How do I stop being so paranoid about my bike being stolen?
March 31, 2013 9:11 AM   Subscribe

I live in San Francisco and just started biking. Whenever I bike somewhere and lock up out of sight, I start worrying about my bike being stolen. I know it won't actually suck that much when it happens (I'll be pissed, then get a new bike). How do I stop thinking of my bike as "that expensive popular-to-steal thing I just left outside oh no?"

I do have pretty good locking hygiene: I have pinhead locks on my wheels and seat post, a Kryptonite mini-5, a cable because why not. I typically lock using the Sheldon Brown locking technique as recommended by the SF Bike Coalition, then wind the cable around my front wheel just in case. The weight of a fuggedaboutit-esque chain is a deterrent for me. I try to lock up in well-traveled and lit areas, and bring the bike into my apartment/office when I'm there.

My bike cost me about $500--nothing super fancy, but neither is it a $60 beater. It is by far the most expensive thing I own that I regularly take out of the house, and since it feels like everyone in SF has a bike theft story, it feels like my bike is likely to be stolen at any moment. This deters me from, eg, riding my bike to yoga in the Mission, because I focus on the bike being stolen instead of my practice. It's not a big deal or an Actual Problem, but I'm wondering it this consciousness is something I'll grow out of once I've just started taking my bike places more, if this consciousness is a reasonable response to SF's bike theft issue which I'll just get used to, or if this is something I should actively try to rid myself of. If the latter, any tips on how to do so?
posted by c'mon sea legs to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
If you get bike insurance, and it's stolen while locked securely, they'll replace it.

That's made living in London with a bike a lot easier to bear =)
posted by katrielalex at 9:13 AM on March 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

It sounds like you're using best practices-- theft-resistant components, good lock, locking both wheels, not-very-expensive bike. Remember: you don't have to have the hardest bike in the world to steal; it just has to be near a more tempting target.

Other than that, you'll get used to it. You'll see that it doesn't get stolen while you're using best practices, and you'll realize that thefts aren't all that likely unless you're careless.

Or make sure it's covered by insurance, either a specific policy or as part of renter's insurance. For a $500 bike, though, I'm not sure there's a ton of use in a specific policy; you'd probably be better off socking the premiums away in a savings account should the worst happen.
posted by supercres at 9:19 AM on March 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, read about Kryptonite's anti-theft protection; that might set your mind at ease as well.
posted by supercres at 9:21 AM on March 31, 2013

Think about your hourly wage or the equivalent at your job. Divide the cost of a new bike by that. Call the result "X". Will your bike get stolen every X hours you leave it out of your immediate sight? Of course not. So worrying about it constantly is costing you money.

Instead, your only continuing expense should be a few seconds of finding the best possible place and way to secure your bike each time you leave it. After that, you've done what you could, and worrying is just costing you more money.
posted by Etrigan at 9:21 AM on March 31, 2013

How do I stop thinking of my bike as "that expensive popular-to-steal thing I just left outside oh no?"

You might want to think of theft, rather than a tragedy to be avoided, as part of the cost of riding a bike. Maybe you figure that it'll get stolen every year or two. That means spending something like $250 to $500 a year on stolen-bike-replacement. That's still pretty cheap as transit costs go (compared to, say, driving a car).

This deters me from, eg, riding my bike to yoga in the Mission, because I focus on the bike being stolen instead of my practice.

Can you think about this probablistically? That is - Say your chance of your bike being stolen stolen during a given yoga session is 1 in 200 (which seems high to me, for a well-locked not-fancy bike). Then you are taking a risk whose value is about $500/200 = $2.50. Does that seem like an acceptable level of risk?
posted by ManInSuit at 9:41 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

You could register it. I did a search and this is the first one I found.

My approach is to figure that any bike I ride may get stolen eventually. It is still cheaper than bus or car. My last Nice Bike lasted five years. That's about $10/month for lots of riding!
posted by aniola at 9:49 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

People drive cars which generally are much more valuable and park them with far fewer efforts to protect them. Few of us spend much time or effort worrying about theft. While it happens it isn't much of a factor in deciding whether or not to drive some place. Those places where it is an extreme threat are also probably places best avoided in general.

