Photo: The Slate
With more than 1 million bicycles stolen in the U.S. each year, it’s becoming increasingly common for consumers to use their own resources to track down their wheels––with, or without help from police.New York is undoubtedly one of the hottest spots for bike theft, as more and more commuters––including myself––opt for bike lanes over public transit and leave their bikes locked out in the open during the day.
This time around, it was the Slate’s Jody Rosen who unleashed the power of social media to recover his beloved three-speed Chief cruiser. When his bike went missing outside a Brooklyn coffee shop earlier this week (he confesses that he forgot to lock his chain), he put out the call to his 3,100 Twitter followers for help spotting it around the city.
In a post on Slate, Rosen recounts the experience:
“The window to recover the Chief was closing fast. A smart criminal would spray-paint it, or strip it down to the ball-bearings and sell the parts. But if the bike was still on the street, it couldn’t have gone far…I found a photo of the Chief on Felt’s website and dumped the link into a Twitter window. I decided to try my luck—to digitally crowdsource the hunt for my bike.”
That call for help reached tens of thousands of Twitter users as it was retweeted by bloggers, entertainment writers, and even singer-songwriter Neko Case. In the end, it made its way to Nick Sylvester, a journalist who happened to pass by Rosen’s distinctive wheels near Union Square.
Within hours, Rosen was reunited with his beloved bike, albeit without ever finding the person who stole it. A few plain clothes cops stalked the site to see if the thief would show, but he or she never surfaced.
Rosen isn’t the first to recover his stolen bike using Twitter, and chances are he won’t be the last. There are Twitter accounts set up specifically for reporting stolen bikes, and within the NYC cycling community, people often report bikes missing via the #BikeNYC hashtag.
Earlier this year, I wrote about the amateur sting operation launched by Philadelphia resident Danny Lesh after he stumbled across his stolen $600 hybrid in an ad on Craigslist.
Registering your wheels is another way to keep track if they wind up in the wrong hands. For $10, the National Bike Registry will cover you for 10 years and send a tamper-resistant ID label that can be used to track it if stolen. Many cities have their own registries. NYC cyclists can register their rides via the NYPD.