Nobody knows for sure, but it’s estimated that each year in North America more than 2 million bikes are stolen. That’s a bike ripped off roughly every 30 seconds. Most people don’t register their bikes, something like fewer than one percent of people do, so of the hundreds of thousands of bikes recovered by the cops each year, only five percent are returned to their rightful owners. Lots of those thefts, even of bikes that run in the multiple thousands of dollars, came after a thief cut a thin cable lock. Something easier than opening the package of a Clif Bar, if you have the right, easily available tool. Not exactly the most prudent of bike theft prevention tactics. It’s a billion-dollar per year business.
This information comes courtesy of 529 Garage, a bike registry service that just might be the biggest in the world. More than one million riders have registered their bikes with the service. The founders hope to have five million bikes registered by 2022. Most thefts, four out of five, are never reported to police. Of those that are, many are by owners who don’t know their bike’s serial numbers, rendering the report nearly useless. The registry collects serial numbers, make, model, and color of the bike, perhaps a photo. They offer decals with unique ID numbers to help identify a bike. If a buyer is scoping a used bike and they see the decal, they can alert 529 Garage’s stolen bike registry they may have spotted a hot bike. Police can use it too. If a 529 Garage member has a bike stolen, they can report it to the service which alerts riders nearby so the community can keep an eye out.
It’s a good idea and one I wish I’d made use of in recent months.
I’m one of the above statistics. Two-times over in fact. Embarrassingly so. I had a beloved mountain bike stolen while locked to my car’s bike rack last year. A lovely Transition Smuggler (a blast of a bike, by the way, a short-travel 29er with all the pop you could want, relatively inexpensive in an alloy build—highly recommended). I’d locked it to my Yakima rack with the supplied cable, and was parked on a beautiful residential street in very posh Mill Valley, Marin County. Headed into the public library to get a bit of writing done before a pedal up and down Mount Tamalpais, only to return 30 minutes later to an empty rack and a dangling, impotent cord of cable.
Once the rage subsided, I called my renter’s insurance company. My bike is covered, right? I asked. Indeed it was. I phoned the police, they made a cursory stop to inform me I’d badly misjudged the bike crime rate of what appears to be California’s safest town, and, most importantly, confirmed my bike appeared to have been stolen.
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Now this is where insurance comes in. My company, Liberty Mutual, by way of GEICO, took down my information, went to Google to determine the bike’s MSRP, and within, I’m not kidding, two days, I had the full amount at which they’d valued the bike, regardless of what I paid for it, a bonus since mine was on sale when I bought it— deposited into my bank account. I had owned the bike for only six months or so, and there was no depreciation. I paid a deductible, but a small one. A fair trade, a lesson learned.
Well, not yet, exactly, because six months later, that replacement bike was stolen. Similar deal, except this time, a much thicker cable lock, and I was parked for only a few minutes, at an REI parking lot, dashing in to make a quick pick up. Do I have an excuse? I don’t. But again, this lot seemed very safe. And I was gone for maybe five minutes. Clearly, somebody had watched me park and got to work immediately after.
While my renter’s insurance might cover a second stolen bike, I was reluctant to report it, for fear of being dropped during my next policy renewal. My wife and I have bigger things to worry about than my bikes, and to face a non-renewal seems a bit risky.
So, where is a bike thief victim to turn?
The first option, if you have renter’s or homeowner’s insurance, is to simply make a claim there. Many policies will cover that loss regardless of where it occurred, though some policies will only cover bikes stolen from your home or vehicle. It’s not just theft, either. If you have a particularly expensive or valuable bike or bikes, you can list them on your policy as a scheduled item. That way if you bail and seriously damage your bike, or you accidentally back over it in your car (happens more than you’d think) or otherwise harm your precious, it will be covered.
A second, tempting option for this rider who apparently is terrible at looking after his bikes and who wants to maintain a renter’s insurance policy, is bicycle-specific insurance. I’m not so worried about damage to my bike, just stolen bike insurance. I’ve found only a handful of companies offering the insurance, and their rates are all relatively reasonable. Spoke, which is the first bike-specific insurance provider, Velosurance, and Markel. Markel underwrites Velosurance’s policies and is the parent company behind Spoke, so it makes sense their prices would be about the same. If there are other bike-only insurance companies out there, let us know in the comments.
I went to all three websites and input my current daily driver mountain bike, a 2017 Evil Following, valued it at $4,000, and selected coverages that would pay out only damages to or replacement for, my bike. You can also get coverage for damage you cause to somebody else’s property while on your bike, as well as medical care, but I’m covered there through my health insurance. All policies, with a $300 deductible, carried a premium of between $220 to $275. Pro cyclists and triathletes will pay more for bike insurance, naturally, since their bikes are more likely to be damaged. Velosurance was the most expensive, but they include rental reimbursement, which is pretty cool if you ride every day and only have the one bike. Velosurance also offers protection if you’re shipping your bike overseas for a bike trip.
A third option would be to just plunk the same amount of money you’d spend on bike insurance into a separate bank account created just for the purpose. Then, if your bike is ripped off, you can just withdraw your own money without dealing with an insurance system built to profit from your misery and fear. Of course, in that case, you have to fend off the temptation to dip into that account when you decide that shiny new toy in the window must be yours. Plus, it’s a lot of commitment to stick to depositing in the money each month. Though, if your bike never gets stolen or mangled, you’ve still got the money, unlike paying for peace of mind through an insurance premium.
Top photo: Lance Grandahl