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How to Check if a Bike is Stolen

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The statistics are so scary, some cyclists are buying fold-down bikes so they can collapse them and bring them indoors to avoid having them stolen. Don’t believe us? Statistics don’t lie. Over two million bicycles are stolen each year in the U.S. and Canada. Out of those, only 20-percent are ever reported to the police as stolen.

You need a wake-up call. Now. A bike goes missing every 30 seconds and if you don’t want the next one you purchase to be part of that statistic, keep reading.

But the question is how you can find if a bike you’re looking to buy now has been stolen. Hopefully, this read will ease some of that burden off your shoulders.

The easiest way to find out if a bike is stolen is to check the serial number in an online registry. If the serial number is filed off or covered in any way – this should be a huge red flag.


Four signs that the bike you like is hot for all the wrong reasons

Sign #1: The classified ad that got your attention smacks of these red flags:

  • The price is so low, you can’t believe anyone is selling a bike with so many awesome features so cheaply.
  • The photo doesn’t look legit. If the image is so slick it’s commercial, invoke your inner skeptic.
  • The description is riddled with hyperbole, misspellings, grandiose promises and so many !!!!!!!, you find yourself blinking. Suspect all hysterical calls to action, too.
  • The ad is seriously devoid of detail. You need solid information. If it’s missing, forget the bike and move on.
  • The bill of sale the seller promised to show you went missing. Right.
  • The seller seems too good to be true. He’s won the Tour de France and wants to sell the cycle that brought him victory. That’s a bunch of bull. You need some form of validity even if the seller wants to remain anonymous. Oh, and that Tour de France thing? That kind of talk is a dead giveaway that the seller is bogus.

Sign #2: The seller and his deal are too good to be true

  • Hiring a PI to do a background check won’t help if the seller remains anonymous.
  • Use the information in the ad to Google the seller’s name, e-mail address or other data to sleuth out the seller’s ID.
  • Consider the bike inventory the seller has put up for sale on the market. If the resource is selling tonnage from a post office box address there’s a good chance he or she is a scammer.
  • No meetups in sketchy places. If you’re being urged to show up at a place that looks shady to purchase the bike, call area police to get the skinny on the neighborhood.
  • Just because the seller is using eBay or Craig’s List, that doesn’t guarantee legitimacy.

Sign #3: The bike’s serial number is missing, obscured or disguised

  • If the seller refuses to give you the serial number, quit the conversation ASAP. You shouldn’t need a top-secret security clearance to get this number.
  • Perhaps the serial number isn’t where it’s supposed to be because a beautiful decal or artwork has been applied to spruce up the bike. Just say no.
  • Know where to look for the number. It should be under the frame; on the bottom bracket shell.
  • Filed-off serial numbers required no explanation. Feel free to assume the worst.
  • If the serial number exists, you may be able to track it down.

Sign #4: The seller won’t let you see/check out the bike until the sale takes place

  • You’re sure you want to go any further if you’re told that a meet up is the only way to acquire the bike?
  • Search the frame areas most likely to be the site where locks are installed to secure the bike. If you find scratches and dents in those places, there’s a good chance the seller got busy with a hacksaw.
  • You show up to meet the carbon bike you expect; it turns out to be made of aluminum. This is a common “bait and switch” tactic. Don’t fall for it.
  • Upon careful inspection, not all of the parts look like they belong on the bike. Bicycle thieves regularly replace good parts and features with trashy ones. If the bike appears to be built of spare parts, walk away from the deal.
  • You asked for a specific size that the seller promised to deliver, but when you show up, you are presented with one that’s nowhere near what you expected.


Is there more to know?

You bet. Bicycle thieves are creative devils. Just ask Omar Aziz (not his real name) who was a great success in his chosen field of bike theft for around 13 years. Once you find the perfect bike—one that meets all legitimate criteria—make sure your new wheels don’t wind up back on the street.

Omar’s advice?

  • Invest in a good lock. Omar couldn’t believe how many cheap locks he removed during his heyday.
  • Be clever about securing that lock. Weave the chains through both wheels and the frame. It will be harder to remove.
  • The busier the area, the fewer chances your bike will be stolen. CCTV helps, but crowded areas are better.
  • Buy a cheap bike if it will be stored outdoors. Bring it into your digs if it’s pricey or affix a GPS tracker.
  • Try “uglification.” If your new bike looks like hell, you lessen the chance it will be swiped.
  • Rig the bike with so many locks, no thief would dare try to remove them

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About Alek Asaduryan

Alek Asaduryan is the founder of YesCycling and has been riding bikes and in the cycling industry since 1991. Since then, his mission is to make cycling more accessible to everyone. And each year, he continues to help more people to achieve that. When he's not out riding his beloved fitness bike, Alek reports on news, gear, guides, and all things cycling related.