What to do when your bike has been stolen in Seattle

Hello there - I’m sorry your bike was stolen! Don’t despair though, because there are tons of people fighting bike theft in Seattle. So, right off the bat, you already have a head start on recovering your bike.

Right now, though, there are several things you need to do to maximize your chances of seeing your bike again. I'll walk you through each one here:

  1. File a police report
  2. Register with Bike Index
  3. Spread the word!
  4. Look for your bike 'in the wild'
  5. Watch for your bike being sold online

First: File a police report.

Yes, you should file a police report for your stolen bike - especially if your bike was taken in a robbery, a home or business break-in, or a smash-and-grab from a vehicle or a shop. So: call SPD - perhaps start with their non-emergency line if it has been a while since your theft - and follow their instructions. If you happen to have video surveillance of your theft, mention that too - and remember this because it'll come in handy later.

You'll probably wind up being told to report your bike theft with Seattle's online reporting system - which is not great, but it's still OK. Most police departments don't have enough officers to deal with bike thefts in person unless they are part of a more serious crime (again, see above) - but report your stolen bike nonetheless, even if it is online only. Doing so will get you a police report number - which you will need in a moment.

Meanwhile, go ahead and skip to the next step -- i.e., get it listed on Bike Index.

Next: Register with Bike Index!

Now you should register your stolen bike with Bike Index, so we can help spread the word! Listing your stolen bike with the Bike Index is free, fast, and it quickly gets your stolen bike information out to the bike shops, fellow cyclists, law enforcement, and other Bike Index partners who look for stolen bikes - even if that bike crosses state lines.

If your bike is already in Bike Index, all you have to do is log in, click "edit" on that bike, and click "Report stolen."

If your bike is not already in the Bike Index, gather as much of this info before you start:

  • serial number - If you don't have your bike's serial number, check your purchase documentation or call the shop where you bought it
  • police report number - Hopefully you have this from the step #1
  • photos of your bike - If you don't have any photos, even a stock photo of a similar bike is OK
  • good descriptions - Include descriptions of any unique components, stickers, dents or details that help identify your bike
  • Get any video surveillance you can! - if there is video of your theft, try and get a copy! Post it to Youtube, and include that Youtube link in your Bike Index listing. Don't forget: your neighbors/nearby businesses may have cameras that caught your theft, even if you don't have any cameras of your own. So ask around. Bike Index's Seattle Twitter feed posts a lot of these kinds of videos, so if you can get one, that's great, because we can help spread it around.

Once you have as much of the above as you can get, simply click here, register, and log in to list your stolen bike(s). Once they are registered, they'll be auto-tweeted out via our Seattle Twitter feed - and the bike's info will be available to all our area partners.

Spread the word!

Finding stolen bikes is a game of numbers - the more people you have looking out for your bike, the better. So: you're going to have to spread the word! Tell everybody you know about your stolen bike . If you're in an apartment building, post a flier. If someone stole your bike from a business, alert the building management. And of course, you'll want to hit all the popular online methods, because Craigslist isn't the only place thieves sell stolen bikes online anymore.

Twitter - If you're on Twitter, definitely post your Bike Index link, a photos of your bike, and tag @stolenbikessea and perhaps throw a #seabikes hashtag in there for greater reach.

Facebook - Facebook is a good next step. Post your bike, mention all the specifics, link its BikeIndex listing, and maybe get it out to some of the local Seattle-specific stolen bike groups like 'PNW Lost/Stolen Bikes' or 'Bellingham Stolen Bicycle Group', and 'Seattle Area Stolen Bikes'.

Instagram - Stolen bikes Instagram is a great resource - so if you're on Instagram, post your bike, mention the make, model, specific city you're in and then tag @bikeindex so we can regram it

Reddit - we see stolen bike posts on Reddit all the time, and there's a lot of eyeballs there, too. So - if you're a Redditor, /r/seattle or /r/seattlebike may be a good place to post.

Nextdoor - even though Nextdoor is a 'closed' system, so to speak, there's still a lot of people there on the lookout for stolen bikes in their neighborhoods. So it's worth posting your stolen bike's Bike Index listing to Nextdoor.

Look for your bike 'in the wild'

It doesn't hurt to just cruise around Seattle and look for your bike 'in the wild.' Many Seattle-area bike theft victims have spotted their bikes out on the street, usually in Seattle's's many open-air chop shops. The Burke-Gilman trail is always a hotspot, along with Gas Works park and 3rd between Pine and Union. Sketchy RV's are also a good place to watch out for your ride.

The locations of these change pretty frequently, but hit up the Seattle stolen-bike FB groups and ask around, and you'll get a list of known chop shops pretty quick. We've also seen thieves 'stash' bikes in public bike racks (so they can leave them there, locked, to sell later) so be sure to check out the bike racks you see while you're out and about.

Keep an eye out for it online

A huge, huge amount of stolen bikes are fenced online - but it's not just Craigslist you have to deal with anymore. Now, there's many different sites you will need to watch:

  • Offerup - a chronically terrible service full of stolen bikes. This is the first place you should go to look for your stolen bike - or stolen anything - for that matter.
  • Letgo - another app that is similar to Offerup - same idea
  • Facebook marketplace - not as popular with thieves yet, but growing

Make it a habit to check for your bike on these sites every day, for many weeks - even months, if you can. We've seen thieves steal bikes and stash them in storage for months to let them 'cool off' before listing them for sale online. So be ready to play the 'long game' if you're serious about hunting down your stolen bike.

If you do find your bike for sale on Craigslist, LetGo, or Offerup - get in touch with the police, and skip contacting the online site because none of these services are ever going to help you. Don't waste your time engaging with these sites unless you enjoy terrible, Kafka-esque discussions with unhelpful people who will do nothing but send you form letters and/or ignore you. Chasing your bike with your local police instead is the way to go.

You can always email contact@bikeindex.org if you need some tips for dealing with online sellers who may have your bike.

Lastly, for those of you who are curious, if you'd like to know what happens to all the stolen bikes in Seattle (and elsewhere) this is a great read: This Is What Happens to Your Bike After It’s Stolen. It's a great overview of the stolen-bike black market in the Seattle area.

About Bike Index: I’ve been working on the bike theft problem since the mid-90's - basically trying to connect bike theft victims with people most likely to recover stolen bikes — i.e., shops, other bikers, schools, police departments, etc. I’ve found that by giving everybody access to the data they need, this model works - you wouldn’t believe some of our recoveries! The more people know about BikeIndex, though, the better it works. So: I’d hugely appreciate a link, a retweet, or simply you letting a local bike shop know about bikeindex.org.

And PS - if you think there's anything I've left out of this list, let me know! Drop me an email at bryan@bikeindex.org