Let’s face it, bike theft is an epidemic. Every single day, hundreds of bikes go missing, leaving their rightful owners distraught, unnerved, and unable to get around. After our infamous experiment from 2 years ago called European Bike Stealing Championships it’s time to get to the bottom of things and find out how skilled these thieves really need to be, while taking a closer look at how the average bystander reacts when witnessing a heist first-hand.
Truth be told, the reality is pretty bleak. If a completely untrained Joe can pull it off in under 30 seconds, the pros have pretty much got it made. Of course part of the problem is that despite increasing coverage, these thefts go largely unnoticed and unchallenged. This ends up having a negative impact on this otherwise celebrated sustainable mode of transportation.
And despite all this evidence to the contrary, most cyclists still believe they are safe. Sure, the freedom of cruising happily on two wheels can be enough to bring out the optimist in anyone, but the stats speak for themselves. It could never happen to you right? Not that quickly, and certainly not in broad daylight. Well your trusting, and apparently endemic, hope is appreciated, but it might be time to think again.
The footage from Barcelona confirms, apparently leaving your bike in a high traffic area doesn’t seem to do much to increase its safety. So what’s the deal with this “bystander effect?” Or rather, the psychological phenomenon that seems to suggest we’re less likely to intervene or seek help for others when we’re in a crowd than when we’re alone?
Well, studies show that it isn’t necessarily because we’re a bunch of apathetic scoundrels, but that when it comes down to it, life in the city is just pretty overwhelming. Although it’s true that in majority of cases there are no confrontational reactions from onlookers, there are some exceptions to that rule. We managed to capture one bystander intervention during our Lock Challenge and it can be seen at the very beginning of the video. Anyway, seems like we were lucky, statistically speaking, because it’s a truly rare occurrence.
The first reason is that people just don’t notice what’s going on. In the city we’re confronted with so much stimuli that we’re forced to filter things out. Or if noticed, the situation is so ambiguous that it is ignored actively. As in, we assume because the theft is so obvious that it must have an innocent explanation. And finally there is fear – it’s clear that something should be done, but who really wants to aggravate someone holding a hacksaw?
1. Lock the bike to something more solid than the lock itself and as high as possible – this way the thief won’t be able to use the ground for leverage while using long bolt cutters.
2. Use a combination of locks to achieve the desired level of security. Also, don’t forget to lock up your components. U-lock + folding lock + wire lock = happy cyclist face.
3. Lock your bike next to a visibly less protected one. Sadly, this helps.
As we see in Barcelona, a city in the process of a major two-wheel revolution, onlookers were hesitant to intervene. And here we’re dealing with a place that has been super responsive to the 21st-century global cycling trend, incorporating it into its urban fabric one step at a time. With an ever-growing cycling infrastructure of integrated bike lanes, bike parking, reduced speed limits and a city-wide bike sharing program, Barcelona is speeding right past other cities and becoming a real inspiration to cycling culture.
But the threat remains, and in this and other urban areas, density has on a big impact on the negligence of bystanders. They are experiencing stimulus overload and therefore confront most situations with uncertainty. One might perceive a situation as a possible bike theft, but it’s made even more abstruse because there are many other people around, all these potential helpers, and no one is taking action. That communicates something.
At the end of the day, it goes without saying that bike thieves should not get a risk-free ride. But until cities are better equipped to catch them, riders might do well to ask themselves what part they can play in discouraging the behaviour. Your best line of defence? A super solid lock set up. Invest in a double sided U-lock, folding lock, and give those nicks reason to look elsewhere.