Tag Archives: bike theft

Am I paranoid enough?

When I rode into work the other day I saw a man lock up his bike then look thoughtfully at the bike next to him. When I came closer, he said, “This bike here is unlocked, and there’s a lock on the ground. I’m wondering whether they forgot to lock up?”

This is a tough one: what do you do? The lock looked as though it had its key in it. Should we lock up the bike and then bring the key to security?

Evidently a standard U-lock isn't enough to prevent bike theft in San Francisco.

Evidently a standard U-lock isn’t enough to prevent bike theft in San Francisco.

Then we took a closer look. What we’d seen wasn’t actually a key but a piece of the lock, which had been neatly cut, probably by an angle grinder. It was one of the locks that secures only one end of the U, rather than both, so once cut it pulled right open. That was unnerving. The bike racks at my office are generally pretty safe, in part because there is a security guard patrolling the area on foot. But apparently not that safe.

We’ve long since upgraded our locks from a standard U-lock to a Abus lock that secures both ends, and that is made out of stronger metal so it’s harder to cut through (and that costs a fortune). Our bikes also have frame locks, and they’re Pitlocked, and they’re registered with the San Francisco police. And they’re listed on our renters insurance in the event that they get stolen anyway. But on some days I wonder whether I’m paranoid enough.


Filed under commuting, San Francisco

Unusual child seats, continued

This was the most distinctive child seat I've seen in quite a while.

This was the most distinctive child seat I’ve seen in quite a while.

Last week I wrote about packing two children on a folding bike (arguably inappropriately). Evidently this is my week for spotting ad hoc child seats, because parking at the office I saw another one. This rider put a seat cushion/saddle (?) on the rear rack and hacked a piece of pipe as a footrest onto the rear wheel. Although this is a normal-sized bike and the frame itself is probably fine carrying more than one person, I have to wonder whether the rack is really rated for the weight of a kid old enough to sit without a harness or back rest.

What amused me most about the setup, though, was that the owner of the bike had carefully locked the scavenged seat and the “I sawed off a piece of aluminum tubing” footrest to the bike with old bike chains. Finally I have spotted a rider who is even more ridiculously paranoid than I am about bike theft.

Maybe I’m living dangerously, but dude, I think the footrest is safe from tweakers.


Filed under family biking, San Francisco

Meet the new bike

We are classy, classy people.

We are classy, classy people.

When Matt’s bike was stolen, my first thought (after, “Thank goodness we checked it was insured when the Bullitt came!”) was “What are we going to replace it with?”

Matt’s first thought was, “Where is that box of wine we just bought? I need to drink it all now.”

In the realm of people who have had bikes stolen, we were incredibly fortunate. Our renters insurance was up-to-date, and our agent had just assured us a few weeks prior that the bikes were covered. In addition, we have always carried replacement-value insurance. When Matt talked to the police, they told him that the frame had almost certainly been cut, making the bike itself not worth the effort of recovering (assuming such a thing was even possible). When he called our local bike shop, Everybody Bikes, they immediately put together a summary of the cost of the bike and value of the upgrades and sent it to our insurance company. (Thanks, Michael!) And in the meantime, given that we have a spare bike or two now, Matt had something to ride.

So the sequence of events went like this.

  • Friday afternoon: bike stolen.
  • Friday evening: Matt got a police report, filed an insurance claim, and commenced drinking.
  • Saturday: our bike shop sent a valuation of the bike to State Farm.
  • Monday:  State Farm called us saying that our claim was approved and they were sending us a check.
  • The following Friday: we got the check for the value of the bike less our deductible in the mail.

Thank you, State Farm! And I am grateful to our agent, Ken Bullock, as well. You never really know whether the insurance is going to be there until you need it, and I’m really glad it was.

Over the weekend, once Matt sobered up a little, we talked about a replacement bike. The first question was whether he wanted a midtail or a longtail as a replacement. Matt is still very fond of the Big Dummy, and considered it or the Edgerunner as options. But we both thought that another midtail bike would have the most longevity for our needs. Matt expects he will ride that size of bike on his commute for years to come. It can pick up groceries as well as an extra person but doesn’t really look like a cargo bike, it’s lightweight compared to a real cargo bike, and it’s transit-friendly. I’d like one too someday, for the same reasons (although we are so done with new bikes this year).

