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Thread: Safe to lock a bike next to high traffic establishments even for a few minutes?

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    Default Safe to lock a bike next to high traffic establishments even for a few minutes?

    I've gotten a bike stolen before in DC but I had left it locked overnight outside for multiple days so I've learned my lesson. I have a new bike that I only use for exercise and have never parked it outside. I'm think about using it for running errands like grabbing a quick bite somewhere or shopping at TJ's (West End). Probably would stay away from really dense areas like Columbia Heights and Georgetown. More like places like Tenleytown. Places that have alot of pedestrian traffic but not too much that people would be too busy to notice (or care) someone stealing a bike. Are places like this safe enough to not worry about someone attempting to steal the bike or even parts like the seatpost? It's not an expensive bike but it is new and probably stands out among some of the old beat up bikes.

    Also, I read somewhere that sometimes a thief will put their own lock on a bike they want to steal but maybe don't have the tools to steal it at that moment (or it's not the right time). This prevents the owner of the bike from leaving with their bike and buys the the thief some time to come back later and snatch it. Anyone experience anything like this?

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    I have parked my bike in lots of places in DC during the day and felt pretty comfortable. I did have my bike stolen about a year ago in Rosslyn, but I was not using a U-lock at the time (learned my lesson).

    I see tons of bikes all over downtown DC locked up on racks and signposts and everywhere, so perhaps that's an indication of some kind.

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    Nothing is 100% safe. I have routinely parked my bike outside (secured by a U-lock) for anything up to several hours in Tenleytown, Columbia Heights, and Georgetown for many years, all without incident. I have had bikes stolen twice, many years ago. Once was at the YMCA on Rhode Island Avenue, when I left the bike for several hours after the Y had closed, and thieves broke the lock. Once was at Medical Center Station, when I locked the bike to a fence and the thieves took apart the fence. I've had a bike vandalized once, at Bethesda Metro, when someone removed the brake cables. I have never had a wheel or seat post stolen, even though I rarely bother to lock those. Given that I've been regularly riding a bike in this area since 1991, I figure that's not a bad record. But YMMV. And of course, the more obviously high end bikes may be more of a target.

    As for a thief locking your bike in order to steal it later, I've never had that happen. And it would seem like a relatively inefficient way of stealing. First off, it assumes that a bike thief would be carrying a spare lock when he was not carrying tools to steal a bike, which seems unlikely. And second place, if I came and found my bike locked with someone else's lock, the first thing I'd do would be to call 911. So the thief who tried that would risk having the police set up a sting. I suspect that most thefts are crimes of opportunity, and a thief would be more likely to look for a bike later when he had the tools than to try to lock one up in hopes of stealing it later.
    Last edited by cvcalhoun; 08-10-2014 at 09:01 PM.

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    If you are using a cable lock, then it doesn't matter how many people are around the bike, they wouldn't notice a thing. My bike was stolen in a busy area around lunch hour and the people close to the bike rack didn't notice anything unusual. Get a U-Lock if you don't have one.
    Last edited by n18; 08-11-2014 at 08:04 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cvcalhoun View Post
    if I came and found my bike locked with someone else's lock, the first thing I'd do would be to call 911
    That seems extreme, even if you were certain it was a thief's work. Sure, call the police, but not 911.

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    In what way is it extreme? I wouldn't know when the thief would be coming back, and wouldn't want to take the risk of confronting him alone. Plus, what are my alternatives? I can't get much of anywhere if my means of transportation has been locked up. If I leave the bike to go find equipment to remove the lock attached by the thief, I'm pretty much on notice that the bike could easily be stolen while I'm gone. So this is a situation that requires immediate police attention--not police attention within the next month or so, which is what the nonemergency number produced the last time I used it.

    For the record, 911.gov says that an acceptable reason to call 911 is "A crime, especially if in progress." If a thief has locked up my bike to make it easier to steal later, that's a crime in progress.

