Erika D. Smith

Erika D. Smith: Let’s stick it to bicycle thieves

In Davis, where bike theft is common, some thief made off with a tandem, which would have been used by a blind person.
In Davis, where bike theft is common, some thief made off with a tandem, which would have been used by a blind person. Dan Morain

Maybe it’s a rite of passage for living in Sacramento. I don’t know.

All I do know is that there’s a very distinct, deflated feeling in walking back to a bike rack only to find that your beloved, two-wheeled vehicle is gone — along with the pricey, supposedly invincible lock you bought to protect it. You know, just to add insult to injury.

This happened to me a few weeks ago. Some sneaky person managed to get into the underground garage of my apartment building and make off with my BMX-style frame and wheels.

The same thing happens every day all over Sacramento. In downtown and in midtown, and neighborhoods rich and poor, large and small.

Sacramento, I’ve been warned many times, is one of the worst cities in California for bicycle theft.

How bad is it?

So bad that Lance Armstrong’s $10,000 custom bike — along with the bikes of two teammates — disappeared from his team truck after he used it here before a time trial for the Tour of California a few years ago. It was returned a few days later without wheels to police headquarters. (Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, right?)

So bad that bikes disappear not only from racks anchored to the sidewalk in broad daylight, but from second- and third-floor balconies. (Just think, for a moment, about the level of Spider-Men-ness needed to scale an apartment building and get the bike down undetected.)

For sure, of all the real problems in the world — climate change, mass shootings, hunger, etc. — this is nothing. A first-world problem tailor-made for people who can afford to drop a few hundred bucks on what’s basically a luxury vehicle.

But left unchecked, it’s still a problem that’s real enough to undermine the awesomeness that is Sacramento’s burgeoning cycling community.

We talk a lot about infrastructure that’s needed to build a healthy, multimodal community. Bike lanes that don’t randomly start and stop. A true network for commuters. Streets that encourage drivers to share the road so pedestrians can have sidewalks back.

Sacramento’s new master bicycle plan, not updated since the 1990s, is due out in May and will address a lot of that. A specialist will eventually be hired to implement it. Meanwhile, Mayor Kevin Johnson, responding to a challenge by The Bee’s editorial board, has agreed to make cycling a priority — something that will fit nicely with his Sacramento 3.0 plan to increase transit options and housing downtown over the next decade.

But a beautiful network of bike lanes will mean nothing if people are unwilling to park their bikes downtown. No one wants to ride to a Kings game, much less get dinner or drinks, knowing there’s a good chance her bike will be pilfered away under cover of darkness.

So how do we fix this?

First of all, the problem isn’t the police. Unlike many cities, where bike theft ranks somewhere near littering in alleys as a priority, law enforcement in Sacramento actually takes this low-level crime seriously. The bait bike program has nabbed thieves, many of whom have a history of drug charges and are stealing the bikes to sell or trade.

But the police can only do so much, especially if we, the bike riders, only give them so much information to go on.

I took a few minutes to file a police report online, but many people don’t. Most figure it won’t make a difference since stealing one item worth less than $950 is only a misdemeanor. But thieves do get caught and bikes do turn up. Most people also don’t register their bikes, but doing so makes it easier to prove it has been stolen.

Police say most bike thefts are crimes of opportunity, a way for people to get quick cash without a lot of risk of getting caught. Well, I say we increase the risk.

So you do your part. Register your bike and file a report if it gets stolen. The police will do theirs. And if you see a brown-and-pink Haro Railer SS cruiser rolling around midtown, let me know.