Which midtail was the question: there used to be one, but now there are three. Another MinUte or one of the others?

Matt loved the look and features of the Kinn Cascade Flyer and so did I, but it wasn’t going to solve the problem of getting him on a bike soon. The most obvious issue was there weren’t any in the Bay Area, and it’s not clear when or if they’ll be showing up here–the first production run of 30 bikes has sold (I asked), although a demo is supposed to appear in town eventually and more bikes will be produced in the spring. The second problem was that the bike appeared to be under-geared for San Francisco. I learned recently there is an option to get a Kinn with mountain-bike gearing, but we didn’t know that at the time.

Load up the Boda Boda.

Load up the Boda Boda.

We had just ridden the Yuba Boda Boda for a few weeks, and this bike is not without its charms. The main issue for Matt, which made him rule out this bike with little discussion, is that he really hates the cruiser aesthetic and the Boda Boda is designed to look like a cruiser. This is one of those reasons to reject a bike that seems silly on one level and totally reasonable on another. Our other concern was that the Boda Boda is also under-geared for San Francisco, and Matt didn’t want an electric assist bike. The Boda Boda is a great choice in San Francisco if you know you’re going for the assist, but if you’re not it would require regearing (and that would be a pain). And Matt is tall enough that he didn’t care about having a step-through frame.

The same bike, but different

The same bike, but different

We bought our first MinUte because it was the only available midtail at the time. Ultimately we bought another MinUte to replace it because it was still the best midtail for us over a year later. The MinUte is geared for San Francisco hills (the gearing is probably one of its best features).  Kona has significantly upgraded some of the things that bothered us about the old bike: for example, it has a new Yepp-compatible deck option and a dramatically better kickstand. And although we were initially worried about our ability to actually order a bike given that it was the end of the year, our bike shop actually had one last MinUte frame kicking around. We got a pity discount and they added the same upgrades we’d put on the first bike all at once. It was ready to ride in a couple of days.

There are still things I would change about the bike if I could. But I also realized that the Kona MinUte, despite being the bike we’ve both ridden the longest, is the only bike I’ve never really reviewed like the many other bikes we’ve test-ridden. So that’s coming up soon. In the meantime, even though the new MinUte looks a little different than our first bike, it’s still familiar. And it’s nice to have it back.


Filed under bike shops, commuting, family biking, Kona, San Francisco


The Kona MinUte contemplates its sad future.

The good news about having a bike stolen by means of someone sawing through the frame is that there isn’t much debate about whether it’s worth trying to get it back. It’s not. Our bike shop put together an estimate of how much the MinUte cost and sent it to our insurance company. The bike was stolen Friday, and our claim was approved Monday afternoon. Our insurance company says the check is in the mail. So far, this has been the easiest insurance claim ever (knock on wood). Although I suppose our “have never made a claim” discount has gone the way of all things.

If it weren’t for the wind, our cheap umbrella-based rain cover would be just fine.

I feel lucky. Yesterday I rode by a man sitting on a park bench whittling a stick. Today on the same route, I saw the small pile of shavings he’d left behind. I like that over the next week, I’ll watch them drift away. I like the scale of our daily lives. I like noticing these things. I like that this morning I saw a blue Bullitt heading toward me and suddenly realized it was our blue Bullitt. Hi, Matt!

Last weekend we visited the Academy of Sciences: Let it snow!

I have a million things I want to say. In the last few weeks we have ridden the Yuba Boda Boda and the Xtracycle EdgeRunner, and both deserve a full report. I still mean to write about how much fun we had riding in Seattle and Portland in August and all the amazing people there. I’ll get to it eventually.

In the meantime, as if to offer a giant apology from the universe, our professional lives have had an amazing run even in this short week before Thanksgiving. On Monday, Matt was interviewed about clean energy on NPR’s California Report. On Tuesday, my university offered me tenure. I said yes.

