The Inevitable Experience of Having Your Bike Stolen in New York

Earlier this week, my friend Danny had his bike stolen outside of his apartment building in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. In broad daylight. And with a security camera recording the whole thing.

Danny bought this bike at the end of the summer and just a few months later had it stolen. He’s experienced both the joy and agony of owning a bicycle in New York City. A bicycle provides an unparalleled level of mobility if you live in certain (expensive!) parts of New York City. A bicycle makes getting around a lot quicker and more pleasant, which is odd considering that the first emotion you probably feel when you ride a bike in the city is heart-stopping terror.

But with the dizzying high that accompanies bicycle ownership, there is the crushing blow that we all experience: the agony of having that bicycle stolen. It’s a surprisingly deflating experience, something much worse than losing your phone. I’ve described the emotion of having your bicycle stolen as somewhere between losing your wallet and the death of a cherished pet.

Because he has surveillance footage of the theft, he has attracted some attention from the local media. But despite the minor celebrity Danny has become, I feel his pain and further empathize with him for a couple of reasons.

  1. He believed in the kindness of witnesses to stop the crime. After reviewing the video, he noticed that his mail carrier walked past the theft in progress. Casey and Van Neistat taught us, back in 2005, that nobody will stop a bike thief in progress. Nobody.

    I can attest to this as I had broken my bike key inside my lock some years ago, and I spent several hours picking the lock to remove the broken piece. I was on the corner of First Avenue and 61st Street, in front of the Bed Bath and Beyond store, where there was a lot of foot traffic. Only one person asked what I was doing. He accepted my explanation at face value and went on his business. No one else—not even the security guards at the store—took any action as I attempted to pick my bike lock.

    Casey Neistat recorded an updated video in 2012 and found that some witnesses would intervene. In his video, he found that the police did stop him from stealing his own bike but only after he used a conspicuous angle grinder for several minutes mere feet from several police officers at Union Square. The officers he spoke to admitted that none of them had ever stopped a bike theft-in-progress until Neistat all but screamed “hey, I’m stealing a bike!”

  2. He hopes that the police will catch the bike thief. NPR’s Planet Money did an enlightening story on bike theft in 2012. In the report, we learn that, on the streets, a bike is a form of currency. Cash, drugs, and sex are the others, and a bike can be exchanged for any of them. But unlike other crimes, bike theft carries no risk of being caught or punished. None.

As with death, taxes, and hard drive failures, having your bicycle stolen is sadly inevitable. One bicycling accessory entrepreneur claims that the ratio of bicycles sold to bicycles stolen is one-to-one.

And like all of us who have had a bike stolen, Danny has learned a hard lesson. Treat your bike like your wallet and your pet. Like your wallet, keep it within your control at all times. And, like your pet, and don’t keep it outside.

Or just sign up for the local bike share program.

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