The recent theft of The Old Bag’s beloved Long Haul Trucker has kept bike theft on my mind over the past couple of days. Everyone wants to maximize their chances of recovering a pinched bike, so I’m going to share a couple of tricks that I’ve learned from others. The likelihood of ever finding your stolen bike is slim, but there are a couple of quick—and free—things you can do that might improve the odds slightly.
Because your bike could someday be taken to a shop for repairs, it should be identifiable in a way that isn’t obvious. Remember that the cretin who took it might actually be smart enough to remove distinctive features like an unusual saddle, stickers, or odd-looking bar tape.
With a regular Sharpie, you can deliver a secret message to any mechanic who removes the fork from the frame. This is most convenient to do when building a bike or replacing a headset. On the part of the steerer tube that resides in the head tube of your frame, use a Sharpie to write your name and phone number under a message that says something like, “This bike might be stolen. Please call …” You can accomplish the same thing with a sticker printed from a home label maker, which is what I did on the fork shown in today’s photo. (Don’t forget to remove this message if you ever sell the bike.)
Another quick method is to remove the faceplate from your stem, and then tuck a written note with your name and phone number inside the stem’s hollow body. A business card works great. This location might be less likely to attract a mechanic’s attention, but it has the advantage if being more accessible to bike owners who aren’t comfortable removing a fork. It also offers quick access if you’re ever lucky enough to find your bike and need a fast way to prove to a cop that it’s yours.
I once read about a guy who confronted the thief who had his bike, and refused to let him leave with it before police arrived. When an officer asked the owner if he was carrying a receipt to prove ownership, he said no, but explained that with his hex wrench and 60 seconds, he could show that his business card was hidden in the stem. The cop was convinced, and the thief was shit outta luck.
The best preventive measure, of course, is to buy a damn good bike lock and use it properly. Don’t kid yourself. Once a bike is stolen, it’s probably gone forever. But some bike-theft stories have happy endings.
Do everything you can to increase the chances of recovering your bike. That way, at least you won’t be haunted by thoughts of what you should have done.