have bike theft issues. It comes with the territory. It’s bike life.

    And oh, please, please don’t confront the thieves, there’s usually more than one. Waldo got jumped and beat up by a few of them, young ones too, after confronting them one night. He’s fine, but it could get worst.

    Invest in little things like locking quick release skewers (not the allen key type, the thieves carry these now). Some pedals can only be take off with an 8mm allen wrench too (as opposed to a household 15mm open/box wrench) making it very difficult for thieves (without leverage) to undo them. Use some type of chain system to secure your saddle and seatpost if possible. Secure a rescued doberman or attack python to your bike or get stickers like “I have sex with my bicycle” or “I heart diarrhea” … anything to make your bicycle undesirable.

    Koreatown and Silverlake is being hit the worst. It’s actually fashionable for middle and high schoolers to ride fixed and they don’t have the income. Haves and have nots. It’s where we live.

    Right, stop riding fixed, L.A. is not velodrome, it’s a city — Orlando would have me beheaded if he heard me saying that.

    Here’s some resources:


    (I just randomly found this. Hope it’s helpful.)



  2. If you need a good city bike, I’ve got a shop that specializes in ’em. I just got back from interbike with a few really neat machines from Holland and Denmark – rear wheel lock included.

  3. Sorry for the loss Joe.

    I always think about this video when i hear bikes stolen. And when folks think pedestrians would help
    prevent bike theft.

    The Niestat Brothers

  4. Joe! my condolences. I liked that bike. we will keep our eyes open, but I would color it gone forever and move on. if it comes back, great.

    what’s interesting here is that even with the appearance of
    a u-lock and a cable, they took the time to find a weak point.
    a few weeks back, I lost my beautiful front wheel, lovingly built by myself, to a cut cable during craft night. so I’m using two u-locks. it’s a pain in the ass, heavy, wish I could get them both on the same key. jimmy’s got me thinking about locking nuts/skewers…

    but if I ride the naberhood, or generally under four miles without hills, I take my old schwinn 3-speed. it is a joy to ride, I get a bit more of a workout on short trips. i feel blissfully unhip – but my bike pals dig it. AND i park it on the sidewalk outside my place full time (it’s a bit heavy to carry up
    the steps…).

    of course you are encouraged to come down to kitchen and kick some frames. we have a couple of large frames (one nearly complete) that may be available again very soon.


  5. That sucks, Joe! Here’s another resource for locking up your bike bits…a Canadian company called Pinhead. They make nifty little locking fastener components for wheels, seats and forks. They are kinda pricey ($50 for a 2 pack lock set for your wheels), but maybe worth it for not having to worry about making sure to lock your wheels AND your frame securely. Especially if you are sleep-deprived and forgetful like me : )


  6. Thanks to all for the comments and commiseration… It’s a %*$&% drag… but I do have two other lesser bikes in more-or-less working condition. I could kick myself for not being more careful.

    I guess I do need to get used to riding even more of a clunker for those shorter trips. Sad.

    @Ben – that’s a great video! Sad but true.

  7. Sorry, Joe! That bites. If either of my bikes were your size, you would be welcome to them, but as they are only 18″ frames, I highly doubt that would work!

    Xoxo, Becca

  8. Oh that’s awful! I don’t know you, but we seem to live in the same area; I’m sure I’ve seen you on the street. You’ve probably passed me a million times. Sorry about your bike. It happened to me a year ago with a borrowed bike I had outfitted with baskets and lights and everything, arg!

    Well, see you on the street!

  9. Pingback: Trying to reason with bicycle theft season « BikingInLA

  10. I found a good stolen bicycle list / stolen bicycle registry at http://www.stolen-property.com/

    It’s free and all I had to do was register and then simply enter the brand, model, serial number and upload photos.

    The site also allows you to enter information for other stolen property as well. In other words, it’s not limited to a stolen bicycle report.

  11. Sorry to hear about that bike. Hopefully by now it has made it back home. One idea to help enable recovery is the use of BikeRegistry, a free proactive public bike registry service. And of course you need to make sure to TAG your bike after registering to enable recovery.

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