What To Do If Your Bike Is Stolen

Warning message

  • The subscription service is currently unavailable. Please try again later.
  • The subscription service is currently unavailable. Please try again later.
October 20, 2014

Confusion. Disbelief. Anger. Sorrow. Back to anger.

This is a low rarely felt. When something as personal as your bike goes missing the feeling of invasion is as strong as the pain of loss. This is a feeling of empty vulnerability followed by kinetic rage. Many of us have been there.

The right U-locks, and the right locking will spare you this experience almost every time. To brush up on your technique and bolster your confidence, click here.

But should you ever return to a cut cable lock, or an empty rack, would you know what to do?


People usually say stolen, but the police have several different words for some jerk taking your stuff.

Theft & Larceny - These are synonyms for simply taking something that's not yours, like a bike from a bike rack. If the bike is $1,000+ it's likely grand larceny, which is a felony.

Burglary - Add unlawful entry to the theft and it becomes burglary, like breaking into a garage to steal a bike.

Robbery - If the bike is taken out of someone's hands on the street through violence or intimidation, it graduates to the most serious crime, robbery.

We mention this here because the weight of the theft may influence how aggressively the police pursue your case. A robbery or burglary resulting in significant loss will get more attention than a street corner theft.

poster by Julian Glander

What to do if IT happens: Day 0

1)  File a police report. Doing so in person at the nearest police station is the fastest way to make your report data available to officers. You can do it online, and many places - including many police stations - will tell you to do so, but in person is best as every hour matters. Make sure to include:

    • Serial number
    • Unique details: special components, rare colors, even stickers
    • Value if over $1,000 (and do your best to prove it)

Last, ask the officer how best to include photos in the report. Some stations may want email attachments, others a disc. Get them want they want asap.

2)  If you haven't already, register your bike. If someone, or some police force finds it they need a way to contact you. Read our full Oversimplified coverage of registration here. If you are registered, check to make sure your contact details are current and where possible, mark the status as stolen.

Day 0-1

3)  Don't sit on your hands waiting, shout from the mountaintop. Tell your friends, tell Facebook, tell anyone who will listen and share pictures along the way. Print flyers for bike shops, community boards, and telephone polls. Ask your cycling community for local resources and known resale hot spots.

This is your crusade. The more you put in, the more likely you'll be to get something out.

Day 1-2

4)  Keep an eye on sites like eBay and Craigslist for your bike. Better yet, set up an If This Then That (IFTTT) recipe. IFTTT is a free service that will scan websites of your choosing for relevant search terms - like "50cm blue bicycle." IFTTT will alert you automatically if a posting matching your criteria shows up.

Day 3-4

5)  If you've got homeowners or renters insurance, file a claim quickly. If you don't have it, get our breakdown for insuring your bike.

Pro Tip: If your bike was secured with a registered Kryptonite lock, you have 7 days to alert them.

Day 5+

6)  Once the word is spread, check back with your local police station. Find out who the investigator for your case is and follow up repeatedly. Reference your case number when doing so, and be persistent.

Locals: If you're in the Bay Area check this Google group for leads and info.

What to do if your bike is located

    • On the street - it may have already been sold to a new owner. Secure your bike with your own lock (so that it can't ride away) and call the police.
    • Online - call the police. Think twice before going after the thief vigilante style, your safety is more important than a bike.

Keep Pedaling 

The legacy of tragedy is lingering fear. Don’t be afraid of this. Take comfort in knowing that most people never have a bike stolen. And those people who know how to lock up and do it every time have bikes stolen even less.

Get back in the saddle so you can get back off the saddle, lock up, and walk away worry free.


PS  - What do you do if this happens to a friend? Click here.