The Breaking News Blog

All the latest news from the District, Maryland and Virginia

As Web Fuels Bike Thefts, Victims Turn Vigilantes

Police say most bike thefts go unsolved because many victims do not report the crimes or have unregistered bikes. With the Craigslist discovery, Moulton, 41, became one of the few people in the region to recover a stolen bike.
Police say most bike thefts go unsolved because many victims do not report the crimes or have unregistered bikes. With the Craigslist discovery, Moulton, 41, became one of the few people in the region to recover a stolen bike. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity
By Ernesto Londono
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 26, 2007

By the time he got the call last month, Martin Moulton had given up on his stolen $3,000 bike.

The caller, a friend, had been browsing through bike ads on Craigslist when he spotted Moulton's 2005 Cannondale with its unmistakable, custom-ordered Spiderflex saddle.

"Adam," as the poster identified himself, wrote that he was selling the bike for a friend who had left town. "My friend needs the money, which is why the price is so low," he wrote. "First serious offer gets the bike."

It was going for $1,000. Moulton feared it would go fast.

Dissatisfied with the response he got from D.C. police, Moulton planned a vigilante take-back operation over the next few days that took him to Georgetown, not far from the shop where he bought the bike.

In doing so, he scratched the surface of the region's stolen-bikes underworld, which police and bike store owners say has become increasingly sophisticated as expensive bikes have flooded the market and Internet sites have provided platforms to sell them easily and at high prices.

"It used to be that stolen bikes were more of a crime of opportunity," said Denise D'Amour, co-owner of Capitol Hill Bikes. "People saw a bike that wasn't locked very well, and they would grab the bike and run. With the advent of Craigslist and eBay, it looks like more expensive bikes are being stolen in a more organized way."

D.C. police Lt. Michael Smith said that although the department doesn't keep statistics on the subject, bike theft in the region appears to be on the rise. "It's gone up significantly because there's a market on the street for bicycles," Smith said. "They're killing us."

Although Montgomery County police statistics show little change in the level of bike thefts, Metro Transit Police, who track thefts from Metro stations, reported 25 bike thefts in May and 32 in June -- roughly double the numbers from the same months last year.

Police say most bike thefts go unsolved because many victims do not report the crimes or have unregistered bikes and few promising leads. With the Craigslist lead, Moulton became one of the few people in the region who have a stolen bike story with a happy ending.

The odds of recovering a stolen bike are slim, says Bryan Hance, a self-described computer nerd who created a Web site, http://www.stolenbicycleregistry.com, that allows people to post photos and descriptions of stolen bikes for free. Since he started the site in 1999, about a dozen people have recovered their bikes. A small number, admittedly, said Hance, who has had eight bikes stolen. But the site consumes little time and has reunited at least a few owners and bikes.

"You steal someone's bike, and God have mercy on you if they ever find you," he said. "It's something so insanely personal. People have a more personal connection to their bikes than their iPod."


CONTINUED     1           >

More in the D.C. Section

Fixing D.C. Schools

Fixing D.C. Schools

The Washington Post investigates the state of the schools and the lessons of failed and successful reforms.

Neighborhoods

Neighborhoods

Use Neighborhoods to learn about Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia communities.

Top High Schools

Top High Schools

Jay Mathews identifies the nation's most challenging high schools and explains why they're best.

FOLLOW METRO ON:
Facebook Twitter RSS
|
GET LOCAL ALERTS:
© 2007 The Washington Post Company

Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity