Bike Theft Paranoia

I might be suffering from post-traumatic bike-theft stress syndrome. Every work day I park my bike at the McDonald’s Cycle Center, a city bike garage complete with showers, lockers, maintenance, and secure parking. I pay $25 a month for use of the entire facility, but there’s also free secure parking in the basement. (That’s where I parked while on the wait list for membership last summer.)

Bike Garage in Foreground / Office Building in Background

Bike Garage in Foreground / Office Building in Background

Yesterday, I was running late for a meeting and did not have time to park my bike in the Cycle Center. Instead, I chained Oma to a bike rack in front of my building. I can see that particular rack from my 20th floor window, so figured I could keep an eye on her. My meeting lasted 2 hours and as soon as I returned to my office, I looked out the window. It was getting dark and I couldn’t see much. I climbed on top of my desk and mushed my face against the glass to get a closer look. I still couldn’t see Oma. Then I thought I saw a dark figure loitering and messing around in the spot where she was parked.

Immediately, I grabbed my helmet, bag, and coat and ran out of my office. I left without shutting my computer down or rinsing out my coffee cup – all the usual routine tasks. By the time I got through the elevator bank and past security to outside, my heart was thumping, only to find nothing amiss. Oma was standing exactly as I left her, no funny business. I felt absolutely silly and a little unbalanced. I had planned to stay at work a couple more hours, but after going through all the trouble of fleeing the building, I got on Oma and headed home.

Thank goodness I have secure bike parking at the office! There’s no way I could leave Oma chained up outside for 11 hours every day in downtown Chicago. Not with any peace of mind, even with my $135 Abus lock (yes, I really paid that much!). There’s also bike parking in my building’s garage, but I’d have to travel through the dark underworld (see Dark Knight) of Chicago to get there, so I never use it. Do most bike commuters have secure parking at work? If not, what do you do? I guess most cities aren’t as bad for bike theft as Chicago!

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17 thoughts on “Bike Theft Paranoia

  1. anna says:

    Wow, I want something like that McDonald’s Cycle Center! In Vienna there is no opportunity for safe parking like that unless you take the bike with you. And that’s what actually some of my colleagues do – they bring their bikes into the office! I think they’re acting a bit overcautious. I always lock my bike to the bike racks outside the building and I never ever had problems with that (never in all those more than 12 years that I have my bike now, and I use it every day). Well, I do have a good Abus U-lock. Ok, I wouldn’t want to leave my bike outside all night. I only do that when it’s really necessary and if there is no other way. We have this green bike racks in Vienna, and they are not bad because you can look the frame plus wheels to it ( ). I don’t know how bad it is in Chicago, but in Vienna approx. 30 bikes get stolen each day (only 5% are found again), approx. 24.000 in all of Austria within one year (we have 8 Mio. people). One of my mates got already three bikes stolen. Also my dad got two bikes stolen, my brother one (although I think that the latter actually got removed by the council cause he didn’t use it much). But I know that neither of them use a proper lock, so I don’t feel irritated. I think your lock is quite good, thus I wouldn’t be too concerned. But maybe you can also get a bicycle insurance. They are not too expensive here, and also cover the theft of parts. But if you lock in the cycle center, you probably don’t really need that :-).

  2. Nico says:

    I have secure parking at work. I wouldn’t leave my bike unattended in our city centre for too long, though – even if it was locked to a fixed object. But my paranoia has been eased considerably by the purchase of my $ 80 Abus U-lock. :)

  3. 2whls3spds says:

    @anna…bike insurance per se does not generally exist in the US. Typically if you insure a bike it is part of you homeowner’s or renter’s insurance and if you are lucky might cover 1/2 of the cost of replacing a bike.

    To answer dottie; I get nervous locking any of my bikes up for more than an hour or so, and none of mine are as nice as your Oma. Unfortunately I have had several bikes stolen over the years (and I don’t even live in a big city!) Most were stolen from locked sheds or garages. Now I lock my bikes even if they are stored inside. A good lock is your best bet and you seem to have that covered.


  4. Elisa M says:

    wow, a whole bike center! That is amazing. I am lucky enough to be able to park my bike in the back warehouse at work Unfortunately, my office is moving soon and the warehouse will be non-existant. I have no idea where I will park then. Maybe they will add a bike rack to the new building…in fact, I need to get in touch with someone about that right now…

  5. Johnny says:

    I work in Baltimore City, near the train station, where there’s pretty bad bike theft. I was Okay until December, when someone cut the cable on my seatpost and took that and the seat. I keep it in my office now, on the 6th floor. A winter of cycling has done a number on the carpet in my office though:( I see a lot of abandoned bikes locked at the train station in various levels of deconstruction, under the noses of Amtrak police (I hate to say, since I love Amtrak to pieces).

