Demand for bicycles shifted into high gear during the pandemic, but that surge in enthusiasm for cycling could be creating opportunities for thieves.
Bike thefts spiked this summer in Boston, Cambridge, Brookline and some other cities, prompting warnings from police and cyclists alike to beware.
“It’s devastating,” said Cherry Au, whose bike disappeared in the Back Bay last month.
Au, who lives in Boston, rode it six to 10 miles a day. She turned to cycling even more as the pandemic spread, using her bike to get outdoors, exercise and clear her mind.
She was gearing up for a charity cycling event in September to raise money for children’s cancer research when her bike was taken. She had owned it for eight years.
“Getting something so sentimental stolen from you really sucks,” she said.
The increase in bicycle thefts around Boston this summer hasn’t been uniform, though some communities saw significant spikes, according to crime data reviewed by the NBC10 Boston Investigators.
In Cambridge, 47% more bicycles were stolen than average during the period from January through August, based on figures from the last five years, according to figures provided by the police department last week.
The department advised cyclists to be vigilant this summer, noting there was a rise concentrated in the lower half of the city, particularly in Cambridgeport. A majority were stolen from streets, sidewalks and yards, though workplace and apartment bike storage areas were increasingly targeted, according to an advisory posted online.
Brookline has seen a 71% spike this year compared to last year, according to the police department.
And in Boston, bicycle thefts from January through August were about 35% higher than average.
Thieves swiped 173 bikes in Boston in August alone – the highest monthly total in the last five years, according to crime incident reports reviewed by NBC10.
There’s no clear explanation for the increase, though it coincided with a surge in demand for bicycles and spare parts as people cooped up at home turned to cycling.
Thea Church, owner of Landry’s Bicycles in Newton, said her shop is wheeling inventory out the door nearly as fast as they receive it.
Suppliers can barely keep up as customers buy new bikes or tune up their old equipment, Church said. And in some cases, customers come because their gear was stolen.
“We have seen many customers who have purchased a bike and a week later they come back and say, ‘My bike is gone. I need another one,’” she said.
Becca Wolfson, executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union, a nonprofit advocacy group, said many people are biking for the first time this year, which could also be a factor.
Wolfson says there’s no way to guarantee your bike will stay secure, but there are steps you can take to improve your odds, such as locking it up in a high-visibility location. As an example, she pointed to Inman Square in Cambridge.
“There's a lot of street activity – people going to restaurants and shops and driving through, walking through, biking through,” she said. “And so there's just a lot of eyes on the ground, and it's less likely that someone would try to take the time to steal a bike.”
Church, from Landry’s, said the biggest mistake people make is passing their lock through the wheel alone, since it can be detached. Locks should pass through the wheel and the frame, she said. And avoid using cable locks, which can be easily cut, and are an invitation for thieves, she said.
“If you don’t take the time to purchase an effective lock, you might as well say, ‘I’m buying this for somebody else,’” Church said.