SAN FRANCISCO
10/16/2012 06:15 pm ET Updated Oct 16, 2012

Stolen Bike Finder: New Website Helps Victims Fight Bicycle Theft

Coming outside to see an empty rack where your bicycle used to be is one of the painful realities of living in a major city.

No matter how strong your lock is, there's never a guarantee that it will be there when you get back--no matter how safe the neighborhood typically is.

But Stolen Bike Finder, a new search engine built by the bloggers at Priceonomics, could make bike theft a thing of the past.

The tool works by not only helping you retrieve your stolen bike but also by disincentivizing thieves from absconding with your ride in the first place. The site's founders assumed that if they could make it more expensive and difficult for thieves to fence a stolen bike, it would make them less likely to do so.

The authors explained:

The solution we built is based on the only effective solution to bike theft we’ve encountered -- self-policing by victims. If your bike is stolen, try to find where the thief is selling it and stop them. In San Francisco, bike theft victims know to search for their bikes at 7th and Market, the Oakland flea market and on the local Craigslist. The result of this self-policing? Thieves have to put the bikes on a van and sell them in another market. That’s a major pain in the ass for them.

So that’s what we decided to build. A tool to help you track down your bike when it gets stolen and make it really hard for criminals to flip it for a profit by selling it online. A dragnet for stolen bikes.

The site allows users to enter the make and model of their stolen bike and see if anything similar is being sold anywhere in the country on auction sites like eBay and Craigslist. Visitors will be notified whenever a bike matching the description of the one they lost pops up.

A forum for people to safely buy and sell their bikes with verified proof of ownership exists alongside the search tool.

Priceonomics has regularly posted about the economics of bike theft, arguing it's so common because the crime involves a low likelihood of being caught and light penalties for those who are.

While San Francisco is famous for being ground zero for bike theft, there's been a pronounced decrease in reported incidents after undercover police officers nabbed the city's most prolific teenage cycle thief, who had 114 stolen rides in his possession.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition offers a bunch of helpful tips as to how to prevent your bike from getting stolen in the first place, such as storing it inside your home instead of in a residential garage, using both a U-lock and a heavy-duty chain lock when parking on the street and registering your wheels with the National Bike Registry.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian estimates that between 2,000 and 3,000 bicycles are stolen in the city every year.

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