What to do when your bike has been stolen in the Bay Area

Hello there - I’m sorry your bike was stolen! Don’t despair though -  many great people are working to fight bike theft in the Bay Area, and a whole community here ready to help you try and recover your bike.

Right now, though, there are several things you need to do. 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 your local police - perhaps start with the non-emergency line if it has been a while since your theft - and follow their instructions. If you happen to have surveillance of your theft, mention that too.

You may wind up being told to report your bike theft with the police's online reporting system - which is not great, but 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.

If it's going to be a while before you get your police report number, go ahead and skip ahead 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 shops, riders, 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 the 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:

  • the serial number - If you don't have your bike's serial number, check your purchase documentation or call the shop where you bought it
  • a 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 any unique components, stickers, dents or details that help identify your bike
  • Gather any video surveillance! - if there's video of your theft, try and get a copy! Post it to Youtube, and include that Youtube link in your 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. </ul> </p>

    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 Bay Area stolen bike Twitter feeds (see below) - 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 - We run a number of Bay Area twitter feeds, so if you're on Twitter, definitely tweet your stolen bike and tag one or more of @stolenbikessfo (SF) @stolenbikesmarin (Marin County) @stolenbikesbrk (Berkeley) @stolenbikesoak (Oakland) or @stolenbikessj (San Jose).

    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 SF biking FB Groups like 'San Francisco Bike Ride Crew.' If it's a specialty bike, like a cargo bike, you may look for specialty bike groups like 'San Francisco Family Biking' which has a lot of cargo bike owners in it. And 'San Jose Stolen Bicycle Group' is an excellent resource for San Jose area victims.

    Instagram - Bay Area 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/sanfrancisco and /r/bayarea may be a good place to start.

    Nextdoor - even though Nextdoor is a 'closed' system, so to speak, there's still a lot of local eyeballs there. So it's worth posting your stolen bike's BikeIndex listing to Nextdoor.

    SF area bike anti-theft ninja @plattyjo also runs a Google Group for Bay Area stolen bikes, and her Facebook is also a nexus of anti-theft folks in the Bay.

    Look for your bike 'in the wild'

    It doesn't hurt to just cruise around your neighborhood and look for your bike 'in the wild.' A number of SF area theft victims have spotted their bikes being ridden around their same neighborhood days later.  Laney and Ashby Flea Markets are often places where stolen bikes show up, so consider hunting there, too.

    SF has no shortage of local outdoor neighborhood 'chop shops' that are highly visible - and the source of many recoveries. Twitter user @SFbikebandits does a lot of spotting in these areas, so perhaps give them a follow.

    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 outlets you will need to monitor:

    • 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 - 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 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.

    Some final notes: I’ve been working on the bike theft problem since the mid-90's - basically trying to interconnect 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