Fresno bike owners fight thieves with better locks, new places to lock up (video)

The Fresno BeeMarch 27, 2014 

Added bicycle lanes are making Fresno more bike-friendly, but area riders continue to battle the vexing problem of bicycle thieves, who can turn a pleasant commute into a bad day with a few snips from a cutting device.

But riders, bike businesses and colleges, where many thefts occur, are fighting back by teaching riders how to avoid being a victim, using better locks, and, in the case of area colleges, devising strategies to fight theft.

At Fresno City College, that includes placing smaller racks at more sites around campus and warning students who park in high-risk places or use flimsy locks. Police Chief Bruce Hartman said his officers are also setting up sting operations to nab thieves. Thefts on the campus are down from 40 in the first three months of 2013 to 19 so far in the first three months of 2014. At California State University, Fresno, police also track bike thefts and officials have set up a "bike barn" for bicycle safekeeping. There, thefts were 91 in the fall 2013 semester and 46 in the spring semester, although Community Service specialist Gillermina Nunez concedes that thefts are usually higher in the fall.

It isn't hard to find a bicycle rider with a theft story. Genevieve Hinojos, 20, is on her third bicycle after two were stolen at Fresno State. One was taken near McLane Hall and the second at an apartment complex near the Save Mart Center. She noted that bike thieves are relentless: She parks her bike in a fortified "bike cage" at night, but thieves still managed to penetrate it recently to steal five bicycles. Hinojos credits a stronger lock for saving hers that time.

While finding victims is easy, getting a handle on who is doing the stealing is more difficult. The website Pricenomics describes bicycle theft as a low-risk crime that is committed by drug addicts who sell bikes for pennies on the dollar to professional theft rings, who in turn truck valuable machines to other cities for sale on the Internet.

Hartmann, of Fresno City College, said that when his officers make arrests, they often find the suspect is in possession of drugs like methamphetamine or even heroin, which enables them to be booked on more serious charges. At the other end of the spectrum, Josh Hoosiere of Steven's Bicycle Shop said that he has heard of the rider of a high-end bicycle being followed home. Thieves later took the bicycle from the rider's garage.

If there is an area of common agreement regarding bike thefts, however, it's that a better lock can protect a bike. Thieves can cut through a flimsy cable in seconds and those devices fail to get a vote of confidence from police and other experts. A U-lock, on the other hand, gets high marks for discouraging theft. So much so that Hartman has his officers tag bikes found with the less-formidable devices with an admonition to buy one.

The reporter may be reached at (559) 441-6339, jguy@fresnobee.com or @jimguy27 on Twitter.

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