  6. Johnny says:

    2whls3spds, I had a bike stolen once that was totally covered by my renter’s insurance. All I had to pay was the small deductible I would pay for anything else. They even paid for my lights, rack and the lock itself that got cut during the Bic pen don’t use a Ulock scare a few years ago. You might get lucky:)

  7. I don’t know if I’m being naive, but I worry less about getting my bike stolen in the winter, up here in Minneapolis. Maybe I don’t take crooks for being the hardiest bunch. They have a bumper stick up in North Dakota that says “40 below keeps the riff raff away”. Crime stats bear that out. Also, my winter bike probably isn’t as fetching.

  8. There is a school of thought that the uglier your bike the less likely it will get stolen. Also hobbling (taking the front wheel off and taking the wheel with you) your bike tends to keep thieves away since they usually want a complete bike. But this is impractical. Then there is the national bike registry:

    The bigger meaner the lock the better. The harder it is to steal a bike the less likely it is to get stolen. Buy a thick cable and double it around the rack and through the bike. On top of your good ulock. I am fortunate that where I lock my bike up at is frequented by the police often and heavily trafficked. Hope this helps!

  9. I get to bring my bike into the stairwell at my office. If I couldn’t do that I’d bring it into my workspace. If I couldn’t do that I’d negotiate with my bosses until I could (i.e. let me bring it in or pay for my bike/maintenance/any-funny-business if it happens).

    Maybe I’m naive and lucky, but I don’t trust even the busy streets of Milwaukee (and all of its eyes) to protect my investment.

  10. 2whls3spds says:

    @Johnny…you must have been one the lucky ones. Last round of bikes I had stolen totaled over $3000 worth and I had to fight the insurance company to get 1/3 of that amount. FWIW my current homeowner’s deductible is $500 so I am out that much right at the start.


  11. dottie says:

    My homeowner’s insurance deductible is $1,000 – the same value of the two bikes stolen from my garage – so I did not bother filing. I’m going to lower my deductible because it would have been covered, as far as I understand. Didn’t bother with it, though, so I don’t know for sure.

  12. I made the mistake once of having the bike with the cheapest lock at the bike rack. It was gone when I came out from work. It wasn’t even my bike; I had moved back to town and was waiting for my bike to be sent here so a friend had lent me his until it arrived.
    I felt terrible about it. But I learned a couple of lessons. Good locks are worth it and don’t be the guy with the crappy lock at the rack (everyone will park next to you because you become the token sacrifice).

  13. dottie says:

    “Token sacrifice” – that’s pretty funny. I always liked that thought (you don’t have to outrun the bear…) but my thief cut my lock and left my neighbor’s unlocked bike untouched.

  14. Trisha says:

    Theft is so random. I am not leaving le Peug outside right now, even locked, because I too have PSTD and want to be able to sleep at night. I’m pretty sure my homeowners would cover bike theft also, but with a $500 deductible neither Pinkie nor le Peug are worth claiming (well, maybe if le Peug got stolen, i would claim both). Not sure how I would prove Pinkie’s worth though, since she was bought so long ago.

  15. Johnny says:

    2whls3spds, that’s terrible! I’m sorry to hear about that. To tell you the truth, I was extremely surprised by my insurance company’s reaction. I’m afraid it won’t be so easy next time, so I don’t turn around without my bike U-locked to something now.

    I live in a small apt and don’t have a lot to insure (mostly just books and Ikea furniture), so my deductible is only $100. Still, though, as a grad student, that was tough to swallow.

  16. qspawn says:

    I’m a visiting nurse in San Francisco and do my visits by bike – mostly neighborhoods which are notorious for bike theft. 2 years of daily lock ups with a small kryptonite u-lock and no problems. I use Pit Lock hub and seat post skewers – and haven’t lost a wheel or a seat post either. I’ve had bikes stolen in the past – but none of them were properly locked. I really like these videos for fun info on ‘properly locking’ your bike:

  17. Quïnn Hue says:

    I would love this (for the lockers and showers) i recently started riding to [summer]school in New York *sigh… and I’ve working up a sweat and I also don’t have a place to store my helmet and taking it with me is cumbersome. Sigh If only bureaucratic red tape didn’t exist and city governments approved these things more often.

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