how to get someone else's lock off my bike?
March 16, 2011 10:19 PM   Subscribe

Someone has (accidentally, I think) put his lock on my bicycle. The police are unwilling to cut the lock without paperwork proving that I own the bicycle, but I do not have that paperwork. The policeman I asked seemed to hint that I could get away with cutting the lock myself, but it's in a well-traveled area and I'm unwilling to risk some eager bystander reporting me for bicycle theft. This is in Chicago. Advice, please?

While my bike was locked to a rack, someone put a cable lock through his own front triangle, his front wheel, and my rack, locking my bicycle as well as his own.

I offered to get my room-mate to sign an affidavit, but it sounded like the policeman wanted some kind of title like people transfer with cars. I have no such thing.

The policeman seemed to hint that as long as nobody forced him to act by reporting a theft in progress, I would not get in trouble for cutting the lock myself. Nonetheless, I'm reluctant to take his verbal assurances with that kind of caveat. Having once cut a (thinner) cable lock with the same tools (hacksaw and dull tin snips), I know it'll take at least fifteen minutes, and I'll be standing in front of a busy cafe very obviously cutting someone's lock the whole time.

I'm going to wait a day or two longer in case the other bicyclist returns and frees my bike, but then I'll have to choose one of the following:

1. Cut the lock myself and try to convince passersby that I only want my own bicycle.

2. Unscrew my rear rack from the bike, so that at least the bike is free, lock the rear rack to the bike rack, and wait for the bicyclist to return.

3. Go back to the bike shop and see if they can give me this "paperwork" for a bike they sold over three years ago. (Unlikely. I sort of work at this shop and have never seen any paperwork other than a handwritten receipt for a "bike".)

Any other suggestions?
posted by d. z. wang to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (31 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Just make sure your bike in independently locked while you wait your few days. I've heard of thieves locking bikes just so they can come back later, knowing they will still there, and steal them.
posted by cccorlew at 10:22 PM on March 16, 2011 [9 favorites]

Cut it, asap...don't wait. Do it while cops are around. Why do you not have paperwork? Even an "I bought it on craigslist" email would suffice if there are cops standing on the street. If you make phonecalls, you are going to have to produce serial number verification and stuff. Since you work at the bikeshop, can you not make up a receipt with the serial number? If you aren't going to have paperwork, you should have that in your wallet for future incidents.

Sucker stole a bianchi that way around the wabash area a few years ago.

They put a lock on it, bike was trapped. Came back the next gone. During the night, they had taken off their lock...and then clipped the original lock.

Fucking genius. Theft on layaway.

Also...register your bike. This could all have been prevented by that.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:23 PM on March 16, 2011 [4 favorites] ccorlew says. Put a few more locks on it so they will have a really bitch-ass time stealing it.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:24 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Add your own lock?
posted by tumid dahlia at 10:24 PM on March 16, 2011

Got any pictures of you on your bike? You could (make a demonstrable display) hold a picture of you on it to any inquisitive passers by who could see what you were doing.

I know it'll take at least fifteen minutes, and I'll be standing in front of a busy cafe very obviously cutting someone's lock the whole time.

Assuming you have the picture, take it in and show the staff, and instruct them as to what you're doing, and do it in broad daylight, taking your sweet time. Bring a tool box, make it obvious and people will probably get the hint.
posted by cashman at 10:32 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So if you cut the cable, will you be leaving the other bike unprotected? That seems like a harsh outcome for the other person, who probably just made a mistake. (If it was a thief, why would they bother leaving their own bike? Now they'd have two bikes to get home.) If I were in your shoes, I'd separate my bike from the rack and come back for it later.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:34 PM on March 16, 2011

Best answer: Since #2 is an option, I would almost certainly go for that. Even if the rack is stolen, that is not nearly as much of a hit as the whole bike being stolen from you.

Then come back later to see if they've unlocked the rack.
posted by that girl at 10:34 PM on March 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: #2. A bike without a rear rack is worth far more than no bike at all.
posted by astrochimp at 10:38 PM on March 16, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice. I guess I'll go unscrew my rear rack now.

hal_c_on: "Also...register your bike. This could all have been prevented by that."

Registration requires the same standard of evidence. But now that I see that failure to register has real consequences, I'll see if I can arrange for that paperwork after the fact.
posted by d. z. wang at 10:46 PM on March 16, 2011

Is the other bike registered? You might call and ask them to run it for owner info, there might be a number on file they can try to call.
posted by Menthol at 10:47 PM on March 16, 2011

Since you think it's a mistake I'd do the second option, and also leave a note with your cell phone number or something saying "Hey, you locked my rack to the bike stand. Please give me a call when you unlock it so I can come get it, thanks!". That way you know when it's unlocked, plus it points out the mistake so they're less likely to do it again.

If it was locked to your actual bike then I'd be more in favour of cutting it. But since it's not, it looks like a mistake, and cutting the lock leaves the other bike unprotected I think that removing the rack is a better option. At least that way if you're wrong you still have your bike.
posted by shelleycat at 10:47 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you can't somehow get in contact with the owner of the other bike, immediately take option 2. I wouldn't wait a few days for the other owner to return. If some bystander hassles you, point out the fact that the lock goes through your rack. Who cares what they think anyway?

I agree with leaving some way for the returning owner to contact you. If I were the other bike owner and I did this on mistake, I would feel pretty stupid and would want to bake you cookies or something.
posted by UsernameGenerator at 11:01 PM on March 16, 2011

Here's an interesting piece of advice:
If you *were* to be somewhat dubiously sawing some kind of lock, the best time to do it *would* be in broad daylight, in normal clothes (make sure you've got your helmet, obviously). People are less likely to assume you're stealing it, because you're making no attempt to hide.

