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Hundreds of Bikes Stolen in Arlington Despite Cables, Chains

by ARLnow.com March 3, 2011 at 10:23 am 7,083 61 Comments

Cables and chains are not an effective theft deterrent for bikes, Arlington Police said in an email to neighborhood newsletter editors today.

As evidence, ACPD said that 390 bikes secured with cable or chains were stolen last year.

“The cables can quickly be cut with a rechargeable cutting tool and the padlocks are easily broken,” police noted in the email, which was sent as part of the department’s effort to reduce the number of bicycle larcenies around the county.

Police say the best way to prevent bike theft is to use a U-lock. See other bike theft prevention tips here.

  • biker

    Mine was stolen last year from Ballston Metro. Forgot to use the U-lock that day. My neighbor’s was stolen from the same place the same week.

  • TuesdaysChild

    Does the letter from the Police indicate whether the Police are making efforts to arrest anyone involved in bike theft? 390 bikes in one year sounds like a bigger problem than just some kids taking bikes for joy rides. Rechargable power saws sound like criminal gang/plan. Maybe the Police Auxilary can look into this….

    • CW

      That’s a great idea. Get enough auxiliary cops and you can just post them at bike racks 24/7.

      • mehoo

        A few security cameras at key bikeracks might be effective.

        • CW

          But that wouldn’t tie into the article on auxiliary cops…

          • borf

            Who is going to sit around all day and watch what’s on the cameras for free? Huh?

  • PikeHoo

    I see bike theft sort of like car theft. If someone wants it bad enough, they are going to find a way to steal it, regardless of your precautions. Best not to leave it anywhere.

  • roger estes

    The police are investigating. There is no crime in Arlington that police do not investigate, let alone thefts of the magnitude of the value of most of the bicycles of today. u-locks are the best tho, takes a L O N G time to defeat.

    • bob

      Funny, the three times when I reported my bicycles being stolen the police never bothered to even call, show up, or perform an investigation.

      • biker

        I filed a police report. They were helpful and emailed me back about it. What else can they do?

      • wilbur

        Same. We had in incident with some neighborhood kids bikes stolen in a park. The Arlington Police were great.

  • u-locks!

    Mine was stolen last summer from Va. Square, with a heavy cable lock. Lucky for me, the dipshit tried to sell it on craigslist and ended up giving it back when confronted. Since buying a u-lock, no problems.

    • G

      You didn’t report him?

    • R.Griffon

      Would LOVE to hear the details of this story. Who had stolen it? What exactly did you say and what was their reaction? Please, do tell.

      • CW

        Please do tell…I hope it involves a baseball bat and a pair of soiled trousers on behalf of the perp.

        • Hush. You will get AllenB excited

    • u-locks!

      @G: I gave the police all the information I had, including description. I highly doubt I had his real name, though. GW student IIRC.

      As for the story, the police were no help at all. It was listed right before 4th of July weekend and APD refuses to confront a bike thief with fewer than 3 officers, which they wouldn’t be able to round up until the next week. Further, the guy was in DC and they wouldn’t travel out of the county. So, thought I’d take my chances meeting in public and managed ok. Life lesson here, ALWAYS know the serial # of your bike. That way if you manage to track it down yourself the police will actually have a leg to stand on to help you. Not that they’ll find it in the first place… you’re pretty much on your own.

  • Overgrown Bush

    A few weeks back I was going to a client in Prince William County. I saw an old house turned to business on the side of the road on Rt. 28 somewhere south of Centreville. There must have been 100 used bikes for sale at that place. You have to wonder where one entity gets so many used bikes. I bet Arlington would find some Arlington-stolen bikes there, Fairfax bikes, Alexandria bikes, etc…

    • biker

      There are legit used bike salesmen. Two of them show up regularly at the flea market at Courthouse. They may have unwittingly bought stolen bikes though, it’s possible. I doubt those who openly buy and sell them would stay in business long. Those types use Craigslist to cover themselves.

      • CW

        “They may have unwittingly bought stolen bikes though”

        Used bike vendor: “Oh wow, look at all these used bikes I can buy! And they’re priced just perfectly so that I can buy them, reprice them, and sell them at a profit. What luck!”

        I believe the correct term is “laundering”.

        • borf

          If you’re buying a used bike from an individual, do you know it’s not stolen? How?

          • CW

            There’s certainly some discretion involved of course, and obviously you know 100%. The last bike I bought, I spent a good 20 minutes talking with the guy about what he’d done to refurbish it and get it back to pristine condition. And for a 25 year old bike, the thing was spotless. The guy knew bikes and didn’t even really want to part with it, but he had a ton of others and had a huge garage all set up for tinkering with bikes. He had me meet him at his place rather than some abandoned parking lot or something. Didn’t strike me as a tybpical thief.

