Crime & Courts

Wintertime bike thefts on the rise as fat-tire biking grows in popularity

Across from a shiny, new fat-tire bicycle in the window display last week at Chain Reaction Cycles in South Anchorage were a handful of fliers depicting fat-tire bikes stolen recently around the city. Each poster had the dirty details: where the bike was stolen from, the model, any special features, and a way to contact the owner.

It isn't an unfamiliar image. Other shops across town have similar posters stuck to walls with thumbtacks and Scotch-taped to windows.

"We put up fliers for anyone who brings one in, in hopes that they will get their bikes back," Speedway Cycles manager Tim Jameson said. "Especially this year, since fat-tire bike thefts have increased."

Fat-tire bike use has grown steadily in Anchorage and other Alaska locales in recent years, and with the fat-tire bike boom, thefts of the expensive bicycles appear to be climbing.

According to data provided by the Anchorage Police Department, there were 463 bikes reported stolen in 2014. Through Dec. 30 of 2015, that number climbed to 520. The data doesn't differentiate between fat-tire and other bicycles, but the number of wintertime thefts -- when fat-tire bike use is most common -- is also on the rise.

The data shows during winter riding months in 2014 -- January, February, March, October, November, December --52 bikes were stolen. During the same months in 2015, 85 bikes were reported stolen. A big jump came in December of 2015, when 12 bikes were reported stolen. Only two were stolen in December of the previous year.

Anchorage's Chism Henry is one of last year's victims of bike theft. On Dec. 30, he picked up his bike from Chain Reaction Cycles equipped with a new set of studded fat tires, tried them out on the city's icy trails, then headed to a friend's place near Valley of the Moon Park, where he stayed overnight.

His 4-year-old Fatback bike was secured to the back of his vehicle with a cable lock, Henry said. When he woke up the next morning, the lock had been cut and his bike was gone.

"That's a good way to start your day," Henry said.

"I don't have much hope or faith it will turn up," Henry said, though he filed a police report. "I should consider it gone. I hope insurance will take care of it and do it reasonably quickly. 'Tis the season to be riding."

APD spokesperson Renee Oistad said it isn't likely for the owner of a stolen bicycle to get their bike back, and if they do, it's even less likely that charges would be filed.

"Even if we can get a bike back to its owner, unless we actually catch the suspect with the bike, we have no way of knowing who stole the bike and subsequently dumped it," Oistad said.

According to Oistad, most bicycle theft reports are filed online or to the APD records department. Unless there is information about a possible suspect, officers don't respond, which is standard APD practice for any theft. Oistad added that Anchorage police have never dealt with local bike chop shops before, unlike in other U.S. cities where cycling is more prevalent like Portland and San Francisco.

Anchorage pawn shops are also required to report any pawned item to Anchorage police, which is why writing down a bicycle's serial number could help an owner locate a stolen bike.

"We then cross-check reported serials numbers with serial numbers of items we have listed as stolen," Oistad explained. "The problem is, the vast majority of bike owners do not write down their serial numbers. That makes it extremely difficult/impossible to get bikes back to their owners."

The serial number is located on the bottom of the bike frame. Chain Reaction manager Will Ross suggested bike owners take a photo of the serial number before taking it out -- especially for cyclists operating on fat-tire bikes, which can easily cost more than $1,000.

Luckily, most bike shops actually keep a record of serial numbers for individual bikes and who purchased them, Ross and Jameson said.

Ross and Jameson also suggested taking other measures before the bike is stolen, like not trusting a cable bike lock to keep the bicycle safe.

Jameson suggested using a folding lock, which uses steel bars to secure the bike instead of a cable. Ross suggested using a U-lock, which can't stretch as far as a cable lock but is harder to cut through.

And if at all possible, they suggested keeping bikes inside -- or at the very least out of sight. That isn't a perfect plan either, as Anchorage's Karen Biggs explained. Her bike was stolen off her property in Midtown during the night in early December.

"We kept all of our bikes locked up on the back patio," Biggs said. "We live in a good neighborhood. We kept our bikes locked up on the back patio. You can't see the bikes from the road. You'd really have to look for it."

"It was a bummer," Biggs said. "I loved that bike. My husband brought it for me for Christmas. It was white Salsa with studded tires. It was beautiful."

Megan Edge

Megan Edge is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch and Alaska Dispatch News.