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Pandemic Sees Nationwide Uptick In Bike Theft

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Due to the pandemic, many people have turned to cycling as a way to exercise or as an alternative to crowded public transportation. Bike sales have been on the rise, and so are bike thefts. In fact, some cities saw double-digit increases. Hadia Bakkar has this report.

HADIA BAKKAR, BYLINE: First-year medical student Kristen Buss lives in Bloomington, Ind. She likes to cycle around for fun with her boyfriend or use her bike to get to and from campus. That's until she had two bikes stolen from her back porch within six months.

KRISTEN BUSS: We just came home one day, and we realized it was gone.

BAKKAR: She thought she knew how to keep her bike safe.

BUSS: So with the fact that they cut the U-lock, that was, like, really - I don't know. Now I'm just, like, confused about, like, what to do.

BAKKAR: She asked her apartment complex if they had any video security footage, but they didn't.

BUSS: Filed a police report, did all of the things that I needed to do. And nothing ever came of it.

BAKKAR: Buss says she's heard many stories about bike theft in Bloomington. In a number of cities, there have been significant increases in stolen bikes during the pandemic. Both Denver and Boston saw a nearly 30% increase. In Seattle, the police department says that bike thefts rose by around 50% in 2020.

LILY WILLIAMS: With the increase in ridership, we see a lot of riders who don't really know how to lock their bikes.

BAKKAR: Lily Williams is with Bike Index. The nonprofit lets cyclists register their bikes' serial numbers in a database for free. If someone is buying a used bike, they can check the site to make sure it's not stolen. Last year, Bike Index saw an increase in both registrations and bikes reported stolen.

WILLIAMS: Bikes are kind of unique in that they're a really high-value item that we just kind of leave locked up outside.

BAKKAR: And Williams says that many cities don't have bike-friendly infrastructure.

WILLIAMS: We do the best we can, but there's not always a great place to lock your bikes.

LOREN COPSEY: And what we're going to do is we're going to place it through down low.

BAKKAR: Loren Copsey runs The Daily Rider Bike Shop in northeast Washington, D.C. He's demonstrating how to lock a bike the proper way.

COPSEY: We're going to place one part of it through the wheel, and then we're going to bring it around and include part of the frame in what we're locking and include the actual rack.

BAKKAR: He says the cyclist should pay attention to what type of lock they're using and what they're locking to. He recommends that as a rule of thumb, a bike lock should cost about 10% of the bike's worth. Once that's taken care of, cyclists are good to go.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERSON RIDING BICYCLE)

BAKKAR: Bloomington medical student Kristen Buss feels discouraged about the theft, but she's not giving up on biking. She plans to get another bike before classes start this fall.

BUSS: I want to stay here in Bloomington this summer, and I don't want to go the whole summer without a bike.

BAKKAR: But this time, she's going to do things differently.

BUSS: I will keep it inside. We're going to have to make space for it.

BAKKAR: And when she does park her bike around town, she plans to make sure she's invested in a much stronger lock. For NPR News, I'm Hadia Bakkar in Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF LORD FINESSE'S "MIDAS ERA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.