How To: Get your stolen bike back

Follow these tips to be reunited with your two-wheeled treasure

How To
In your flyer, include when/where the bike was stolen, any identifying details, and include a clear photo.

In your flyer, include when and where your bike was stolen, any identifying details, and include a clear photo.

Create a Flyer

If you’re an enthusiast, there’s a good chance your bike is special. Take note of any of these details and create a flyer with relevant photos. In my case, not only was the entire bike custom, but I also hand built the wheels with spoke washers.

Once you’ve got the facts down, take a copy to your local shop. A lot of people just email the flyers and pictures, but I suggest doing it in person. There’s something about talking to someone and making a connection that is so much more meaningful. In the end, this is how I got my bike back.

Visit Flea Markets

Flea Markets are a great place to find incredible deals, but they can be havens for stolen goods. In the San Francisco area, the Laney College and Ashby Flea Markets are a notorious hotbed for stolen bikes. The weekend after your bike is stolen, visit your sketchy local flea market. There’s usually police or security on the grounds, so ask for their help before taking things into your own hands. And don’t forget to bring that folder you created with pictures, receipts, and your serial number. You will have to prove ownership.

Call Pawnshops

Another place stolen bikes frequently end up is pawn shops. Call around, email flyers, and ask employees to be on the lookout.

Scot Nicol, the founder of Ibis, recently had his bike stolen. He posted pictures and a description in one of our regional forums. In one day, the post had reached nearly two thousand local riders. Check it out here.

Scot Nicol, the founder of Ibis, recently had his bike stolen. He posted pictures and a description in one of our regional forums. In one day, the post had reached nearly two thousand local riders. Check it out here.

Post in Forums

Since you’ve already got photos and descriptions handy, you might well as post them in the various on-line MTB forums. There’s a small chance someone might spot your bike down the road. They can also offer advice regarding what sketchy locations to check out in your neighborhood. And if nothing else, it’s nice to have a community that sympathizes.

Social Media

While it’s fashionable to hate on social media, there’s no better way for getting the word out that your precious has been jacked.

Ask at your local homeless shelter

Ok, this one sounds weird, I know, but it comes straight from the Santa Cruz Police Department. When my bike was jacked, they recommended I head down to the local Bike Coop with a flyer, ask around, and offer a reward.

Setup Ebay and Craiglist alerts. There’s always a chance the perp might try to flip the complete bike online.

Setup Ebay and Craiglist alerts. There’s always a chance the perp might try to flip the complete bike online.

Setup Craigslist and Ebay Notifications

After my bike was stolen, I searched Craigslist and Ebay relentlessly for weeks. These days, both sites have notification tools. There are also a number of third-party apps. When setting up these notifications for Craigslist, make sure your search covers neighboring areas.

Other Tips

If you do find your bike online or being ridden around town, it’s tempting to setup your own sting, but your best bet is to call the cops. You don’t know if the thief is armed or mentally unstable. A bike isn’t worth risking your life over.

If you’ve already been paid out by your insurance company, the bike is legally theirs. If the cops recover it, you will have the chance to buy it back. Usually, the insurance company charges a very reasonable buyback fee.

Did I miss any tips? What advice would you give someone who had their bike stolen? If you recovered a stolen bike, what worked for you? Tell us in the comments section below.


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  • bwh says:

    Etch your driver’s license number on the bike (two letter state identifier, DL for driver license and then the number). Very easy for the police to identify and locate you.

  • DHJohn says:

    Great advice! I personally never leave my bikes unattended…they are always in view where I can keep an eye on them! I refuse to leave my bike in public…locked or unlocked if I’m not going to be able to keep an eye on it! The downside of this is that I have been thrown out of many places for having my bike with me…lol!

  • bradoemba says:

    If you ever need to leave you bike unlocked you can do the following to make it harder to ride away on: Put it in the highest gear (hard to pedal away on), flip it upside down, loosen the quick releases (if you still have those) so the dirt bag loses the front wheel and wrecks, clip your helmet through the wheel. The guy at the UPS store mentioned above would still have his bike.

    But really, just don’t leave it…..

  • Tall Bob says:

    Get a TrackR, which is an electronic device about the size of a quarter. Hide it on your bike. Even drop it into the frame, like through the seat post. GPS on your phone will show you location of bike. Just call the police to have them retrieve it..

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