bicycle missing wheel
The bike sits on the bike rack with its seat and rear tire taken. (UC Davis/Gregory Urquiaga)

How can you help prevent bike theft on campus?

Quick Summary

  • Why is UC Davis so popular for bike thieves?
  • How can you prevent bike theft?

UC Davis and the City of Davis have a lot of cyclists and everyone knows it. When we say everyone, we also mean bike thieves. And for thieves, the UC Davis campus, in particular, is a great place to steal a bike. (We hate that, BTW.) But there are ways you can help prevent bike theft on campus and we’re going to tell you how! 

First, why is UC Davis so popular for bike thieves?

We have a lot of bikes parked and not locked properly on campus

With a lot of bikes at UC Davis, we have many new cyclists. Unfortunately for new cyclists, they don’t always know how to properly lock up their bicycle, which makes it easy for anyone with a decent wire-cutter to quickly (and quietly) snip through a cable lock. As well, students are often in a hurry, going from class-to-class, or just dropping by the CoHo for coffee. In the haste of your day, cyclists may just not be taking enough time to properly lock their bikes. 

  • Our advice: Every time you lock your bike, give yourself peace of mind by taking an extra moment to make sure your bike is locked properly. Use a U-lock as well as a cable to lock up your bike. Make sure both wheels are locked, as well as your frame, and that your frame and wheels are secured properly to a legitimate bicycle rack (not a tree, railing, etc.).
Lock your bike
There’s a lot of cheap locks out there

When we say cheap locks, we mean inexpensive and also locks of bad quality. (We're looking at you $16 lock!) We know many people, especially students, are often on a budget. On top of all the expenses of college, you may not put much thought or investment into buying good locking mechanisms for your bikes. For thieves, cheap locks are just easier to cut and/or pick and thieves can quickly identify a cheap lock. 

  • Our advice: Again, we recommend getting a U-lock and cable combo. Expect to pay something in the range of $60-120 for a decent and legitimate bike lock set-up. Yes, that can seem like a lot, but having your bike stolen can be even more expensive (if you plan on replacing it, that is). When you are purchasing a U-lock, make sure it has ART or a SoldSecure rating--two of the certifications good locks are usually blessed with. Cables are lock accessories, to be used for your easily-removed components. You should not employ cables by themselves as they should be considered an addendum with a u-lock for bonus security.
Bicycles are parked for long periods of time or just abandoned

The Bicycle Program does a lot of work to remove abandoned bikes from campus. These are bikes that are clearly in disrepair and/or have cobwebs, leaves and trash accumulated around them--anything that might suggest the bike has not been moved in a while. For a bike thief, this is an encouraging sign as they know it is less likely that someone is going to notice if these bikes go missing. That can also be a problem for other bikes parked short-term. While a bike thief is perusing abandoned bikes, they are also looking at bikes nearby to see if there are any easy targets (i.e. Where are those cheap locks and easy to remove parts?). 

  • Our advice: You should also be aware of where you are parking. Know that if you are parking and locking your bike near a bike that looks to be neglected, your bike may also be at risk. You may report what you may think is an abandoned bike to the Bicycle Program ( and we will check it out and work to have it removed (if indeed abandoned).
Sometimes thieves are just looking to steal bike parts

For those with quick-release wheels or seats, thieves know how to easily pop off any components that are not secure. 

  • Our advice: Make sure you are locking your bike well, including any parts that are easy to remove. Or, just take those easy-to-remove parts with you when you park. This includes bike lights, seats, and anything you yourself could simply take off in a matter of seconds (with or without tools). If you can remove it easily, so can others. Consider replacing the quick-release levers for bolts, making it less likely that someone will easily abscond with your precious seat or wheels. 

How can you prevent bike theft?

