Last semester, freshman Ben Borden left his bicycle outside the Academic Center while he spent a couple of hours in the darkroom for his photography class. After three hours away from the outside world, Borden walked out of Smith Hall to find that his bike was gone.
“I got the bike thinking it could be something that I could ride for a while,” said Borden, who only had his Bianchi Pista for two weeks. “It just didn’t work out that way.”
The freshman said he felt relatively safe leaving his riding machine outside before he was targeted for theft, but after being told by University Police that it is a common problem, he is now not so sure.
The loss of personal property experienced by Borden and some other bike-owning students may seem like functions of city life, but statistics show that the problem may be more widespread. According to the National Bike Registry, a four-year college student with a bike at any university has a 53 percent chance of having his or her property stolen.
Around the same time in November as Borden had his bike stolen, sophomore Beth O’Malley left her two-wheeler chained to the fence outside of Crawford Hall, just steps away from the Marvin Center. She woke the next morning to find that both the bike and lock had been stolen.
“I decided not to report it because I figured nothing would be done,” she said. “It’s hard to find a bike after it is stolen.”
Junis Fletcher, a public information officer for the Metropolitan Police Department, said District residents are required by law to register their pedaled vehicles, a process that can help in post-theft identification. He added that the problem is that most people do not remember their identification information to help recover the bike.
Though he was unable to provide statistics on bicycle theft in D.C., he said that stolen bikes that are found are usually beaten up or stripped for parts
Borden said he decided to try his luck and report the stolen with UPD. He said it became apparent that since his bike was not registered there was little hope of getting it back.
In the event that it would turn up in another state, Borden decided to register his vehicle with the National Bike Registry.
UPD Chief Dolores Stafford said bicycle theft rates have remained relatively consistent over the years, but was unable to provide any statistics.
“September and the spring are typically high months for bike theft since people are out riding their bikes more,” she said.
When it comes to keeping one’s bicycle safely locked, representatives from the Georgetown Pro Bike Shop recommended the U-Lock over other brands.
“They are definitely the toughest to break,” said Matt Cook, a sales representative and American University alumna. A lock that may be slightly more responsive to thieves’ prying is the Kryptonite lock, which numerous media outlets showed last year could be jimmied with a Bic pen.
He added that while a thief would need to use a car jack to pry a U-Lock open or freeze it with liquid nitrogen to shatter the metal, “there is nothing you can get that professional bike thieves can’t break into. That’s their job.”
Cook also said a good preventative measure is to cover up the logo on the bicycle, since thieves are less likely to steal bikes if they do not have the brand name on the side.
David Stark, a co-worker of Cook’s and a junior at GW, said the best way to keep your bike secure is to have it under constant guard.
“It’s either with me at the shop, in my apartment, or under me,” he said. “I won’t leave it around anywhere.”
Since bicycle theft is a relatively common problem on college campuses, university police departments are taking preventative measures to combat the issue. At Syracuse University, campus police have implemented the Tag-A-Bike system, which has officers tag bikes that are unchained or have insufficient locking mechanisms. They also offer to register the bike and demonstrate the use of a U-lock.
O’Malley, recalling her experience with bicycle theft, said she believes she knows the safest way to keep a bike: “Try to keep it with you or indoors.”