The real danger, I think, is not in the fact that you ride a bike so will get it stolen. It is in the chance that you will be careless in your protective actions and allow it to be stolen. Locked cars which are not extremely valuable and left in the wrong places are not very likely to be stolen. Any car left unlocked with a key in the ignition is probably not so unlikely a victim.

I don't know that this is a specific help or answer, except to maybe point out that you need to put your fears into a broader perspective. Insurance may help if you are an "add on" to another policy with a deductible limit which doesn't exclude any actual benefit.
posted by uncaken at 9:58 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I lived in Chicago, in addition to the locks, I spray painted my bike a funky neonish color green and put a bunch of tape on it so it looked rat-ier than it was and would be easier to identify. I think it was a deterrent. Never had it stolen in 7 years, but I did have a few girls laugh at me.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:09 AM on March 31, 2013 [6 favorites]

For me it's a combination of taking a Buddhist perspective (the glass was already broken), a cynical perspective (I'm not trying to outrun the bear, just the people whose bikes are locked near mine), and never relaxing my vigilance on locking up properly in a well-lit location and removing easily-stolen things from the bike.

Oh, and never ever EVER leave it locked on the street overnight.
posted by Lexica at 10:10 AM on March 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

I also suggest insurance of some sort. I commute by bike to pretty safe bike parking places, but if i regularly had to park somewhere that was a bit sketchy, I would probably start scouting Craigslist for a cheaper beater of a bike.

I'm not sure if this pans out, or infra just confirmation bias or something, but beaters don't seem to get stolen as much. Or owners don't complain as much when their beater gets pinched.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:44 AM on March 31, 2013

I was very nervous about this for awhile as well. I live in the North Bay, where bike thefts aren't as common but still happen. I was nervous to ride to the bus stop and lock my bike up for the day while I went down to the city, for example.

What got me over that was thinking, This is what my bike is for. If I don't use it as a commuting aid, I'm not really getting my money's worth for it. If it gets stolen it will suck, but at least I'll know I got good value out of it. In fact, it's kind of a waste of money if you don't use it. And hell, even a stolen bike is still waaay cheaper than a car. That helps, too.
posted by imalaowai at 10:54 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

You're doing everything right, and at this point bike theft is both unlikely and out of your control.

My usual advice to people who are worried about bike theft is "maybe you shouldn't have bought such an expensive bike". You don't seem to have made that mistake, and you're locking it, and locking it correctly.

Just... let it go. Treat it like you would the potential of being mugged, or being hurt in an unpredictable accident, or coming down with a rare disease. Could that happen? Yes. Does that suck? Yes. Is there anything you can do to prevent it? No. Try to find some joy despite the constant potential for something bad to happen.
posted by Sara C. at 11:17 AM on March 31, 2013

When I lived in Chicago, in addition to the locks, I spray painted my bike a funky neonish color green and put a bunch of tape on it so it looked rat-ier than it was and would be easier to identify. I think it was a deterrent. Never had it stolen in 7 years, but I did have a few girls laugh at me.

A friend of mine's husband put pink fur all over his bike--yes, they are Burning Man folk. I also live in a town where bikes are constantly stolen, and one day, his was. was recognizable enough that my friend told people about it being stolen, and one of her coworkers spotted a furry pink bike riding down the street right by their work. Let's just say that within 24 hours, they had it back.

So....if you're not going the beater route, perhaps go the route of tacky decor? I don't know how much difference that would make in SF, of all places, but it's an option.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:12 PM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

My experience was that I grew out of worrying about theft, but a couple more tips:

Hang on to receipts and make sure there's identifying info / engraving on your bike. A friend found her stolen bike a month later locked up outside a restaurant, and cut it free with police approval / supervision. Also works if you find your bike in a pawn shop.

If you don't want to paint, stickers can reduce the desirability of your bike to thieves.
posted by momus_window at 1:38 PM on March 31, 2013

My front wheel is a throwaway... rusted, busted; POS. I'd miss the Avocet kevlar 700c tire. It's not filthy but is is far from armour alled also.

