By David Takemoto-Weerts
In Brett Johnson’s article about bike theft in The Davis Enterprise on Sunday, Sept. 23 (“Lack of awareness leads to low recovery rate for local bike thefts”), Lt. Paul Doroshov of the Davis Police Department clearly describes the high rate of theft in town and the low incidence of recovery. However, Doroshov only touches on the issue of bike serial numbers as a key element in the recovery of stolen bikes.
As the lieutenant points out, without knowing the bike’s serial number there’s not much the police can do to help you get your bike back. However, with a serial number, there is a range of strategies that may significantly increase the return of your purloined pedals.
I’ll explain how to find that number in a minute. Here’s what it can do for you:
* If you include the serial number (and license number, if you have it) when you report the theft, the police will enter it along with your bike’s description into a statewide database of stolen property. If any law enforcement officer anywhere in California comes across the bike, it can be identified as yours through either the serial or license number.
* If, after your bike is stolen, you see what appears to be your property for sale on Craigslist, eBay or elsewhere, the police are not likely to be able to assist you unless you know the serial number. They are not going to arrange a “sting” operation or do further investigation unless they know they can positively confirm ownership of the bike when they confront the seller.
* If you find your bike on your own in Davis (not an uncommon occurrence here, especially on the UC Davis campus), the police will not be able to cut the lock and return the bike to you unless there is a known serial number they can find and verify that you are the owner.
In short, no matter how unique your bike is or how good your description of the bike may be, the police are unlikely to be able to help you without being able to find a verifiable number.
Most bike serial numbers are underneath the frame part called the “bottom bracket.” That’s where the pedal cranks attach to the frame. You’ll have to turn the bike upside down to find it. However, there is no standardization in the bike industry that dictates where serial numbers are placed or what their format is.
If you see a number there (and it should be more than six characters), write it down but do a thorough search of the rest of the frame to look for anything else stamped in the metal. You may even see multiple number sets on the bottom bracket! If you find more than one set of numbers, you have three options:
* If you have the original sales receipt from a bike shop, it usually will include the correct serial number (note: receipts from big-box retailers such as Walmart or Target will not include this information;
* Call a bike shop (again, not a big-box store) that sells the same brand. They should be able to discern the correct number;
* Contact me at 530-752-2453 or email@example.com.
Perhaps the best way to find, record and preserve the correct serial number and better prevent the loss of your bike is to register (“license”) it with a California bicycle license. This service is available on campus at Transportation and Parking Services and through B&L Bike Shop and Ken’s Bike-Ski-Board in town. The cost is $10 for a license valid for up to three years (renewals are $5).
A license sticker applied to your bike frame sends a message to would-be thieves: This bike is entered into a statewide system of registration, identification and recovery. If a thief steals such a bike with the intention of selling it, he takes the very real risk of being caught when a cautious buyer checks the serial number with the police before or after purchase.
For more information about theft prevention, stolen bike recovery and bike registration, contact me at 530 752-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
— David Takemoto-Weerts has been the UC Davis bicycle coordinator since 1987.