          • CW

            *you don’t know 100%

      • Overgrown Bush

        What is the supply source for decent quality used bikes? Most of their bikes appeared to be adult bikes, so they don’t come from kids outgrowing. Yard sales? Dumpster diving? Craigslist? I don’t see it. I see a free supply source as being the only way to really obtain the quantity needed to profit in used bicycles. After all, I can go to a dreaded WalMart and get a ridable bike for under $100. How do you compete with that when you have to pay for a used one to resell?

        • CW

          Well, I will say that, in somewhat of a contrast to my previous point, that there are some ways to exploit the pricing of used bikes. For one, because there is so much variety in year, make, model, component set, quality, etc., with the exception of the true collector bikes it is difficult to find a “standard” price, i.e. the equivalent of a Kelley Blue Book price, for a used bike. Another is social/cultural/economic, in that, basically, in a big city with a lot of hipsters, you can inflate bike prices. I’ve seen some smooth talkers manage to pull fast ones when it comes to bike pricing, convincing the unknowing hipster that they’ve got a real specimen on their hands.

        • Jeff

          It’s relatively easy, but time-consuming to make money on re-selling bikes in the DC area. You’d have to do it in pretty high volume (like the flea market guys and a few Craigslisters) and have decent working knowledge of the arcane mechanics of various older component systems to make it worth your while.

          Buying at garage sales is almost always cheaper than on C-list, and the further out of the Beltway you go, the cheaper it gets. Pouncing on underpriced items, arriving quickly with cash in hand, etc. All ways to get that bike that will sell on C-list for much higher prices.

        • borf

          Well, for one thing, it comes from people buying crappy WalMart bikes and then realizing they suck and wear out fast, and then go buy better ones.

          But there are lots of reasons people sell old bikes. Same reasons people sell old cars. There’s an active legit market for used cars, so we shouldn’t be surprised that a legit market for used bikes exists either.

          • CW

            I buy used bikes (to ride) partly because of the fact that bike theft is prevalent. Also, I can ride the hell out of an old lugged steel frame and 80’s vintage components without too much worry. The differential in terms of cost and potential liability to upgrade to something “modern” isn’t worth it for me.

          • borf

            Like a used car, a used bike can be a great value.

          • Overgrown Bush

            All good points. But, I don’t see how an entity such as that one near Centreville makes it as a business solely selling used bikes. They are just piled up in the back yard and seem to be sold “as is”. I can’t imagine you make a business work doing this unless the merchandise has zero wholesale value (i.e. stolen). Even a crappy store front out there has rent and utilities to pay. That’s a lot of profit on a few bucks a bike at a time.

          • borf

            Who knows? He could be a tinkerer who buys entire bikes to get parts of of them. Or just a bike hoarder.

          • Overgrown Bush

            Maybe. I do remember an old retired guy near me who used to do that with lawn mowers. He’d buy them at yard sales, pick trash piles, etc. Then he’d get them running and put them up for sale making $10-$50 on each. It didn’t net him an income to live on, but likely kept his mind occupied and gave him some good beer/dinner money. I do recally him only having 10-20 mowers around at any one time. 100+ bikes is quite a bit.

          • CW

            I think every town in the south has at least one of those, in some cases dozens of them. The lawnmower guy.

          • Robert

            I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this house on 28 in centreville. I met the old guy & went in and saw his 100 or so rusty bikes. Non were valuable & none were over priced. I think it’s just a part of his business which also includes selling weed wackers, lawn mowers, and other things. I don’t doubt there are legit folks who sell used bikes & I don’t doubt there are bike thieves who set up shop either. But you should understand that there are tons of used bikes in the market because Northern Va does not really have a bike riding culture. Here it’s a casual sport for most & a lifestyle for few. Therefore people junk their old bikes like they junk their weight set a few months after their new years resolution is forgotten. People like myself who love bikes pick em up and we sometimes part with them on CL when we feel we’re in danger of appearing on the tv show Hoarders.

        • borf

          BTW, this is a cool project in Arlington for young people that trains them in bike maintenance. They fix up and sell used bikes. I’ve seen some great bargains here.

          http://www.phoenixbikes.org/

      • Dave

        Some of them are legit, some aren’t. The CH guys seem on the up-and-up. There used to be a used bike vendor at Eastern Market on the weekends until he got the boot for selling stolen bikes.

  • biker

    Need to put the Auxiliary Police on the case!

  • hilary1121

    All of the bicycles housed in our building’s secure parking garage were stolen a few months ago (including mine, which survived Columbia Heights for two years, only to be stolen in Rosslyn). Police came, but nothing they could do, really. The building management did nothing, either.

    • CW

      Hide your kids, hide your bikes…

      • BallstonNOTBoston

        I don’t care who ya are – that’s funny right there.

