Ask any bike rider and they’ll tell you it’s a risk of the road: Lock it up or lose it.
In Fairfax, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, crooks stole 1,374 bikes last year. In 2013, Metropolitan Police Department records reviewed by the News4 I-Team show more than 1,000 bikes reported stolen.
According to the National Bike Registry, only about 5 percent of stolen bikes ever make it back to their owners. Bryan Holmes knows that first hand. He had just moved into the Petworth neighborhood when thieves hit, breaking into the garage for two bikes.
“It was dead bolted and it was kicked in or possibly a crowbar,” he told the I-Team. He said he didn’t have much hope in getting them back. “Not inexpensive, and unfortunately mine was uninsured. So, it was lesson learned."
But sometimes this crime ends differently if you take the right steps, explained Officer Mike Owen with Prince George's County Police. “We don't find most of them, but there are a few things people can do to help ensure that they do get it back.” He recommended taking photos of your bike and writing down the serial numbers. “This exponentially increases our chances of finding it,” said Officer Owen.
Officer Owen told the I-Team many people just give up when their bikes are stolen, not even filing a police report. And with most hot bikes being resold within hours on the streets, he said time is critical. That’s why you should post those pictures you took on social media sites immediately. “I would also suggest going and visiting local pawn shops," said Officer Owen.
Bike shops are another good place to call. John Fitzmaurice with City Bikes in D.C. helped bag a bike thief when he recognized a stranger bring in a bike that looked a lot like a bike belonging to one of his regular customers. He explained, "Well, it's a pretty distinct bike, so as soon as I saw it roll in the door I knew it was our customer who had visited just a couple hours prior." Store employees were able to keep an eye on the thief until police arrived. General Manager Saul Leiken said, “With the increase in the value of bikes we're seeing a lot more bike thefts."
And there's probably no other bike quite like Damon Taaffe's. It’s a one-of-a-kind racing bike he built piece by piece, spending a lot of time and money on it. “Oh, probably 11, 12 thousand dollars. Probably, more like a car in many ways than a bike,” said Taaffe. He had only ridden the completely assembled bike three times, keeping it locked in a secured room in his building's garage. That didn't stop thieves from getting inside one recent Saturday morning. “It just became this utterly sickening thing,” explained Taaffe.
Taaffe made all the right calls after the theft. He filed a police report and then reached out to his online biking community. That’s when someone spotted an ad on Craigslist, hours after the heist, that sounded a lot like his bike. "The ad had been posted two blocks from where I live," said Taaffe. “I immediately contacted the guy through the cellphone number." Later that day, working with police, Taaffe arranged to meet the guy in front of a busy downtown D.C. hotel. “It’s really a surreal thing having your property being sold back to you." After he identified the bike, officers were able to quickly arrest the guy. “One of the cardinal lessons of living in DC is when your bike is stolen it's gone forever,” Taaffe told the I-Team. "And what every cyclist wants to happen is to catch the guy red handed who took the bike."
But Officer Owen cautions about approaching anyone you suspect of stealing your bike without police help. "A bike is property at the end of the day. So you don't want to put yourself in physical danger," said Owen. The best advice is to make sure your bike is registered with the local police department or the National Bike Registry. And if you’re not riding the bike, keep it inside your home if possible.
Who to call if you spot a stolen bike:
- Metropolitan Police Department Anonymous Tip Line 202-727-9099
- Montgomery County Police Department Non-Emergency 301-279-8000
- Prince George’s County Police Department Non-Emergency 301-333-4000
- Fairfax County Police Department Non-Emergency 703-691-2131
- Alexandria Police Department Non-Emergency 703-746-4444
- Arlington County Police Department Non-Emergency 703-558-2222
To register your bike with National Bike Registry: Click here or call 1-800-848-BIKE.
Questions about registering your bike: