Lojack for Bikes?

Several years ago, Steve Levitt and Ian Ayres wrote a paper about Lojack, the silent anti-auto-theft device. They found that crime theft falls overall in areas where even a small percentage of the cars carry Lojack. I got to thinking about Lojack when we received this e-mail the other day from a reader frustrated with the volume of bicycle thefts in Brooklyn. It’s hard to imagine Lojack for bikes — the cost of a car is what makes Lojack worthwhile — but it’s also hard to imagine that there aren’t some creative solutions to the problem. Feel free to post them below. Here, meanwhile, is the reader’s e-mail:…a problem that’s been plaguing my Brooklyn neighborhood lately: bike theft. More specifically, the theft of bike parts (whichever parts — wheels, baskets, bells, etc. — happen to be unlocked). Being merely a disgruntled citizen, I don’t have any statistics on just how rampant this epidemic is, but, based on anecdotal evidence, I’d say very. The bike locks that I see most often see can only reach around the frame and one wheel — every time you lock up, you’re making a considerable gamble (even if you could lock up both wheels and the frame you’d be making a gamble, of course). Buying a second lock (which I’ve now done) is a) costly and b) cumbersome – lugging around one bulky lock is bad enough, but two really does make going for a ride much less appealing. Can you think of any better solutions? Is there a way that the police ought to be deterring bike theft that they aren’t? Is there something that we as a neighborhood ought to be doing?


Park your bike next to one that looks similar but has a cheaper lock. That's what I do.


With enough patience and ingenuity, it should be relatively easy to catch a bike thief in the act, if by nothing else, by staking out places where people lock their bikes. The value to society of taking a single bike thief off the streets must be significant and surely worth someone's time to man such a stakeout. For example, if taking a bike thief off the streets is worth $1000 to society, and thefts are so rampant that a smart stake-out artist can catch one thief a week, then someone should be willing to take the job. The question is how to quantify the benefit of a conviction and who will pay the $1000. On the latter point, insurance companies may be a logical choice, but most bike theft probably falls within deductibles. The other major stakeholders are bike shops. On the one hand, you could argue that bike shops do a booming business in replacement bikes and parts necessitated by bike theft. On the other hand, many people like me, probably have just given up on bikes as a form of transportation, owing to the risks and hassels of bike theft. If bike shops see bike theft in their area as harmful to business, maybe they could be convinced to fund some kind of reward program for information leading to convictions of bike thieves.



I protect my home with a 2"x5" security system sticker. Similarly, we don't need to equip all bikes with Lojack, just a few of them, and the rest with "This bike tracked by Lojack" stickers. A punk won't know whether there's really a tracking device or not, and he'll have to ask himself, "Do I feel lucky?"

Then again, I bet stolen bikes change hands much more quickly than cars do. And even if you can trace it, what then? Good luck getting the police to care. Our car culture being what it is, authorities will care a lot more about a $2,000 Geo than a $4,000 Colnago.

Captain Platypus

As a neighborhood, fake surveillance cameras (or real ones if willing to foot the bill, they aren't that expensive) would be a suitable deterrent. Or in lieu of actual cameras, perhaps a sign stating that the area is monitored by video surveillance would do the trick. As the previous poster stated, sometimes just the sign stating a deterrent is in place is enough to make a casual thief move along.
The last option which would probably save you the most money (but not time) would be to walk.


Try quick-release hubs, with a similar mechanism for the seat, pedals, etc. The released wheel can be locked to the other wheel and the frame, and the seat, pedals, etc. can be carried away by their owner.

Alternatively, what about a bag or case covering the entire locked bike (not unlike the kind of cover used to park expensive sports cars outdoors) which is hard to open, and is locked to the signpost or railing, along with the bike? It would have to be unlocked, opened, and/or cut open in order to free the bike, all of which would draw attention to the fact that a bike theft is taking place. It would also slow down the thief considerably.


What I usually do, is torrentially abuse my bike so that:
a) it's extremely ugly to look at
b) it smells

Also worth considering is painting your BIKE bright pink, I have it bright orange, but it's mostly covered in mud. I don't even lock it, and no one actually bothers taking it.

The general solution:
buy a bike second hand, you don't need to show people you have money I don't. Never wash it. My bike does what it's ment to do, brakes and rides me from point A to B.

And when the breaks don't work, that's when all the fun starts...

Maybe, Brooklin should pay for a few cyclists to tour the area and just deal with those thieves.


I don't know real details, but I would guess that Lojack works in cars not only because of the relative cost in relation to a car, but also because it can use the car's electric system for power. If this is the case it'd be pretty difficult to use it in a bike...

Harold Jarche

Why not do like some European cities and make bikes available throughout the area, so that you ride from point A to B and then drop it off at a communal parking spot. All the bikes are painted a bright colour with the name of the city. Not worth stealing and everyone knows where it came from.


I think the key problem is that the police don't care very much.


Combining two earlier ideas:

A bicycle insuring company: a service that puts lojaks on the insured bikes and then recovers any stolen bicycles. A city policeman is going to get involved with an stolen property recovery agent: easy arrest and conviction.


Take a look at some Dutch solutions, in the country with highest nr. of bikes per citizen (I think it's something like 4, I'm not sure). They deal with bike-theft all the time. For one, they allow for plenty of public parking-spaces, with camera-supervision. This is probably made possible due to the high taxes Dutch people pay, unlike the US, I believe. A more private solution is to set up some kind of bike-cage in your street, for which you pay rent together with whoever uses it. And finally, there are multi-lock systems (to fasten front and back) and maybe (don't know of any) some tracking-systems. The best thing is probably to keep the bike in an enclosed area and/or ensure it.


" Try quick-release hubs,[...]"

Your idea rests on making riding a bike even LESS convenient than it is today, and it's already less convenient than driving a car, unless you're in the small percentage of US urban areas without ample free off-street parking.


Given that the US is so completely dependent on oil and so myopic to boot, bicycle sharing, monitored parking, and the like are certainly due to catch on in 2020 when gasoline hits the $112/gallon mark ... if you can find it. Until then, the options are slim:
a) ride an ugly, smelly bike and dare someone to ride it, let alone steal it;
b) ride a veritable billboard (hey, sponsorship could earn you big bucks!) that would make it ridiculous to steal (Go Sox! in Brooklyn might not be worth stealing but might make for great batting practice so choose your sponsors wisely);
c) have two bikes -- a crappy one for A-B travels that include leaving it parked and locked somewhere (who'd steal it? really?) and a good one for adventures (and picking up chicks) because you'd rarely leave it anywhere anyway for any time.

Of course, you could buy a big-ass lock to lug everwhere, disassemble your ride and secure it in a process that resembles a 30-minute carny show. Or move to Berkely where life is one.


The Professor

Instead of trying to bust the bike theives, wouldn't it make more sense to find out WHY so many people are stealing bikes? Is it because there is such a high demand for stolen bikes and bike parts on the black market? If this is so then maybe the focus should be on investigation/arrest of the people buying the stolen bikes instead of the people actually stealing the bikes. Most likely the purchasers of the stolen bikes are legal pawn shops. If that is the case then a cheap process of bike registration (similar to motor vehicles) could be put into place. Mmake it illegal for pawn shops to purchase bikes that don;t belong to the registered owner.


set up honey-pot bike traps - with consistent, hidden video surveillance. You could do this outside your apartment for example.
In reality the number of people stealing the bikes is probably pretty low, and a few convictions and/or publically displayed photos of the thieves caught in the act should slow things down.


btw best RFID blog:



so basically if your entrepenurial you could start making money off this bike theft thing today... sometimes I wish I lived in New York. =)



additionally as Levitt and Ayres note in their paper, visible forms of crime protection such as alarms and stickers have a tendency to redistrbute crime. in other words Brooklyn might be getting hit because Manhattan-ites are already advertising high tech surveillance and cracking down on small crimes like this.



I live in New York. It's alright, but it's overtaxed and overrated.

I should probably point out that I live upstate...


and it turns out there already is RFID for bikes:


Parking lot in Osaka is using it. one tag on the wheel.


Upstate and downstate are two different planets.

Wealthy New York City residents are undertaxed.