Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Biketopia, UP take on bicycle thefts

University Police attached a tag to the handlebar of a bike left unsecured, alerting the owner.


By Aleksandra Sidorova

University Police is leaving tags on bicycles students leave unlocked, in hopes of preventing bike thefts and bringing students’ attention to securing their bikes. Biketopia, a student club, also thinks students aren’t being as cautious as they should be.

Twelve bikes have been reported stolen since April 1, according to Inspector Steven Dube. Five of them have been recovered, but seven have not. The most recent bike theft — one of the campus-owned bikes — was reported Sept. 26 and found on campus the next day.

Biketopia gives students the opportunity to rent a bike for as long as they need it, under the conditions that they will maintain the bike and return it. Biketopia President Jonanthony Tarlen said the club rented about 10 bikes over the summer, mostly to international students. Two ended up stolen.

College campuses are hotspots for bike thefts.

“It was clearly our recognition that we’re kind of like a pass-through in this area,” Dube said. “And a lot of these people are stealing these bikes because it’s opportunistically available to them.”

This semester, Biketopia documents more information both about the bikes as well as the students who rent them. For the bicycles, this includes serial numbers, color, make, model and a photo. For students, this information includes their full name, student ID number and contact information.

“You’re going to be held accountable,” Tarlen said. 

Tarlen’s own Cannondale bicycle was stolen last winter.

“It had gotten stolen within two weeks of me riding it, despite me having a $30 lock, because they got lock cutters, they cut it and they stole it,” Tarlen said. “Whether you’re asleep, whether you’re in class, or you’re away from the bike, it will eventually happen. Don’t think you’re going to be the outlier.”

UP has been taking similar measures, encouraging students to bring their bikes to the station for registration and cataloging. At the end of last week, there were more than 20 bikes registered in UP’s database.

Biketopia Treasurer Eirik Lavigne sees a larger problem that, in part, contributes to bike thefts — students don’t tend to have a vested interest in bike maintenance, which includes safety precautions. 

Lavigne grew up surrounded by bikes and for the past seven years has actively been working in his father’s bike shop back home near Potsdam, New York. He said the higher-end the bike, the higher-end the maintenance is.

“You got to look at it as an investment,” Lavigne said. “You want this bike for this whole semester. Twenty dollars for a U-lock isn’t going to take away, say, your meals for a whole week. It’s enough where you’ll be able to not spend another $200 to $300 on a new bike.”

Lavigne recalled renting a bike to a student who promised they would go to Walmart and buy a lock straight after — and they did, but by the time they left the store, the bike was gone.

“Just realize you’re riding school property,” Lavigne said. “The main thing that really does start to affect us after a while is you have a lot of people who want to take a bike out. We tell them, ‘Hey, pump the tires up every week so they don’t go flat’ — we tell them small little maintenance stuff they need to do, and then they never care about the bike.”

Lavigne and Dube recommend a metal U-lock, as opposed to a cable or chain lock. Dube said surveillance cameras have captured people cutting a cable lock with clippers and running away with the prize within seconds. To defeat a “simple lock,” all a thief needs is “simple clippers,” Lavigne said. These tips are also printed on the tags UP leaves on unlocked bikes.

“[A U-lock is] very tough to defeat — at least tough to defeat easily without a lot of commotion,” Dube said.

Lavigne locks his mountain bike with both and used to store it under his bed for the night. Some dormitories, like Moffitt Hall, have storage spaces designated for bikes. Lavigne recommends that students use two layers of protection like he does, locking both the bike’s frame and its front wheel.

Tarlen said UP’s tagging is an effective solution to the problem. Lavigne said the tags are “good for riders.” Dube said this method is the best way to alert student bikers to securing their bikes, as UP has no way to identify the owner of a bike unless it has been entered into their database.

“If UP is able to just walk by, look at it and realize it, anyone else can — and that’s the realization people have to get to,” Lavigne said. “UP isn’t doing this just to be annoying. They’re doing it because if they see it, someone else will see it.”

Aleksandra Sidorova

Biketopia Treasurer Eirik Lavigne demonstrates how to lock a bike in the most secure way possible outside of Hawkins Hall. Lavigne locks the wheel with a thick cable lock and the frame with a metal U-lock.


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