San Diego For the last five years, Kryptonite, a manufacturer of top-of-the-line bicycle locks, has released a ten-worst bike-theft cities list. This year, San Diego made the list for the first time, despite local authorities' claim that the area has experienced a drop in bike theft.
New York is Kryptonite's number-one bike-theft city, followed by Chicago, Tempe, San Francisco, Boston, Austin, Washington D.C, Philadelphia, Denver, and a tie for tenth between Miami and San Diego.
Speaking from Kryptonite's offices in Canton, Massachusetts, Daryl Slater, public relations officer, offered personal evidence for San Diego's rise to bike-stealing prominence.
"I just flew back from San Diego. I was out there for five days for the long weekend, and I was amazed, compared to other parts of the country, how many of the cheap cable [bike locks] are used along the beach. Not many of the U-locks or heavy-duty devices."
Though he wouldn't divulge the exact numbers that put San Diego on the list, calling the figure "proprietary data," Slater did explain that the rating was based on information compiled through Kryptonite's guarantee program.
"When you buy the lock," Slater said, "included with it is information that tells you what happens if your bike gets stolen, what you need to mail in to us in terms of paperwork in order for the guarantee program to take place. So if you buy our New York lock, which is a very heavy-duty U-lock, it has a $2000 guarantee. We would award up to $2000 for someone that can prove with a police report or with insurance information that their bike was stolen.
"We do require a lot of information," Slater explained, "because we've had people file faulty claims and say that their bike was stolen when they never even locked the bike. And we do require part of the lock be sent in so we have evidence. We can't give out the specific numbers, but we can say, based on the returns, that these are the cities that are seeing the worst levels of bike theft."
San Diego police numbers tell a different story. From January 1 of this year through June 30, according to SDPD, there have been 721 reported bike thefts. That's down 14 percent from the same period in 1999, which had 836. In all of 1999, 1680 bikes were reported stolen. Double the figure for the first half of 2000, and you have 1421 -- a 16 percent drop for the whole year.
Police numbers notwithstanding, Slater continued, San Diego has all the makings of a world-class bike-theft town.
"The highest concentration of bike thefts," he said, "are going to be in urban areas and college campuses. So what San Diego would have as an obstacle is the large urban population and the three universities mixed in with the number of people who ride due to the good weather."
Todd Hayman, owner of College Cyclery on El Cajon Boulevard near San Diego State, agreed with Slater as far as college-campus bicycle theft goes.
"There are a lot of thefts on campus," he said. "I can't say more or less so than any other campus, but I do know that San Diego State is not necessarily a bike-friendly campus. It's got narrow corridors, it's built on the side of a mountain. It's not like UCSD, which is much more bike-friendly. Still, in September, I'll have a big rush on bike sales, and I'll sell maybe 90 bikes during that back-to-school rush. Within 30 days, probably 20 out of that 90 will be stolen. Generally, it's due to the owner's neglect: either using a very poor lock or not having a lock at all. It's theft by convenience."
Eric Field, bicycle enforcement officer for the UCSD campus police, says the same is true on his campus. "Most of the reports I've done, it has been not locking the bicycle or not locking it properly. There have been aggressive theft rings in the past, but we haven't seen any of that lately."
Asked if theft is up at UCSD, Field answers, "No. From talking to students and the staff here, it sounds as if bike theft is slower than last year."
His official department numbers support that conclusion. In 1999, 139 bikes were reported stolen at UCSD, a 6 percent decrease from the 147 in 1998. Comparing January through June of both 1999 and 2000 shows a more dramatic drop in bicycle theft. The first half of 1999 saw 81 bike thefts at UCSD. For January through June of 2000, the total number was 33, a 60 percent drop.
Slater, Hayman, and Field all agreed that bike theft can almost certainly be avoided by securing the bike to an immovable object with a heavy-duty lock. "The U-locks tend to be the best," Hayman said, "whether it's the Kryptonite brand, which is probably one of the better manufacturers, or one of the house brands: Schwinn, Trek, Giant.
"They all market these locks under their own logo," Hayman explained. "Kryptonite specializes in locks. They have one called the New York Chain, which is extremely good. It's a square-link, case-hardened chain. The way it's manufactured, there's not a lot of space to get any kind of a tool in there. And a bolt cutter is not going to cut the case-hardened stuff. Hacksaws won't do it either.
"But they're expensive, in the $85 to $90 range. The problem is," Hayman explained, "people want to spend money to have a nice bike, but they don't want to spend much money on a lock."
Slater recommended that bicycle owners spend 10 percent of what they pay for their bikes on security devices. "That would be a good rule of thumb," Hayman responded. "But most people aren't looking at it that way. After they purchase the bicycle, a lot of them look at the lock as more dollars on top of that: 10, 15, 20 bucks is about all they're willing to spend on top of the bike purchase."