Stanford bike thefts in 2023: A review

March 13, 2024, 9:28 p.m.

The Stanford Bike Culture

Stanford is known for many things. From groundbreaking research to the occasional fraudster, the University has reached international acclaim on a variety of fronts. Among the University’s many achievements is its remarkable bike culture.

The Platinum Bicycle Friendly University Award is a distinction made by the League of American Bicyclists to recognize institutions of higher education for promoting and providing a more bikeable campus for students, staff, and visitors. Stanford, as it so happens, is the only university in the nation to be awarded four consecutive Platinum Designations. This should come as no surprise. With some 13,000+ bikes pedaling daily, the campus features a robust bike infrastructure with more developments on the way.

Stanford bike thefts in 2023: A review

Even little-known programs like Stanford Spokes, a team biking from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., connect the pastime to a broader educational mission of academic excellence.

Unfortunately, it is a simple fact that where there are bikes, there are bike thefts. In this article, I review reported bike thefts in 2023 and investigate where and when they happen. I follow up with practical actions you can take to prevent and prepare for the worst.

A Cold Open

Jason Lin ’25 is an undergraduate studying mechanical engineering here at Stanford. A rather wild fellow, I distinctly remember Lin as the RA who hosted an on-call where he awakened his inner ogre burning through Shrek movies while munching on raw onions shirtless. So it should come as no surprise that when his bike was stolen from the Caltrain Station after a fun outing in San Francisco, he took drastic measures.

Indeed, on top of filing a police report, Lin scoured Craigslist, where he would eventually find a suspicious listing that “beckoned for some vigilante justice.” Calling on his friends, Lin decided to organize a stakeout. Lin approached the seller in an empty parking lot across from the Menlo Park Fire Station while one friend stood by. The duo would ultimately find themselves talking to a rather intimidated middle-aged woman who, in fact, did not possess Lin’s bike.

The Statistics

While most of us wouldn’t go so far as to organize a stakeout in search of, as Lin would put it, our “inanimate wheeled friends,” the reality is that bike thefts do occur at Stanford often without resolution. As Andrew Meyer from the Campus bike shop wrote in a statement to The Daily, “The area in general is targeted by thieves due to the large volume of bicycles on campus at any given time.”

Every week, The Daily publishes a Police Blotter detailing a selection of incidents taken from the Stanford University Department of Public Safety (SUDPS) bulletin. While the Police Blotters offer a great snapshot of incidents throughout the week, they do not give a full picture of bike thefts at Stanford. On the flip side, while the SUDPS publishes an annual crime statistics report in accordance with the Clery Act, it is difficult to investigate individual events. As Mishika Govil ’25 wrote in a statement to The Daily, “One thing that would be personally more helpful would be if there was more readily available aggregate data on times, locations, and general trends of bike theft data.”

Highlighted List of Police Blotter Incidents at Campus Bike Shop

With that in mind, I decided to review every blotter published in 2023. My review found that a total of 188 bike thefts were reported with 38 classified as grand thefts, 104 classified as petty thefts, and 46 as unknown.

For context, according to the SUDPS, “a Petty Theft is a value of property (in this case a bicycle) equal to or under $950 [and] a Grand Theft is a value over $950.”

Temporally, I find a higher incidence of bike thefts during October. This finding aligns with observations made by SUDPS who wrote, “there is typically a higher incidence of thefts at the beginning of the academic term when students return to campus with their bicycles, which thieves are aware of.” It is also worth pointing out that July and August are empty because The Daily does not compile Police Blotters during those months. In a conversation with Meyer from the Campus Bike Shop, the owner shared that he expects at least 10 of his rental bikes to be stolen during the Summer Quarter.

Spatially, I find that most bike thefts occur at Stern Hall and Main Quad. You can hover over the dots to view the incident information along with a clickable link to its source.

Beyond these hotspots, Omar Barba from the Campus Bike Shop also cautioned against “areas with a main road” notably including the Medical School and Oak Road.

Taking Action

Broadly, there are two ways to think about protecting our bikes: prevention and preparation. Prevention asks us to consider questions like what actions can I take in order to reduce the likelihood that my bike gets stolen. The SUDPS has a couple of thoughts on prevention.

Their first comment called on community members to be proactive and “immediately report suspicious activity by calling 911 or (650) 329-2413 (non-emergency).”

The SUDPS also recommended using “a U-Lock to secure a bicycle to a bicycle rack.”

That last point was echoed by the Campus Bike Shop. In a conversation with Meyer and Barba, the pair explained that understanding the psychology of a thief is helpful for prevention. According to them, thieves target bikes that look insecure, inconspicuous and expensive. For security, the Bike Shop recommends using a U-lock or Chain lock, replacing quick-release levers and adding a small cable lock to secure the seat to the frame.

For aesthetics, the Bike Shop recommends de-beautification. Barba warmly recalls a particularly motivated student who spray painted their bike hot pink in retaliation — they never faced issues during their time at Stanford.

Preparation asks us to consider questions like what actions can I take now in order to respond to a bike theft when it does occur?

On this front, the SUDPS encourages community members to “register their bicycle to increase the chances it will be returned to them if recovered by visiting:” For reference, most bike serial numbers are listed under the bottom bracket where the two pedal cranks meet. For more information, we recommend visiting Stanford Transportation’s bike registration page.

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