I've seen a cutting wheel go through a kryptonite like butter. Legit; outside of a bar in Austin. Kid, his mom, and a UT Police showed up to plug in and cut off. Took all of ?? 10-15 seconds and that 1/2" of steel was in two pieces. Ten years later with battery powered cutting tools I'm sure it is just as quick a process and with no power cord needed. As Aniola said above; ride and lock regularly and it will happen eventually.

Torn and cracked seat. Nothing 'fancy' to make the bike appear too special. Scratched and unclear labels on the quality derailler, rest of rear wheel set just as good and just as beat looking ... but unappealing.

Love my bike, American made, and I'd miss it dearly; but honestly, I keep the thing looking kinda gawd-awlful so I don't have to fret it disappearing. And that eases my mind.
posted by buzzman at 2:15 PM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

It might be easier to accept the possibility that it might get stolen, and thats okay, if you think of it as the tax for living in a society.

Fact is, bikes (and all kinds of other possessions) regularly get stolen despite best practices, and houses get burglarized. It sucks but life goes on. That's a conscious choice you make when you decide to live in a city. You ought to be a lot more zen about the risk if you think about it that way.
posted by halogen at 3:03 PM on March 31, 2013

Would it help you to have a bank account that is your bike insurance fund? You could add the cost of a new bike to the account, or if you don't have that much money start contributing $20 per month to save up. Then when you start worrying you can remind yourself that your bike insurance fund has you covered. For me at least having something tangible ready to manage the risk can be reassuring to offset anxiety.
posted by medusa at 3:05 PM on March 31, 2013

It's not always practical, but I discovered that taking the seat with me gives me complete peace of mind wrt the possibility of my bike being stolen.
posted by hat_eater at 4:45 PM on March 31, 2013

As with cars, any bike can be stolen. You just need to tell yourself that you have done all you can.
posted by twblalock at 6:49 PM on March 31, 2013

I agree that the answer is to just let go. Easier said than done, of course.

The way I stopped a lot of this type of thinking was to stop valuing my stuff so much. My phone, car, computer, etc., are just things to get stuff done, rather than the "bling" my younger self looked at it as.

It also helped having a friend who is an absolute nut about this kind of stuff. All about safety deposit boxes, safes in the house, car alarms, keeping everything out of sight in his car. It seems exhausting. I found it better to just try my best and not waste that energy/stress on things that haven't happened yet. It's not like having your stuff stolen is going to hurt less because you were constantly obsessing about its safety.

(The last thing I noticed is that I sometimes get anxious about leaving my car behind because it represents safety and mobility. If my car is accessible, I can leave whenever I want. If I leave it behind somewhere, I start to worry about all the potential things that could happen that would be easier if the car is nearby. A big way out of that for me was to plan ahead better. Having a go-bag with all my necessary stuff in it that I can just grab when I head off makes it way easier to feel comfortable leaving the "safety" of nearby transportation.

It also helps to just get used to it. Do things that are slightly out of your comfort zone in order to expand that comfort zone.)
posted by gjc at 7:08 PM on March 31, 2013

I always had $20 second-hand bikes until my most recent one, which cost $450. I was really nervous about leaving it locked outside for ages, especially since a friend had three bikes stolen in a year a couple of years back (although his were $1500 bikes). I think it took me about six months to stop worrying so much, and now I'm not really concerned. It's just a matter of getting used to owning it. I don't have a lot of expensive things, and so my perception of value is a bit skewed, and I imagine a $450 object is really theft-worthy. It's not, actually, so much. Not if it's locked up better than the other bikes around it.

The hassle of replacing it would suck, but it wouldn't ruin my life. And basically because it isn't so new and I'm no longer SO excited about owning it, I just don't think about it at all anymore much. It's like when you get a new phone and you lovingly install a screen protector and are hyper aware of the surfaces you put it on, and carry it really carefully, but six months later you are shoving it in your bag with all your other stuff and don't really know where it is half the time.
posted by lollusc at 8:22 PM on March 31, 2013

I uglied my bike up pretty good. Ripped off any brand stickers. Bright yellow reflective tape cut into weird shapes plastered all over it. Not only does it make it look hideous, it also increases visibility at night :)
posted by snailparade at 12:05 PM on April 1, 2013

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