What happens to stolen bikes?

Bike theft now out-strips car theft in a range of inner-city Melbourne suburbs.

The Age has a nice interactive map, here.

In my postcode, 463 cars were reported stolen in the last five years and 394 bikes. But I’m pretty sure the reported statistics aren’t reflective of reality. More bikes would have been taken than cars.

Bike thefts would be unlikely to be reported to the police except when the bike was expensive enough to be insured, or when taken as part of a burglary. Simple theft off the street rarely gets reported, I bet.

Selling a stolen bike can’t be lucrative. But because bike thefts are rarely solved, the risk-return trade-off is good. This is explained beautifully in the graph below, taken from the excellent economics blog Priceonomics.

why nick bikes

But where do bikes go?

Sometimes stolen bikes are just sold on the street, as in this convoluted story that involves a man being arrested for not even stealing a bike.

But plenty of people are selling bikes on Gumtree.

Some of them are selling the whole contents of their house. That’s not suspicious.

Some of them are selling just one bike, with a big write-up and lots of pictures.. That’s not suspicious.

Then there are people selling an odd mix of bikes, often at a low price point and with a cursory write-up, like Nico, Mario, Jimbo, Joe and Carlo:







(To be clear, for anyone interested in libel laws, I totally and fully and absolutely believe all these people are completely law-abiding citizens.)

I imagine a cheap stolen bicycle should sit in a shed for six months or so before being sold. Eager victims might scour the internet for their bike for a month or two. Doing so for more than that would be unusual.

An expensive stolen bicycle might even be thrown in the back of a truck and sold in another state. Swapping out the parts on an unusual bike might make it even harder to identify. And if you’ve got a shed full of bikes you got for free, a bit of mix and match wouldn’t be hard to do.

Apparently the one thing you can do that might change the trade-off depicted in the graph above is engraving your bike. If you put your drivers license number onto the frame somewhere, it can checked if the bike is sold. That might deter thieves. (Although exactly how you would engrave a carbon bicycle, I’m not too sure!)

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

4 thoughts on “What happens to stolen bikes?”

  1. Jason, you really are brilliant.. My dad had a watch – he engraved his VX number on it (go back a lot of decades – it was his army number). The perpetrator ground the VX number off. However !!!! the metal fragments within the watch case withheld the number (by way of disturbed molecules??? Don’t ask – I am a typist). Years later, Dad received his watch back as a consequence of Mr Plod and his ultra-violet reconnaissance tool. Seriously, bike owners; owners of metal items – go out – get an engraving tool and engrave your driver’s license number on any item of value. Your driver’s license number doesn’t change – even if you go away for 10 years – come back – bazinga – your driver’s license number is the same. Well that raises another question, doesn’t it? We have been tabbed, despite our protests.


  2. I am statistics. Cheap bike stolen, reported and never found. Expensive bike stolen, reported and never found. Car stolen, reported and found. You are a true prophet of my past.


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