Is It OK to Kill Bike Thieves?

I’ve had two bikes stolen in my life. The first was some 8 years ago after learning that in Portland, a cable lock is not the impenetrable fortress that it is in Michigan. The second was after a long evening of Jameson shots. My champion drinking comrade and I thought her lock we were sharing was safely secured to both our frames parked outside Union Jacks. Upon returning, it turned out she’d managed to lock up only my wheel and her frame. My wheel was still there. The frame was long gone.

Both were saddening experiences, though neither bike had that much personality. I hadn’t figured out exactly what my preferred ride was yet anyways. I don’t think I’d even given either bike a name. Today, if I lost the Silver Surfer or Victoria, I’d be devastated.

After a theft, the first place people go is social media, announcing to the world the tragic injustice that’s befallen them, asking everyone to keep their eyes open in the very real hope somebody will get it back to them somehow. Comments rapidly accrue – offers of empathy, promises to watch for the bike, affirmations of the burning circles of hell awaiting the thief in question.


Among even the most passive people you know, nothing evokes hostility and bloodlust like the thought of a person stealing their bike. If you commute often, or especially if your bike is your sole mode of transport, the idea of losing that particular bicycle borders on the thought of losing a child. If somebody kidnapped your kid, most people would justify any means necessary to liberate them from their kidnapper. And apparently, if you live in a place like Portland where every-damn-body rides a bike they’ve given a Proper Name to, this vengeful rationale also applies to bicycle thieving. At least if you take Facebook comments literally.

The innernette is chock full of videos of bike thieves barely escaping with their lives after being caught in the act. You almost feel bad for the poor fool getting his ass stomped to the curb, but then you think, wait a minute, this piece of shit makes his living literally destroying happiness itself. When their job is robbing cyclists of that which they treasure most in this world, it’s no wonder somebody coined the motto ‘They Still Hang Bike Thieves In Wyoming‘.

bike-thiefMark it zero.

In all seriousness, I’m not advocating beating up bike thieves, or even killing them. There’s been tons of creative vigilante bike rescues you’ve probably heard of – from strangers buying back a suspected stolen ride to heroic tales of peacefully detaining the bastard until law enforcement could arrive. There’ve been cases where surveillance cameras played a key roll in catching repeat offenders, perhaps the most satisfying of which involved revenge by paintball firing squad in what appears to be at least a partially un-staged act.

But let’s be honest. Most bike thieves never get caught. Most stolen bikes are never found. Your best chance – if the thing isn’t spotted by an upstanding citizen and wrangled back into your loving arms – is to call the cops and/or any local bike blogs that can help get the word out. If you do call up the fuzz to report it stolen, make sure you’ve got the serial number handy. If not, they won’t file a report. Most serial numbers are carved into your frame under the bottom bracket where the crankset connects. Write that number down, and do not lose it. If you’re as terrible as I am at keeping records, stick it in your wallet if you use a wallet. Or between the pages of your favorite book. Or in a day planner. If you can store it electronically, all the better. Hell, do all of the above, just in case.

Ultimately, the best thing is using locks that protect your bike from a kidnapping. U-locks are a must. I still see people getting away with cable locks saying, ‘I know, I know, I need something better.’ No honest bike shop should ever sell you a cable lock without a U-lock to use with it. Cables should only be used to secure wheels in tandem with a U-lock to secure the frame to a sturdy rack.

Screen shot 2013-11-14 at 12.37.43 AMYou’d better believe it! Courtesy: BikePortland.

Speaking of bike racks, make sure it is sturdy. Those old rusty racks held down with an odd number of bolts you can wiggle back and forth? Don’t lock to those. Those racks can be unbolted from the ground in seconds. Wiggly street signs can easily be pulled up out of the ground, too. Only lock to solid, city-installed racks whenever possible. They have bolts that can’t easily be removed without specialized wrenches only transit bureau employees carry.

This might all seem like no-brainer advice. For many it likely is. But thousands of bikes are stolen every week, and it really, really sucks to deal with that bullshit. Follow these guidelines and spare yourself from entering a world of pain. The common bike thief might be the lowest form of scum on planet earth, but they’re not worth killing. Just make it hard as balls for them to steal your ride. You and your sexy, sexy bicycle deserve to spend the rest of your long lives together!

See you in the streets.


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Directed by Rick Darge Starring Dee Dee K Music by Françoise Hardy & Daniel Johnston

PeeWee Herman meme courtesy The Church of Cycling.