Why you should register your bike — and how to get it back if it’s found

Problem Solvers

DENVER (KDVR) — Bicycle owners who fail to register their bikes or keep detailed records about them are less likely to get their bikes back if they’re stolen and later found by police.

“Unfortunately, there is still a large amount of bikes that are being stolen,” said Jay Casillas, a spokesperson for the Denver Police Department, who said the number of thefts are down this year when compared to a significant spike during the same months last year.

The Problem Solvers obtained bike theft statistics from Denver police and found:

  • Police tracked 359 bike thefts in April 2020 compared to 258 this year.
  • There were 400 bike thefts reported in May 2020, but in 2021, there were only 348 thefts.
  • The numbers for June show there were 431 thefts in 2020 and 352 in 2021.

Why you should register your bike

Casillas said bicycle owners can help themselves by taking note of the bike’s serial number and registering their bike with the city at no cost.

“When we recover these bikes, we run the serial number to try to make sure they aren’t stolen,” Casillas said. “If they are reported stolen, then we try to get it back to the owner, and that’s why it’s very important for the owners to make sure they’re keeping records – whether it’s just taking a picture of the bike themselves or using our system to register their bikes.”

Hundreds of bikes – including those that are stolen, abandoned, and those that are recovered during bicycle accidents and during criminal incidents – are constantly being recovered in Denver.

Bicyclists can contact their local municipality for information on how to register their bikes. Here are links from a few cities in the metro:

How to save your bike from auction

Denver police officers store recovered bikes at a Denver warehouse, where they are catalogued and examined. Eventually, if they go unclaimed, they are placed in an online Denver surplus auction. Citizens can bid starting at prices as low as a few bucks in some cases.

“The best way to know that their bike was (in the warehouse) is if they reported it stolen – reported it missing – and had that serial number that we could track it back to,” Casillas said.

Denver has a huge warehouse of unclaimed bikes that were stolen or otherwise recovered by police.

“That’s probably the best way, because a lot of these bikes tend to look similar to one another – unless there’s something that stands out from their bike,” he said, explaining that some bikes might have a unique sticker or engraving that would help connect it back to the owner.

He also said owners can do the “flip, snap selfie,” method by flipping their bike over to snap a photo of its serial number and then taking a selfie photo next to the bicycle.

‘Small amount’ of bikes recovered from camps

Casillas told the Problem Solvers that bicycles police find at homeless camps are often not registered, so the number of stolen bikes that can be traced to these encampments is “small.”

“We take this seriously. We do get calls from time to time, you know, ‘These bikes appear to be stolen in this homeless camp,’ or ‘Something’s not right.’ We do have officers that go investigate – go look into these places – and really, the majority of the time, we’re not seeing any bikes stolen or any type of indication that they are stolen,” Casillas said. “It’s a really small amount that there are actual stolen bikes that do find themselves in these camps.”

“I do know that if they do find stolen ones, it’s hard to actually pinpoint who actually has that bike at that particular location. They’ll collect the bike if it is stolen…but if they’re not listed as stolen, there’s really no reason to collect them,” said Denver Police Detective Bart Malpass, who deals with bicycles as part of some major crimes investigations.

A woman captured on surveillance video stole a bike on July 1, 2021, in the Art District on Santa Fe and then nearly ran over a neighbor who caught her in the act.

Malpass said he sometimes finds stolen bikes that have been pawned at pawn shops.

“If a garage is open, it’s easy access, or they just steal one – whether it’s at the library or wherever – and it’s chained, they’ll carry clippers and they can get them that way,” he said.

Bottom line: keep records about your bike

Malpass said it is possible for bicycle owners to be reunited with their bikes even without their serial number, but the process is sometimes more difficult.

“We have given bikes back many times to many people, because they know what components they have. They have a picture of their bike. You know, ‘I had this color grip or this scratch,’” he said, “ or ‘I added this kind of component or that kind of seat.’”

Register your bike in Denver here.

Carisa Scott contributed to this report.

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