A few years ago, when I was a broke student, some bastards smashed my boyfriend’s car window and jacked my mountain bike. I was heart broken. I remember sitting on the curb in front of my house, staring at the shattered glass and feeling violated. I carried that feeling for days. I couldn’t sleep. I jumped at the sound of car alarms. It was a low point.
The one thing I knew was that I wanted my bike back. It wasn’t easy and it did take a few months, but I did eventually get my bike back. You could argue luck played a small role, but I believe we make our own luck. So here’s my comprehensive guide on how to get your stolen bike back.
Lock it Up
Obviously, the best way to avoid this whole ordeal is to take the appropriate steps to ensure your bike doesn’t get stolen. For the purpose of this article, we’re going to assume you keep your bike properly locked, didn’t advertise on Strava, etc.
The first thing you should do when you purchase a new bike is document it. Go somewhere where the sun is shining and take good clear photos of the complete build. Make sure to photograph the entire bike, plus any upgrades. You should also photograph any receipts you have, which can help prove value later on.
Around this same time, consider registering the serial number with your local law agency. You can usually do this at your local bike shop or fire station. Not all municipalities offer this kind of program, but it’s worth trying. There are also commercial registries, but I can’t speak for their effectiveness.
In my scenario, I had a copy of the serial number at home but failed to register the frame with the police. The bike was recovered before my police report was filed. When the officer ran the serial number through the computer, it didn’t ping. Had I registered the frame when it was purchased, I would have saved myself considerable heartache and effort. Don’t be like me.
You should also register your frame with the manufacturer. Not only will this help speed up any warranty claims in the future, but many brands offer a discount on a new bike if you report yours stolen.
Now that you’ve gotten the documentation out of the way, consider slipping a business card into a waterproof bag and stuffing it in your grip or seat tube. Even if the cops don’t find it, there’s a chance some good Samaritan may discover it in the future.
To be more specific, if someone who isn’t an enthusiast walks into a bike shop with your stolen bike, there’s a high probability that an employee might notice something is off about the interaction. If they’re really suspicious, a mechanic will probably do a quick search of the bike or call the police.
Get Renter’s Insurance
If you own expensive bikes, renter’s insurance is your best friend. For a small monthly premium, you can insure all of your possessions. Then if your bike is stolen or you’re in a collision, they’ll help cover a replacement.
Just make sure that your insurance policy covers replacement cost. This type of plan is a little more expensive but will cover the entire cost of a similar item (minus your deductible). If you have an actual cost value plan, the insurance company will pay out replacement cost minus depreciation and your deductible.
File a Police Report
Now that we’ve covered the steps you should take to protect yourself in the unlikely event it’s stolen, let’s talk about how you can get it back. The first step is to file a police report. Remember all that documentation you put together with pictures, receipts, and serial numbers? Now’s the time to use it.
If you’re lucky, the thief is an idiot and gets caught. Since your bike is probably worth a serious chunk of change, they’ll be slapped with a felony for grand theft. Now, I understand that our criminal system is broken, the odds are stacked against inner city youth, but it still feels damn good knowing the bastard who stole my bike had to serve real time.
Oh, and you need the police report to file an insurance claim.
Canvas the Neighborhood
Sometimes, you get lucky. A thief will steal a bike because an opportunity presents itself and try to stash it, thinking they can come recover it later. Over the years, my friends and I have found stolen bikes stashed in bushes or down an alley. If it’s only been a short while since your bike has been stolen, call some friends and get to searching. You might get really lucky and find the perpetrator riding around.