Chicago's year of bike thefts, by the numbers

  • A pair of bicycles are covered in a heavy layer of snow on Madison Street.
A pair of bicycles are covered in a heavy layer of snow on Madison Street. (Chuck Berman / Chicago Tribune )
February 09, 2014|By Rachel Cromidas, @rachelcromidas | RedEye

Chicago had more than 1,100 bikes stolen last year, according to a popular website that collects data on the crime.

The Chicago Stolen Bike Registry compiles and maps reports from local riders about where and how their bikes were stolen, and what locks they were using when the bikes were stolen.

In 2012 the site received close to 1,100 reports as well. The Chicago Police Department does not compile specific data on stolen bicycles, which are grouped into a broad "theft" category in the city's crime data portal.

Kevin Conway, one of the registry's administrators who tallied up the numbers and posted them on thechainlink.org, a local cycling website, said he looks at the increase of about 5 percent as a sign that Chicago's bike theft problem is stable. He said that riders could likely significantly reduce the number of thefts in the city if they took better care to lock up their bikes properly before leaving them in public or in a garage.

"The consistency of the percentage of thefts that are related to people not locking their bikes or not [at least] locking them with cable locks, is really disappointing," he said. "The vast majority of bike theft is crimes of opportunity. I think there's a comparatively small number of professional, career bike thieves out there."

Conway noted that just five percent of reported bike thefts occurred when the bike was locked with a single U-lock hooked through the bike's front wheel, frame, and a bike rack--the preferred method for many riders.

He also said that the scare over "sucker poles,"--sign posts or metal fence rails around the city that people sometimes lock their bikes, that are tampered with so that a bike can easily be stolen once attached to them--may be overblown.

"Two percent of our thefts are from people removing a sign pole from its base and stealing a bike that way," he said. "But it's certainly captured everyone's imagination."

Conway's year-end report, compiled this week, showed that the spring and summer months are the most popular for bike theft, with roughly two-thirds of the year's total thefts taking place between May and September.

But bike theft still happens in the winter months, he said, though it is less common, and the cold weather is not an excuse for people to relax their bike-locking habits. He said riders should be particularly careful about storing their bikes in garages or on back porches that may not be secure.

"A lot of it is crime of opportunity," he said, "and there's not as many bikes out there to choose from in the winter months."

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