What you should know about u locks: An investigation into campus bicycle safety

We hear it all the time at the beginning of the year: “Register your bike on campus.” “Make sure you use a U-lock.” These precautionary measures are designed to help students keep their bicycles safe, and for good reason. Just this past year, 54 bikes were reported missing or stolen from campus, representing an overall financial loss of $46,881 and making bike theft the number one police problem on campus.

Bike theft has been an ongoing issue for some time. While there are safe places for freshmen to keep their bikes, namely the indoor lockers, there aren’t enough spaces for everyone, nor can everyone afford to pay the additional fee to use the storage space. With the increase in incoming freshmen, many students are housed in forced triples and don’t have the option to store their bike in their room. Students must resort to using the outdoor bike racks, which have the highest rate of crime on campus. This is a fact which has sadly been left unaddressed at Mines.

If you’ve registered your serial code and have your bike stolen, the police can run the code through a pawn shop database to check if the bike has been pawned. However, of the 46 bikes stolen last year, only one was recovered with this method, and only three were located in total. One bike was found at a pawn shop in Lakewood, another was located by a sheriff at a homeless encampment in Boulder, and the last was discovered by Mines PD by locating unique identifying features of for-sale bikes on OfferUp and Craigslist. The thief in the third and final case was identified and arrested. He had routinely been stealing bikes from Mines and selling them online after learning about the campus as an Uber driver.

U-locks can help make sure bikes stay safe. Only 14% of the bikes that were stolen last year were locked with U-locks. The rest were secured with cable locks, the long accordion-like locks which can easily be snipped with a pair of bolt cutters. 

However, the truth of the matter is that on a college campus, even u-locks don’t always work. Or, at least they don’t always work the way we would like them to. Bike thieves are notorious opportunists, and if the bike is locked improperly, it doesn’t take much effort to take part or all of a model. The most common issue, according to several commenters, is that students are often running the U-lock through the shock on the front wheel. A thief can loosen the wheel, remove the frame, and reattach the wheel- all the while leaving the lock intact and attached to the rack. It can get even worse. According to Brian Krayenhagen, Mines Police Officer, one of the most common techniques thieves will employ is to take the frame of one bike and remove the wheel from someone else’s bike, sticking it on the stolen frame. With a rebuilt bike, the thief can ride away, leaving both students sans components. 

The best way to use a U-lock is to stick it through the back of the frame and the back wheel, which is usually where the most expensive components are located. Because many students ride mountain bikes, which have thicker builds than road bikes, it is often not feasible to capture the frame, wheel, and bike rack within the same lock. The second best method is to thread the U-lock through the frame, and use a cable lock to secure both wheels as pictured. This doesn’t guarantee your bike will stay safe, but it should deter most thieves. A dedicated thief will bring a cable cutter, which has happened. 

What else can students do to make sure their bikes stay safe? Mines PD has several suggestions. One, students can personalize their bikes by adding accessories- colorful bar tape, for example, or stickers on the frame. These features allow bikes to be more easily recognized if placed for sale on the internet. Additionally, students are encouraged to walk by the bike racks at least once a week. Even if you’re not riding, it’s good to keep tabs on the location of your bike, especially if it does get stolen. Catching the loss within the week it occurs makes it more likely you’ll find your bike, whether that be online or at a local garage sale. 

 There are other campus wide initiatives that could benefit students, but due to lack of support and funding, none have yet been implemented. Bike registration and u-lock use  could be made mandatory on campus. Additionally, Mines could change the location of the bike racks. Currently, the vast majority of bikes are kept on the racks near Bradford, which are conveniently hidden behind walls near Elm St. The location’s close proximity to the road and poor visibility makes it susceptible to theft. If the racks were moved to a centralized location, less accessible to cars, it would make it more difficult for thieves to take bikes without risking observation. The change in location could also coincide with a change in the type of bike rack, too. Updated bicycle stands could ensure that the entire frame and wheel be locked, rather than the current models which often require students to choose locking the wheel or frame, but not both.

Theft on campus isn’t just limited to bikes. This past August, three Mines-owned vehicles were also stolen from Mines Park. All of the vehicles were hot-wired and used for parts. The crime is under active investigation, and though the current suspects haven’t been caught, this example serves as a reminder that it’s not just students who are at risk of experiencing property loss. While it’s unlikely that a student vehicle would be stolen using the method that was used on the Mines vehicles, the investigation begs attention to the fact that as a community, we need to look out for each other and speak up when we observe something that looks suspicious. Even though it can be hard to confront an individual who looks like they’re doing something wrong, in the long run taking action could save a fellow student or faculty member a lot of money and energy- and ultimately make us a stronger, more conscientious student body as a whole.  

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