Monday, October 27, 2008

The ABC of Looking For Your Stolen Bicycle

Here's a more complete list of things to do when you're looking for a stolen bicycle. Please let me know in the comments if you think there's anything else that should be added.

Report it
This is the very first thing that you should do. Try to retrieve your bike's serial number before you call the police. Take down the police report number, you'll need it in case you find your bike and need to contact the police and for the flyer that you'll make.

ALWAYS report bike theft! It helps making police aware of how big of a problem this is.

Make a flyer.

Print it, spread it. Hand it out in parks, tape it to light posts, if you're a student, put it up on your campus.

Make sure you include
  • a picture of your bike.
  • any distinguishing features. Think long and hard about this, you'll probably be able to think of lots of things apart from the obvious such as the color of your frame and handlebar tape, like scratches, dents and other damage, stickers etc.
  • your bike's serial number. You need this for identification purposes. If your bike is found you will only get it back if you can prove that it's yours. If you don't have your serial number, try asking the shop you bought your bike from. If you got your bike used, you might run into trouble on this one.
  • the number of your police report.
  • your contact details.

You can take a look at my flyer here.

Look in your area.
Most likely the person who took your bike isn't a professional bike thief, but an opportunistic thief trying to make a quick and easy score. As such, (s)he won't venture far with your bike. Therefore, visit local pawn shops. Rather than asking if they've bought your stolen bicycle, ask if they have any bikes for sale. If they do, look at what they have before you tell them that you're looking for a stolen bicycle and ask them to contact you if anyone would try to sell them a bike similar to yours. Leave a copy of your flyer.

Also, visit local bike shops. Someone may come in with your bike to have it repaired. Bike shop folks are generally super helpful and will keep an eye out for you. Again, leave a copy of your flyer.

Don't forget to tell your friends. Someone might spot your bike in their neighborhood. It's better to have multiple sets of eyes looking than just one.

Look online.
Your bike may end up on the Internet. You can also ask the Internet community to keep an eye out for your bike.
  • Check Craig's list on a daily basis and post the information on your stolen bike there as well. Check the Craig's list postings for surrounding areas as well (New Jersey, Delaware, NYC, Washington DC, etc, especially if you're looking for a high end bike). Here are instructions on how to create a Craig's list notification tool using Feed Popper. Feed Popper will let you know as soon as there's a new post on Craig's list fitting your search criteria. I had this running on my computer while I was looking for my bike.
  • is a combined classifieds and auctions listing service. Go here , change 'Bianchi' to whatever search criteria you want, and subscribe to the resulting page in your RSS feed.
  • Go to ebay, set up a search for your bike and subscribe to it by email.

Register your stolen bike.
Police check the National Bike Registry to identify recovered bicycles. Some people who suspect that they've discovered a stolen bicycle check it too, so register your bike. It's $0.99 for a 6 month search for your bike so just do it.

To Sarah

I just found an email from 8 days ago (it got caught in my spam filter) from Sarah, who recently had her bike stolen and is asking what she can do to try and find it. Right after I finished typing up a reply I discovered that she hadn't left a return email address so I'll just post my reply here. Maybe someone else can benefit from it too.

Hi Sarah,

I'm sorry for my late reply - your email got caught in my spam filter.

Do you have your bike's serial number? You'll need it to identify your bike in case it would get found (even if your bike is found, you won't get it back unless you can identify it). If you bought your bike new, you should be able to get it from the store where you bought it (that's how I retrieved mine).

Check craig's list daily to see if anyone's trying to sell your bike there. Also, you might want to do a search here: You can subscribe to the RSS feed from for your particular search criteria and you'll only get alerts when posts that fit those criteria are added to the various sites that subscribes to. Also, check ebay daily (you can sign up for email notification of your search criteria) and keep an eye on craig's list for surrounding areas (like New Jersey, Delaware, Washington DC). Also, post about your bike being stolen on Craig's list (that's how I got my bike back).

Visit local pawn shops. Make a flyer, print it, and hand it out to every shop you visit. Also, visit local bike shops with your flyer. Someone might come in with your bike to have it repaired.

You might want to check out this thread on Phillyblog:
I think several bike shops are mentioned there. You can also just google for bike shop philadelphia and you should get a map as the first result with a list of bike shops.

Don't give up looking for your bike if you still haven't found it. The people who took mine hold on to it for nearly a month before they sold it to the pawn shop that I retrieved it from.

I really hope you get your bike back. Good luck!