How to Retrieve a Stolen Bicycle?

Melanie and I have both had bicycles stolen from us within the past 3 years, both from our garage in Powderhorn (neither time involved a break-in, both were the result of us accidentally or ignorantly leaving the garage doors open or unlocked).
The other day we commented that whenever we see bikes locked to something, we instictively search for our bikes. Likewise, whenever I drive past a pawn shop, I peer through the front window, half-expecting to see Big Red looking back at me. We are not naive, however. We both realize that our bikes have probably been shredded and recycled into road signs by now.
But here’s the hypothetical question of the day: What would you do if you saw your stolen bike locked to a bike rack somewhere?
I’ve identified 3 options:
1. Call the police and ask them to retrieve it.
2. Wait for the new owner to return and confront them.
3. Steal it back.
Each option has some benefits and drawbacks, and there are variations of each option. Some people will choose to plant their own lock on the bike until they decide between options 1-3, while others may choose to wait for the new owner and follow them home before choosing between options 1-3. Obviously, there are specific circumstances that will make some options more reasonable than others. For example, whether or not you filed a police report with a serial number after it was stolen may determine if calling the police will be any help, & who the new owner is will influence the risk involved in confronting them on the street. The location of the bike and type of lock used will influence the risk involved in stealing it back.
So what would you do? Ever been in this situation?

11 comments to How to Retrieve a Stolen Bicycle?

  • If it happens to not be locked and I was certain it was mine, I'd probably just take it back. I can't remember what I said I would do when we were talking about this before, but now I'm thinking if it were locked, I'm most likely to try to follow the bike home. I doubt I would be brave enough to actually confront anyone about stealing it, but I would likely stalk the bike- you know, drive by every day on my way home and see what its up to. Maybe some day it will just be leaning against a garage in an alley waiting to come back home.

  • BJ

    I would be tempted to steal it back!

  • This is probably just the lawyer-to-be talking, but the police option seems best (maybe with an add-my-own-lock-and-then-hide modification). If you choose to steal it back or confront the person, consider that it is possible for them to now be the legal owner (police auctions???). There's probably bad karma in stealing a bike, even if it was originally yours.

    I recall someone telling me a story about having a bike stolen, recognizing it a few months later, confronting the person, and being shown a receipt from auction. (But that's probably just an urban legend from my cousin's neighbor's wife's brother.)

    I also like Mel's plan.

  • James, I don't think that's an urban myth. I think it's actually pretty common to find that the new owner bought the bike. Although, "new owner" is more accurately "possessor of stolen property" am I right? You're the lawyer, but you can't legally own stolen property, can you?

    BJ, I think I am most likely to try to steal it back, if I think I could get away with it.

  • Unfortunately for the original owner, someone can legally own the bike through a police auction or other transaction after the theft.

    While you're correct that a mere possessor of stolen property has no legal claim to it, a bona fide purchasor would legally own the bike (even if it were purchased from someone other than the police). The law tends to favor outright ownership, rather than ownership subject to conditions (like original owner of stolen property). Think of it this way: why on earth would you buy a bike at auction if the real owner could show up tomorrow and reclaim it?

    I'm not saying any of this is right, it's just what my overpriced schooling has taught me.

  • I feel like I've heard stories about things like this, though. Someone buys a bike from a pawn shop, then 6 months later the police show up and say "sorry, it was stolen. We're taking it back." and then the guy has to go try and get his money back from the pawn shop but they couldn't care less and the dude is just screwed.

  • Gregory Servos

    For me, the best bet is to use one of the free Bike Registry sites off the net as well as TAG my bikes, as in http://www.bikeregistry.com/install.php.
    Should provide a least a fighting chance in the event of another misfortune.

  • Gregory,

    I assume that means you would pursue Option 1 – calling police and asking them to retrieve the bicycle for you?

  • I just shrug it off-cost of doing business. I don't buy expensive bikes, and I think the likelihood of any registry system helping is close to nil. I don't think cops have any interest in pursuing this type of theft.

    My most recent stolen bike was from a campus bike rack with small cable lock. When I went to REI to look at new bikes and told them what happened, their attitude was, we've all had bikes stolen, what's the big deal?

    So I decided to skip REI and go to Costco, found a bike that works just fine. Ride it everyday to work.

  • dr david, you are certainly willing to overlook more than I am, that's for sure. If I had a bicycle stolen from me and then saw it on the street one day, I definitely would NOT shrug it off. I'm not entirely sure which of these options I'd pursue, but I'd definitely do SOMETHING.

    Thanks for stopping by.