    • bob

      Rosslyn Heights pride!

  • TuesdaysChild

    Police need to operate a sting. Put lojacks on a few bikes and let them get stolen. Or stake out bike racks with a few attractive bikes with weak cable locks.

    • Dave

      I saw a Cervelo road bike ($$ expensive $$$) locked to a sign in Courthouse with only a cheap cable lock. The kind that are about as thick as a Bic pen. I sat there for a second looking at it just not comprehending how dumb the owner was until I started thinking I might be under surveillance.

  • V Dizzle

    Mine was chained, inside of a locked fenced area (with a camera feed at the gate), within a secure garage at Meridian at Courthouse Commons, and disappeared on me. The camera appareently doesn’t work, and they said they’d never had a complaint about a bike being stolen before that. Submitted a police report and was never followed up with.

    • Me

      VDizzle my bike was stolen in September from the Meridian in Court House. Managment didn’t give a crap. And after searching a bit I found that stolen bikes a a problem in that garage. It took them 2 days to fix the chain and lock that was busted. The police did take a report and follow up to get the serial numbers since I didn’t have them when I submitted the report online. At least I was able to get a little compensation from my renters insurance.

      • V Dizzle

        Yeah, they lied to me too (in the rental office) about not having bikes stolen. For full disclosure, this was a few years back. I didn’t even think of claiming on my insurance…crap. That camera may not have ever worked though. I will NEVER rent at a Meridian property again, and not only due to the bike issue.

  • CW

    Ugh…just moved to a new building with a shared bike area…3 bikes, that means I’m going to need between 6 and 9 u-locks depending on the orientation of the racks…

  • gringo

    My u-lock is an Albanian brand named Easy Pop, do you think it’s safe?

  • R0bespierre

    Yeah U Locks are tough stuff, you can only pick them with a Bic Pen in like 5 seconds.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGPwX5_2v0k

    How about, take your bike indoors, every night.

    • CW

      Too bad my building forbids it.

    • Jeff

      That’s the old version, and if you have one you can contact Kryptonite for a replacement.

    • wilbur

      That vulnerability has been fixed. U Locks were off the market for several months while they redesigned them. If you are still using those compromised locks, well…

    • borf

      Those are the old U-locks. The new models have been redesigned. Good point though – get a new U-lock, people.

  • Mike

    Mine was stolen in broad day light from the busy Clarendon Metro while i was eating at hard times for only 1hr 🙁 -Cable Locks are useless i guess

  • wilbur

    We keep our bikes inside. My office has indoor secure bike parking. We have a lot of bike commuters – and those commuters have high-end bikes. An effective component of bike-commuting is secure parking.

    One thing you all might consider doing is contacting both Bike Arlington and WABA, and express your concern for the need for greater secure bike parking. Arlington is a very friendly bike community – tho not perfect. If you express your concern to Bike Arlington, perhaps it could lead to better solutions. Just for example, down at Nats Ball Park, there is a secure valet bike parking place. Maybe something could happen like that at Ballston Mall, or near the Ballston metro.

    And I would say, I have a high end bike too. I would never leave it out on the street – even with a u lock. Knowing that there is a secure place to leave the bike is necessary for use of that bike.

  • Thes

    If the police see this as a widespread problem, I wonder if they would be willing to start doing this with bikes. Usually with a wave like this it’s a few people committing most of the crimes.

  • Gman

    My kryptonite chain was hacked and my bike stolen right in front of the stationmaster booth at Arlington’s EFC metro station. Mounted cameras “didn’t record”, and no one saw anything. I too think something akin to the bait-car program would thin the herd. Even then, crooks don’t fear a stint at Arlington county jail. Hot meals, medical care, cable TV.

  • roquer

    The hardened U-bolts are the only thing that is close to being absolutely secure. Unless the thief has a diamond saw, which is a little too large to walk around with. Chains can be frozen & broken, cables can be hacksawed thru. Doesn’t take long either.
    Security cameras are not a deterrent, tho they are helpful if enough bikes are stolen, to get a confession from the thief if someone is caught.
    The best deterrent would be a microchip implanted behind the ear of convicted criminals, with their FBI#.Along with security cameras, a scanner of sorts could be arranged to ‘see’ those that entered w/ FBI#s. That way, positive ID could immediately be made.
    I expect, however, this would be too much government intrusion.

  • Lived in Woodbury Heights for 16 years in the Courthouse area. It is a large condo building with a very good staff and board.

    We had a lot of bikes stolen from our garage (condo recommended hanging them on racks on front of your parking space and then securing them).

    I moved out of Woodbury Heights almost 6 years ago. If I remember correctly most of the thieves turned out to be young kids. A lot were Hispanic.

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