    Quote Originally Posted by peterw_diy View Post
    That seems extreme, even if you were certain it was a thief's work. Sure, call the police, but not 911.

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    Hundreds, if not thousands of bikes are locked up on the streets of DC without incident every day. That's no guarantee, but the odds are good in the vast majority of the city that your bike and all of its parts will come out just fine. For example, a friend left her iPhone on her bike during a 2 hour long meeting in West End, and it was there, along with all the other stuff on the bike (and it was a cargo bike, so there was a lot of stuff), when she came back.

    Quote Originally Posted by cvcalhoun View Post
    In what way is it extreme?
    I believe Peter's point is that the situation in question is better handled by the non-emergency number. Obviously, do whatever you feel is best, but given the issues the 911 system around here has had, I would call the nonemergency number in that situation as well. If it were closed or I didn't get an acceptable response, I'd call 911. I just wouldn't want to have my not-really-an-emergency call displace or delay a heart attack or fire call.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dasgeh View Post
    That's no guarantee, but the odds are good in the vast majority of the city that your bike and all of its parts will come out just fine. For example, a friend left her iPhone on her bike during a 2 hour long meeting in West End, and it was there, along with all the other stuff on the bike (and it was a cargo bike, so there was a lot of stuff), when she came back.
    It's probably good practice to take anything valuable that is easily removed when you go. That said, I see bikes all the time with Garmins or other devices on them. I never take my under-seat bag, even though I could lose my multi-tool and some other minor stuff. And some of my lights would be cake to steal, but no one ever has.

    All in all, a bike parked in a relatively busy area is pretty much street furniture. There are so many of them around that they aren't even noticed. Again, I wouldn't recommend taking chances with your bike, but even if you do (sometimes by accident--like leaving your iPhone attached), most times it works out.

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    Default What if you forget your lock?

    A few years ago I rode my bike down to Penn Quarter for an event. I had packed my suit in a bag to change into. Since I was the chair of the event, I had no room to bag out or be late. When I got there I had no lock (D'oh!). I didn't know anyone in the building well enough to call and see if I could bring it inside. For a minute or two I was flummoxed. Then I had an idea, which has now worked for me on several occasions.

    I went in the garage of the building and rode all the way to the bottom. I found a place in a corner by some big fan or something and left the bike mostly out of sight. It was a private garage, so only people who worked in the building used it. My theory was that anyone who had their car parked down there was not going to be interested in a bike; they were just getting their car to go home. Even if they noticed it they would probably assume it belonged to someone who worked in the building and would leave it alone. And the people who worked in the building are by and large not bike thieves--or criminals of any kind (well, some are lawyers).

    So I don't recommend forgetting your lock, but if you ever do and are in a similar situation this may be a good solution.

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    Quote Originally Posted by A.C. View Post
    I've gotten a bike stolen before in DC but I had left it locked overnight outside for multiple days so I've learned my lesson. I have a new bike that I only use for exercise and have never parked it outside. I'm think about using it for running errands like grabbing a quick bite somewhere or shopping at TJ's (West End). Probably would stay away from really dense areas like Columbia Heights and Georgetown. More like places like Tenleytown. Places that have alot of pedestrian traffic but not too much that people would be too busy to notice (or care) someone stealing a bike. Are places like this safe enough to not worry about someone attempting to steal the bike or even parts like the seatpost? It's not an expensive bike but it is new and probably stands out among some of the old beat up bikes.

    Also, I read somewhere that sometimes a thief will put their own lock on a bike they want to steal but maybe don't have the tools to steal it at that moment (or it's not the right time). This prevents the owner of the bike from leaving with their bike and buys the the thief some time to come back later and snatch it. Anyone experience anything like this?
    I have locked my bike up in Tenleytown many times without a problem. If you're worried, there are some of those Metro lockers that you can rent. There is also some parking on the main level of the Whole Foods garage (it's to the left if you walk out the door). But I've never had a problem. I've seen bikes seemingly taken apart by the Metro there, but they look like they were there for months if not longer.

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