If you lost your lock key, you'd be in the same situation, right?

As it sounds like a genuine mistake, it'll probably be unlocked within a day or two, but if it isn't, just unsaw the bike, and freely tell people it's your bike, and flash your ID at them. Someone stealing a bike isn't going to be that free with their identity. I had to do the same thing when I lost a keylock.
posted by Elysum at 11:32 PM on March 16, 2011

Since it's just your rack that's locked in place, and cutting the other person's lock would leave their bike unprotected, taking your bike, but leaving your rack locked up separately with a note for at least a few more days would be considerate.

Also, previously on MetaFilter, people's reaction to you cutting a bike lock may depend strongly on your race.
posted by JiBB at 12:26 AM on March 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

When I lost the key to my bike lock, it took about 5 seconds to cut through the (quite thick) cable with a pair of bolt cutters. Granted it was attached to the veranda of my house and so I didn't look particularly dodgy doing it, but if you have access to bolt cutters you should be able to do this quickly enough that nobody will notice.

Having said that, removing the rack is probably a better idea.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 1:33 AM on March 17, 2011

I've learned to pick simple locks when I've lost my bike lock keys, and I did it with few internet pages, and 2 simple hairpins. It took maybe 20 seconds.
posted by leigh1 at 2:40 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cut the lock and take your bike ... screw the other idiot.

Alternatively ... use your lock to lock the bikes together, and attach a note with your phone number.
posted by jannw at 3:06 AM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

This is something that comes up every now and again on cycling forums I frequent, and the standard response is usually, during daylight hours at least, to re-lock their bike with your lock and leave a note. If it gets towards nightfall with no contact, have no qualms cutting their lock (you'll probably find people volunteering tools if you post on a local cycling forum).
If your bike is anything particularly nice, or if you live in a bike theft hotspot, jump straight to step 2.
posted by anagrama at 4:49 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you sort of work at the bike shop where you purchased the bike 3 years ago, get them to write a new receipt. Give it to cop to cut. Lock other bike up with a note where to contact you.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:50 AM on March 17, 2011

Sorry, my answer should have read "re-lock both bikes with your lock & leave a note"
posted by anagrama at 4:53 AM on March 17, 2011

Here in NYC, if you were seen cutting a lock off of a bike, no one would pay you any mind. And since it is your bike just tell anyone that does bug you to call the cops. That should zip up anyone who thought you were a real criminal.
posted by darkgroove at 4:55 AM on March 17, 2011

I've had this problem and cut through the other person's lock (I did phone the police beforehand basically just to cover myself). A couple of people asked me about it, but nobody was impolite - I just told them what I was doing and they went on their way. As elysum says - if you aren't doing anything wrong, then you don't really have to worry.
posted by crocomancer at 5:33 AM on March 17, 2011

If the bike has been locked there for more than a day the owner may live nearby. Ask at the cafe if they know who the bike belongs to. Ask any other person who lives in the area if they know. It may be a long shot but at least you are not leaving their bike free for the taking after the lock is cut. Also leave a note.
posted by JJ86 at 7:21 AM on March 17, 2011

When my bike lock failed me and became impossible to open, my dad joined me and we broke through the cable together. I called my dad because he had the tools and the strength, but I quickly realized that he had the added bonus of making us look completely innocent while potentially stealing a bike. My bike was in the middle of a busy part of my campus, and no one seemed bothered by the apparent daughter and dad smashing a bike lock to bits with a chisel. Do you have a trustable-looking older person that can come help you out?
posted by to recite so charmingly at 7:23 AM on March 17, 2011

Go buy a cheap cable lock. Unbolt your rack from your bike, and now you have your bike. Then, lock the rack to the lightpole (or whatever the thing your bike was locked to) in such a way that the other person can remove their lock and bike, but your rack will remain secure to the fixture.

You aren't screwing anyone, nobody is screwing you, and it will cost you $5.

(Unlikely. I sort of work at this shop and have never seen any paperwork other than a handwritten receipt for a "bike".)

Village Cycle?
posted by gjc at 7:25 AM on March 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

Forgot to mention last part. Go back and unlock your rack at some point in the future when the other person has removed your bike. If someone steals your rack, be happy that you stopped them from stealing your whole bike. If it is still there, be happy you didn't ruin someone else's day.
posted by gjc at 7:27 AM on March 17, 2011

Yeah, I agree with gjc, remove your rack and lock it separately so that you can come back for it later. Leaving a note for the other person to call you and let you know seems like a good idea as well, hopefully they'll turn out to be decent and do it.
posted by quin at 8:45 AM on March 17, 2011

I'm with gjc.

But I can second the recommendation for a good pair of bolt cutters as a solution should you need to cut a cable lock. I once locked my and my wife's bikes together in front of a grocery store and then realized that I had forgotten the keys, which were 8 miles away. I borrowed a pair of bolt cutters from a farmer across the street. They sliced through the cable like butter. When I got home I tried my own slightly smaller bolt cutters and they too had no problem. Since then I always use a U lock.
posted by brianogilvie at 11:19 AM on March 17, 2011

I'm also for the gjc solution.

Please give us an update!
posted by deborah at 3:17 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had to add this link
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:21 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh, hey, sorry guys. I was busy and decided to leave it there for two nights. It was a $96 beater bike in an area with generally low bike theft, and (consequently) many easier opportunities. I'm talking about fixies with $500 wheels on quick-releases, "secured" by a U-lock around the top tube. So I wasn't worried that this was some sort of elaborate trap. When I went back two days later, the other bike was gone. I unlocked my own lock and rode the bike home. Thanks for all the advice, though!
posted by d. z. wang at 7:42 PM on March 22, 2011

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