Bike Theft in Berkeley: A Common, Sad Story

Unattended bikes and bikes without U-locks are most likely to become the victims of theft.

Whether you're cruising on a fancy new ride or a "beater" bike — in Berkeley, it doesn't matter what kind of bicycle you have; what matters is whether it looks simple to steal.

In downtown Berkeley on Monday afternoon, locals said they have learned the hard way. 

"I've had two bikes stolen in Berkeley," said Kit Smith, while visiting on Shattuck Avenue. "Both times they were stolen in front of my house, when I didn't lock them up. You just have to lock it up — if you don't, there are vultures everywhere."

Smith lost his Giant Cruiser and a vintage Raleigh. But even locked bikes — and ones that are only of sentimental value — are stolen. 

"I had this really old beloved bike," said Elizabeth Sullivan, picking up her new white PUBLIC bike from the Bike Station, which offers free valet indoor bike parking from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays next to Downtown Berkeley BART. "It had this awesome old flip-down seat from Amsterdam. It was totally ugly and crappy."

"I left it locked up in front of an ice cream store, at evening," said Sullivan, for whom thinking about the theft was still traumatic. When she came out of the shop, her 12-year-old bike was gone. 

Unfortunately, the trauma isn't uncommon in Berkeley. The Berkeley Police Department says that as of July 26, 156 bikes have been reported stolen in the city so far this year.

Last month, a viral video of a woman taking down a bicycle thief in San Francisco won the admiration of bike lovers everywhere. The video does a good job of showing just how fast a bike can be cut loose by a thief. In most cases, if a thief puts their hands on a bike, the owner never sees it again.

"People come in here literally every day saying parts of their bike or their whole bike was stolen," said Andy Renteria, an employee of  for almost 10 years.

After moving to Berkeley from the South Bay, where he said bike theft is less common, Renteria had several incidents where his bike was stolen or almost stolen. On more than one occasion, he caught someone in the act of carrying off his bicycle and was able to stop them. Then he learned to lock up his bikes properly. "I was just using flimsy cable locks," he said. "I moved here thinking it wouldn't happen to me."

Renteria said at least one of the bikes a thief went after was "a piece of junk." "People will steal anything," he said.

Since he started using hefty U-locks — unlike cables, they can't be snipped off in seconds — he hasn't lost a bike in 10 years. But judging from what his customers say, Berkeley hasn't become safer for bikes.

of bikes reported stolen are recovered by the Berkeley Police Department. If a victim of bicycle theft has the bike's serial number and a detailed description of it (make, model and year), it helps the police department identify and return the bike.

Getting a California bicycle license is another protective step. Bicyclists can obtain a free bicycle license, registered to the City of Berkeley, from the UC Berkeley Police Department by bringing their bicycles and ID (and proof of purchase if possible) to on Mondays from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. this summer. Bicycle licenses are good for three years and can be renewed.

Additionally, some U-lock companies offer warranties or theft protection programs that will reimburse owners for the value of their lost bicycle if the lock fails.

But how can you prevent your bicycle from being stolen in the first place? Primarily, your task is to make stealing your bike look like more trouble than it's worth, according to the East Bay Bicycle Coaltion.

Start by making sure you lock your bike correctly by securing at least the frame and the rear wheel to a sturdy structure with a U-lock, which bike shops recommend. (The rear wheel is the most expensive to replace, according to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.) Consider using what the East Bay Bicycle Coalition calls the "multiple lock method" — using a thick cable or a second U-lock to secure your front wheel. If you have quick releases on your wheels, bike shops recommend removing your front wheel and locking it alongside your back wheel.

Bike seats are also stolen; attaching a small, inexpensive security cable to your seat permanently can help prevent its theft, according to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

Arri Brown road a seatless white mountain bike away from Downtown Berkeley BART on Monday afternoon. He discovered his seat had been stolen on Sunday night, and had to call his family to drive him home. "I was riding from down Telegraph, dropped my bike off here about 4 o'clock," he said, standing beside a bike rack next to the BART stairwell at Allston Way. "Got back around 8-ish, it was gone." 

Here are some more tips to avoid bicycle theft from the Berkeley Police Department and the East Bay Bicycle Coaltion:

  • Lock your bike in a highly visible location.
  • Do not lock your bike to a structure that can be clipped or broken, like a wire fence or wooden railing. Make sure any post you secure your bike to does not lift out of the ground.
  • Do not leave your bike unlocked in an open garage, in a backyard or on a balcony — many bikes are stolen from their homes.
  • Fill up as much space inside the "U" of the U-lock as possible, so a thief doesn't have enough room to stick a device inside the lock to break it.
  • Double-check to make sure you've locked your bike frame and rear wheel to a structure, not just the wheel to the bike, before you leave it.

Finally, the police department recommends having a cheap, used bike for trips where you may leave your bike unattended — as long as it's a bike you don't mind losing.

commuter August 10, 2011 at 04:28 PM
A big problem is that the majority of bicycle locks sold at local stores are terrible. They can easily be snipped with lightweight tools in a few seconds. Even name brands like Kryptonite and Master Lock make many low quality bicycle locks. Stores need to step up and throw out the useless low quality stuff.


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