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It seems that bike thefts are on the rise in Champaign-Urbana. Just in the last week, a fairly expensive bike was stolen (and recovered a couple of days later) from the Bike Project co-op, and I’ve heard a couple of stories of people who had their bikes stolen after the thief cut their locks off. There’s no airtight plan that will prevent someone from stealing your bike, but there are some steps to take to make that less likely, and also things you can do to make it more likely that your bike will be recovered if it is stolen.

It’s not a cure-all, but buying a U-lock and using it properly will greatly reduce the chances that your bike will be stolen. A good U-lock might cost you 30 bucks, but it’s a good investment. Cable locks are cheaper and more versatile, but they can be more easily cut with a bolt cutters or other portable, relatively quiet tool.

Make sure you lock your bike any time you leave it unattended. It’s definitely inconvenient, but sometimes you’ve just got to suck it up. Lock the frame for sure, and one or more wheels as well, if possible. Lock it to something that can’t be easily disassembled. None of these things will prevent a thief from cutting your lock off with an angle grinder, but he or she would likely go for an easier target unless yours is a real prize. Therefore, if you have an expensive bike, try to avoid parking it outside overnight if at all possible. You can get a cheap beater bike to store in a more easily-accessible location and keep your nice bike somewhere more secure.

Recording distinguishing information on your bike will make recovering your bike much more likely in the unfortunate event that it is stolen. Once again, there’s no magic bullet here, but there are things you can do to increase your chances. The City of Champaign will register your bike for 50 cents at any local fire station. They’ll record the serial number of the bike and keep it on record if your bike is recovered. The U of I has a similar program which is optional for students and others associated with the University.

If you’ve registered your bike and it’s stolen, it can be registered in a national stolen-bike directory. That way, if your bike is stolen and transported out of the area, it can still turn up. Even if you didn’t register your bike and don’t have the serial number, you should still report the theft if your bike is stolen.

Check out these links that were referenced in researching this article:

http://www.ebbc.org/?q=theft_prevention
http://bicycleuniverse.info/eqp/theft.html
http://www.chicagobikes.org/theftprevention.html

Thanks also to Fred Davidson and Christopher Hawk for their contributions to this column.