Register your bike

UC Davis recently partnered with Bike Index, a free online bicycle registry. Registering your bike with Bike Index creates a profile of your bike. In the event that your bike is stolen, you can set up an alert on Bike Index, which triggers a community response. What does that mean? Instead of just you looking for your stolen bike, you can have everyone on Bike Index looking for your bike. Note: At the time of publishing this article, Bike Index has been able to recover 9,961 stolen (and registered) bicycles.

  • Our advice: Registering your bike with Bike Index is just one step. Continue by registering your bike with the Bicycle Program ($12). The Bicycle Program will give you a sticker with a QR code and when scanned, you’ll be easily contacted about the condition of your bike (be it lost, stolen, or improperly parked). This is just one more line of defense to help keep you and your bike together, longer. Generally, registered bikes are less likely to be stolen than non-registered bikes. When thieves see that a bike has been registered, they know that they are easier to track and typically move on to an easier, cleaner target. 
Be alert and report suspicious actions

While we don’t want to create problems for the cycling community by having everyone reporting one another, we do want the Aggie Community to look out for one another by reporting suspicious actions. Suspicious actions are the actions of those checking locks, moving through several bikes, lingering a little too long, etc. Also, people with tools (bolt cutters, power tools) around the bikes, particularly after business hours, can seem off. Think about it--if you are at a bike rack to get your bike, you are probably not checking other bikes or bike locks as well. Note: The Bicycle Program often has staff inspecting bikes in campus bike parking areas and sometimes, we get a call from PD asking if we have anyone in the field doing an impound. We like these calls; it shows we have an engaged campus community.

  • Our advice: Call the non-emergency Police line at 530-752-1727. In fact, program this number into your phone and have it ready. You may also take a picture of the perps (if you feel safe doing so). Above all, don’t ever put yourself in danger and use your best judgment in the given situation.
Keep your bike in good working order

This might sound strange to say, but a low or deflated tire that becomes flat is the number one reason someone might leave their bike parked for a long period of time or just simply abandon it. "I'll take care of it later," you might think. A day turns into a week, a week into a month, etc. Meanwhile, leaves and cobwebs accumulate on the tires and frame. And, as mentioned above, thieves will hone in on unattended bikes making your bike a potential target. 

  • Our advice: Pay attention to your bike. Keep it in good working condition and if it isn’t in good working condition, visit the Bike Barn, take it home to repair, or at a minimum don’t leave it parked out in the open for long periods of time.
Decorate your bike; make it unique

On the secondary market (Craigslist, OfferUp, flea markets, etc.), where stolen bikes are sold, the bikes that have been personalized are harder to sell. And if bikes are harder to sell, bike thieves are less likely to deal with them in the first place. Also, be cautious of independent sellers who are offering a "too good to be true" deal. If you're looking for and finding a deal, you may be purchasing a stolen bike (and feeding a cycle of bike theft we're fighting against). Always ask for the bicycle's serial number and check BikeIndex for any report of thefts.

  • Our advice: Put some stickers on your bike. Decorate your spokes. Make it highly visible (hello, hot pink cheetah-print bike seat). Anything that makes your bike...well, not plain, is a good thing. Clean-looking, non-descript bikes are easier to sell in part because they’re not easy to track. 
Don’t leave your bike parked for more than 72 hours in one spot

It is not uncommon for students to leave their bikes unattended on campus for long periods of time over breaks. If your bike appears to be neglected and parked in one spot for too long, bike thieves will take note and may swoop in. 

  • Our advice: If you plan on leaving your bike parked and unattended for longer than 2 days, take it home. The Bicycle Program also offers bicycle storage lockers and bike cages for more secure daily and long-term parking. And over the winter and summer break, you can securely store your bike on campus with us (and out of the elements).

To close, we can’t express enough how important it is to register your bike with Bike Index. Get onto today, get your bicycle information saved, as you can never be certain that your bicycle won’t go missing. Bike theft on campus will likely always be an issue but if we help each other, and everyone does their part, our hope is the message will get out to the bike thief underworld.

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