Who are the thieves? A mix of professional bike thieves equipped with bolt-cutters, tools and keys, drug addicts funding their habits and opportunistic homeless grabbing a casually stowed bike, explained officer Dan Neifer, who runs the bait bike program for Northern Division's Beach Team.
While bike thefts are common, most are preventable. More stolen bikes could be returned to owners with a few preventive measures, Neifer explained. While any lock, no matter how tough, can be defeated with the right tools, a stronger lock securing both frame and wheels to an immovable object slows thieves down.
If you have to leave your bike, leave it in a well-trafficked and lit area, such as at the new bike racks Discover PB installed near busy bars, where few bikes have disappeared. Never leave a bike overnight, Neifer said, because thieves "go shopping" after the bars close, picking up stolen bikes they've "cooled down" in nearby neighborhoods, locking them temporarily to signposts.
Most people don't know their bike's serial number, officers report. Without a recorded serial number, they have no way of returning a recovered bike.
Serial numbers are stamped into the bike's underside, where the pedals connect to the frame. Most responsible bike shops include serial numbers on receipts when they sell them, explained Michelangelo – who prefers a single name – of Bicycle Discovery, located at 742 Felspar St., Pacific Beach. They can look up serial numbers in case of theft.
A good local bike shop can help you select the best lock for your needs.
While Cheap Rentals, located at 3689 Mission Blvd., mainly rents bikes equipped with cables and padlocks, it also sells a wide selection of bicycle locks.
David Jackson of Cheap Rentals recommends a heavy U-lock for greater security. U-locks, Jackson explained, come in different sizes, weights and sturdiness, with keys or combination locks. Some are harder to cut, but all can be smashed with a sledgehammer. Tougher still is an encased heavy-link steel chain lock.
Wherever you leave your bike, even inside your garage, lock it up to prevent theft.
Jackson suggests investing in a Bluetooth tracker Tile, enabling owners to locate Tile-equipped objects via a smartphone app. The device, about 1.5 inches square and sold online, is concealable in a bike frame or seat.
Avid cyclist Mike Waters of Mission Beach took a different route. While he owns locks, he painted his bike to make it look unappealing. He also disables his bike by inserting a small metal rod (a trimmed nail) into the brake lever, which once prevented its theft.
Keep a photo of your bike along with its serial number. If it's stolen, notify police and look on Craigslist.
"If people find their bikes on Craigslist, we'll do an undercover buy for them," Neifer said.
The bait bike program is also proving a success, with a 10 percent reduction in bike thefts since its introduction.