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Hip Bike
February 23, 2016

Finding lost and stolen bikes in San Francisco

Anyone who has ever had a bike stolen knows that the loss is more than material — it’s personal. You've logged hours together, you've tricked it out with a personalized saddle and bell, and losing it feels awful. In America, stealing bikes is big business, with 1.5 million bikes being snatched up, taken apart, rebuilt and resold every year. In San Francisco alone, a city that is home to over 75,000 cyclists commuting, exercising, racing and exploring on their two-wheeled steeds, an estimated $4.5 million in bikes are stolen every year. According to SFPD that is roughly one bike every three hours. 

SFPD Sergeant Matthew Friedman is a San Francisco bike theft specialist. He runs the Twitter account @SFPDBikeTheft, dedicated to bike theft education, prevention and even the return of stolen bikes.

“In the last five years, San Francisco has become an incredibly bike-friendly city, more and more people are using their bikes as their primary form of transportation, and bikes are getting nicer and more sophisticated.” says Friedman, “Unfortunately, this has also lead to an increase in theft.”

Though bike theft is a citywide problem, there are some target areas where activity is particularly high. Below you can see a map of bikes stolen in San Francisco in 2013 from

Bikes reported stolen in San Francisco: 

Where bikes are reported stolen in SF

The densest concentrations of bike theft are centered around the Financial District, the Embarcadero and the Mission. 

Curious to see what impact Tile could make, we pulled a map of our network’s coverage in San Francisco in 2016. The blue and green represent the Tile network in a given area. 

Tile's network coverage in San Francisco:  

Tile's community network in SF.

As you can see, the activity in these maps mirror each other. So the obvious question is: “If the Tile network is this dense in these high-theft areas, is Tile actually working to help people get their bikes back?” 

The answer is a strong yes, at least that’s what the numbers tell us. 

According to our data, of all Tiled bikes in San Francisco about 18.5% go missing. Of these missing bikes 78.5% are found with Tile. That means that when someone uses Tile to find their lost bike in San Francisco, there is nearly an 80% chance that they will find it. 

According to Sergeant Friedman, the faster you realize your bike is gone and you can file a report, the better your chances are of getting your bike back. This is where Tile really pays off: the average time it takes to find a bike with Tile in SF is 15 seconds. 

What can you do to protect yourself against theft? Here are some tips from the experts:

1) Learn about the types of locks that are available for your bicycle. Frequently people purchase a $1000 bike and and try to protect it with a $20 lock. Your lock, and how difficult it is break plays a huge role in determining whether your bike gets targeted in bike theft. Invest some money in your lock, it really pays off. 

2) Learn what parts on your bike can be replaced, and easily pulled off — to prevent parts theft. Sargent Friedman recommends replacing all of your quick release skewers and bolts with locking skewers and bolts. 

3) Learn the best locking strategy for your bike. “I always recommend the Sheldon Brown method,” says Friedman, “This method basically protects the two most expensive parts of your bike — the frame and the rear wheel. Is this foolproof? Is any strategy foolproof? No. But the idea is, if you can slow thieves down, it makes stealing your bike much less appealing.”

4) Registering your bicycle is critical. When you register, you’ll take down your serial number, which is the most important piece of information when you’re filing a report to try to get your stolen bike back.

Don’t give bike thieves a chance. Slow them down with locks, catch up with them with Tile.

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