Here’s some Labor Day weekend reading on one of New York’s vexing problems: bike theft, which, is up 25 percent over last year. As of July, 1,694 bikes were reported stolen this year, according to the NYPD, which encourages bike owners to have their frames etched with identifying codes. Actual thefts are likely much higher than the reported number.
Stealing bikes has a relatively low reward compared to other types of theft, yet it remains common. The Priceonomics Blog, run by a company that provides estimates for reselling goods, including bikes, recently looked at why bike theft is so prevalent:
It seems as if stealing bikes shouldn’t be a lucrative form of criminal activity. Used bikes aren’t particularly liquid or in demand compared to other things one could steal (phones, electronics, drugs). And yet, bikes continue to get stolen so they must be generating sufficient income for thieves.
A great number of stolen bikes are resold for cents on the dollar. According to writer Patrick Symmes, who investigated bike theft with the San Francisco Police Department after having his own bicycle stolen, bikes act as one of four forms of “street currency” — the others being cash, sex and drugs. “Of those, only one is routinely left outside unattended,” wrote Symmes.
More advanced thieves resell the bikes for closer to their market value. These bikes often end up on Craigslist, but theft victims have become savvier about keeping an eye out for their wheels online and at flea markets. As a result, these bikes are sometimes shipped and resold in other cities where nobody is looking for them.