Bicycle Thieves

Why are so many bicycles stolen?

I had my bicycle stolen earlier today. I suppose it is my fault, as I left it unattended and unlocked for five minutes in front of the building. And yet, I had done the same thing other times, for longer periods, and nothing had happened. I guess it was unlucky that a thief was just passing by just at that time, protected by the anonymity of a lazy Sunday morning, as most people around were innocently going to church or taking their children to the park nearby.

I don’t know how many bicycles I had stolen from me along my life. I suppose something between 5 and 10, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they were more than 10. At least two bicycles were stolen inside private property (my building’s parking lot or garage). The worst one was a brand new $ 500 bicycle stolen from inside my garage when I lived in Los Angeles. Since then, I took care to only buy cheap, used bicycles costing lest than $ 50, so they could be easily replaced, and the pain of the loss would not be so harsh. It was the case of the recent one, which had costed $ 40.

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Bicycle theft is an international business. I had bicycles stolen in Brazil, in the United States, in Canada and in Germany (at least three just in Germany!). According to an article, one bicycle is stolen every 30 seconds in most major cities in the world, and the number of stolen bicycles is constantly increasing. It only seems to get worse every year — apparently, bicycle theft exploded during the pandemic. More than 200,000 bicycles are stolen every year just in the United States, and those are the reported thefts. Since most thefts are unreported (and, let’s face it, reporting is pretty useless: it’s not as if the police will have detectives working in shifts to find your bike), the real number is two or three times that.

Part of the problem seems to be that it is relatively easy to steal bikes — even if they are protected by locks, since most of them provide little actual protection against a determined thief — and there is minimal punishment. Most bicycle thieves are never caught, and most stolen bicycles are never recovered. It is a crime without punishment.

The classic Italian neorealist film “Bicycle Thieves” (Ladri di Biciclette, 1948) paints a sympathetic portrayal of a poor man, during the hard times of postwar Italy, who has his bicycle stolen and therefore becomes unable to go to work; desperate, he finally tries to steal another man’s bicycle and ends up being caught.

The film, by Vittorio De Sica, is a deserved classic, but I think it paints a faulty portrayal of bicycle thieves. I really doubt anyone, especially these days, becomes a bike thief because he had his own bike stolen and could not go to work anymore.

No, far from being desperate poor men who just want support their family, bicycle thieves are deeply amoral and psychopathic individuals, who are constantly on the prowl for suckers who leave their bikes unattended or secured with cheap locks. After they hypocritically carry or ride your own bicycle through town as if it was their own, those appalling criminals sell it cheaply for parts and use the money to buy drugs or booze. Only this can explain why my own bicycle, an old, defective piece of junk purchased at a second-hand shop for 40 euros, could have been taken away.

In some Islamic countries, thieves are punished by having their right hand cut off. While the punishment seems to me exaggerated as a general rule, it might be adequate in the case of bicycle thieves. Perhaps they should also have one of their feet removed, so they can never ride a bicycle again.

Everything has an upside, however. The shift system in my bicycle wasn’t working, and the light system also needed to be changed. I remember that I was bothered thinking that I needed to work to fix those problems (just buying the parts needed to fix those issues would probably cost more than the bike itself).

But I don’t need to worry about it anymore, and it is a load off my mind. Now that’s a problem for the thief. Perhaps he will be kind enough to fix it himself before selling it to someone else, or perhaps he will have a deserved bike accident as he rides away with the product of his crime.

And I just need to buy a new $40 bike, until it is stolen, once again.

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