We have a lot to be thankful for, and I hope you do too.


Filed under San Francisco


The MinUte deserved better than an ignominious end.

On Friday the Kona MinUte was stolen. Normally Matt rides with our son to school, drops him off, and then heads into work, where he keeps the bike inside his office. But on Friday he had a morning meeting, so after the school drop-off he rode downtown and locked the bike up to a city rack. When he came back it was gone.

U-lock untouched, cable snipped, and the bike is gone.

When your bike is stolen, everyone has a theory. He had locked up, after some consideration about the best option, at what he felt was the safest place nearby, the busy and very public Yerba Buena Gardens. I thought at first that he must have inadvertently have locked up to a sucker rack—one where the screws had been loosened to allow easy theft. But this was a legitimate city rack, both screwed and epoxied into the ground. Matt rides with a high-quality Kryptonite lock and uses it both and a cable whenever he locks up outside. The Kryptonite lock was untouched. Both the police and our local bike shop believe that the only possibility is that the MinUte it was stolen by thieves with an angle grinder, who cut the frame, loaded the bike into a van, and took it away to strip it for parts at their leisure. This is unfortunately a familiar story in San Francisco, although it happens more commonly with bikes left overnight.

I wouldn’t carry two kids on a $50 beater bike from craigslist (which was probably stolen anyway).

Some people have suggested that if we don’t want our bikes stolen, we should really be riding crappy beater bikes instead of nice cargo bikes. However there is a limit to how crappy a bike we can ride safely with our kids on board. And rest assured that crappy bikes are stolen too. Our son’s school principal had a beater he used to ride down to Civic Center for district meetings, which he left locked to a wrought iron fence with a U-lock. Then one afternoon he came out to find that thieves had sawed through the iron railings to steal his rusty bike, whose value he estimated at roughly $20. The district was less than thrilled about the cost of repairing the fence, and he had to find another way to get to meetings. I have heard similar stories countless times. Thieves are indiscriminate and they can’t be undersold. And any bike you ride regularly is a pain to replace, even a cheap one.

The MinUte could do almost anything–and we assumed that it would be around forever.

As victims of bike theft go, we are pretty fortunate. Our bikes are covered by our renters insurance, and although I resent that we’ll have to pay the deductible, we can afford it. We have more bikes than people in our stable, so Matt still has something to ride (he has been riding the Bullitt). Our local bike shop is preparing an estimate for the insurance adjuster so we don’t have to do it ourselves. And they are already investigating our options for a replacement—given that bike manufacturers are just closing out 2012 models and switching to 2013, this may be more complicated than we had expected.

The Kona MinUte carried home our Christmas tree last year.

Is there anything we could have done differently? The one thing that comes to mind is locking skewers. On the advice of a friend who has been locking up a wildly expensive bike around sketchy neighborhoods in San Francisco for over five years without it being stolen or stripped, we put Pitlocks on everything on the Bullitt (and they’ve already prevented the saddle from being stolen). If the MinUte had been Pitlocked, it would not have been worth stealing for parts, because they couldn’t have been removed even with an angle grinder. Our replacement bike will be Pitlocked to the hilt.

The kids are still confused about where the MinUte has gone.

Anyway. We were pretty depressed about all of this on Friday. The MinUte was our first bike, and the bike that made us realize we really could ride everywhere with our kids. We had put a lot of time and effort into making it work for our lives. We were fond of that bike, and the thought of its frame being casually cut with an angle grinder so it could be hauled away and disassembled is vaguely nauseating. What a waste.

I am more sanguine now (although we still have moments of “DAMMIT!”) Nothing in the world is permanent. Even our children will leave us one day. We did the best we could to protect the bike from theft, but anything can be stolen by someone who wants it badly enough. We are fortunate that the bike was insured, and that it was not the only bike we have. And in the grander scheme of things, I have no doubt that our lives are better than the lives of the people who stole it. We miss the bike, but we’ll be okay.


Filed under family biking, Kona, San Francisco