Risk of Bike Theft Discourages Students from Cycling

Outdoor Bike Storage Risky in Spite of Lock Usage Photo Credit: Tate DeCarlo // The Trail

By Tate DeCarlo

Bicycle theft remains a threat to students on the University of Puget Sound campus who store their bikes outdoors, despite the use of locks.

Bicycles are a relatively cheap, low maintenance, and convenient mode of transportation for cash-strapped college students who don’t have to travel far. Thus, it is a common vehicle used to navigate a college campus.

Though bikes may be practical, they are difficult to secure and often stolen, a struggle experienced by many students at the University. The high concentration of poorly secured bikes left outdoors and unattended during the night makes campus an ideal destination for bike thieves.

The Security Services team is aware of the bike theft endemic, and offers students strict advice to avoid losing their rides. Greg Lynch, the assistant director of Security Services, emphasizes the importance of avoiding flimsy cable bike locks and keeping bikes indoors. “Cable locks are helpful as a second line of defense or to secure the tires but as a primary form of security, they are pretty useless,” he explains. “U-Bolt or other ‘heavy-duty’ locks should be used at all times when the bike is not indoors.”

Though Quinn Reublin-Geer (‘27) attempted to follow the recommendations of the University’s Security Services, and purchased a U-lock, she failed to secure her bike to the rack in a manner that prevented theft. “I didn’t have the U-lock through the frame,” she explained.

The mistake was an honest one, as many students are unfamiliar with the amount of theft campus faces; hailing from a bicycle friendly town in Colorado, Reublin-Geer had never needed to use a bike lock before. Someone stealing her mom’s hand-me-down mountain bike wasn’t something Reublin-Geer had expected. “In my small town brain, I was like ‘no one would steal it,’” she explained.

Other students who have more experience with the threat prefer to keep their bikes indoors, but often on-campus living facilities hinder this precaution. Rhae Schulz-O’Neil (‘25) was frustrated by an overcrowded bike room their freshman year, and resorted to storing their teal single-speed outside of Todd Phibbs. This is a point of disconnect with students and University staff, however, as Security Services remains under the impression that these rooms are accessible. “Several of our residential halls have indoor bike rooms that are often underutilized,” Lynch said.

Despite using a U-Bolt lock, Schulz-O’Neil’s bike was also stolen. In this case, the theft was gradual, as thieves began by taking the wheels, then the seat and handlebars. Finally, “the frame was gone, but the lock was still there,” they lamented.

Security Services staff are aware of this style of theft as well, and recommend that students remove accessible parts before thieves do. “If the bike seat is easily removable, bringing it indoors with them is a useful deterrent,” Lynch said.

Neither Schulz-O’Neil nor Reublin-Geer reported the respective thefts which aligns with broader trends noticed by Security Services. “We have had a total of 14 bike theft reports over the last 13 months but I believe that the number of unreported thefts is probably the same or higher,” Lynch said.

For many students, the loss of a bicycle can be frustrating enough that reporting the theft to Security Services seems embarrassing or overwhelming. This was the experience for Reublin-Geer, whose sadness at the theft and regret at not properly using her lock dissuaded her from placing a call. “I was gonna call the day that I got it stolen, but I was just so upset, and then I was also like, ‘okay, it’s also my fault,’” she said.

Other students, like Schulz-O’Neil, choose not to report due to a lack of confidence in the likelihood of getting their bike back, even with the help of Security Services. “What are they gonna do? All the parts are off campus by now,” they explained.

Even students who don’t store their bikes on campus are still concerned that they too may be victimized. After leaving her bike locked outside the sub, Aya Hamlish (‘24) returned to find that the rear wheel had been removed, but left with the bike. “The bolt or the nut that keeps the wheel on the frame was loosened. I don’t know if it had been tampered with or if it had just gotten loose over time,” she said.

Though nothing was stolen this time, Hamlish is now uncomfortable with leaving her bike at her usual rack on campus. “I think there is something to be said about the fact that I have to worry that someone tampered with my bike. I’ve heard a lot of stories from people getting their bike stolen or just messed with,” she explained

Hamlish is hardly the only student who has been dissuaded from using a bike as a primary mode of transport. Simon Plotkin (‘25) had his bike stolen during his freshman year after a thief cut his cable lock. He admits that this theft has prevented him from wanting to replace his bike. “I just decided that I would rather not go anywhere than drop $200 on something that’s just gonna get stolen in like, another month and a half, two months” he said. Plotkin’s advice to cyclists? “If you have to leave your bike outside, don’t get a bike.”