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Officials release tips for protecting Bemidji bikes as theft numbers climb

Every bicycle owner knows the importance of keeping their bike locked up. People want to think that when they loop that cable lock around the bike frame, connecting it to a rack or streetlamp, that it’s safe and sound -- but what many don’t realize is that their bikes often aren’t as secure as they think.

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A row of bikes lean against a bike rack on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, outside Oak Hall on the Bemidji State campus. (Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Every bicycle owner knows the importance of keeping their bike locked up.

People want to think that when they loop that cable lock around the bike frame, connecting it to a rack or streetlamp, that it’s safe and sound -- but what many don’t realize is that their bikes often aren’t as secure as they think.

In Bemidji, where bike theft has been an issue for years, numbers are climbing. In fact, in the first eight months of 2021, reported bike thefts have already surpassed the number of reports the department saw for the entire year of 2020.

Since the beginning of the year, Bemidji Police Sergeant David Markert says the department has received 83 bike theft complaints as of Aug. 26. With just 77 reported bike thefts in 2020, Bemidji police have definitely noticed the spike.

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A bike is secured to a bike rack with a cable lock on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, behind Tamarack Hall on the Bemidji State campus. (Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer)

According to Markert, the motive behind the crime has shifted in recent years.

“In the past, most bike thefts were for convenience, as the bike thief would steal one bike and use it to get across town before dumping the bike once they got to their destination,” Markert says. “Today, I think bikes are stolen and resold or parted out for quick money. Once the bike is stolen, it’s either stripped for parts, sold or traded.”

Markert believes that trying to make bikes “difficult to steal” is the best way community members can keep them protected.

“Use a good quality bike lock, store it in a locked garage or residence,” Markert recommends. “If parking it outside, lock it up and try to park it in a well-lit and well-traveled area.”

Markert says Bemidji residents should also register their bicycles online, a simple process that involves filling out information like the bike’s serial number, make and model, bike color and the owner’s contact information. By submitting the short form, community members can have peace of mind knowing their bike can be more easily recovered if it ever goes missing.

“If your bike is registered with the department, we can return it to you when it’s located,” Markert says. “A good quality photo of your bike as well as the serial number aids in the recovery process of your bicycle.”

Local bike owners can register their bike by visiting www.ci.bemidji.mn.us , locating the Police Department tab and following the Bicycle Registration link.

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Northern Cycle's perspective

It’s not just the police who are noticing the problem. According to Alex Lundin, a sales representative and service technician at Northern Cycle in downtown Bemidji, the shop is well aware of the growing bike theft issue.

“Being the only (bike) shop in town, everyone comes to us when some of their stuff gets stolen, or if the whole bike gets stolen,” Lundin says.

The shop, whose Bemidji location has been open for about eight years, has heard its fair share of horror stories. Since the primary motive of bike theft is to sell parts, from time to time someone will try selling directly to bike shops. While Lundin says most thieves will avoid them, often going to pawn shops or second-hand stores instead, the shop does see it every once in a while.

To combat this, Northern Cycle has a dedicated spot on its wall that's home to a list of specific bike makes and models, provided by affected community members or tourists who’ve had their bikes stolen in town.

Employees keep a close eye on the list, so they’ll know if someone comes in trying to sell them stolen parts. According to Lundin, the shop currently has at least a dozen bike descriptions that they watch out for.

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A bike is chained to a post on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, in downtown Bemidji. (Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer)

Bike theft, Lundin says, can happen faster than people think, with thieves usually looking for bikes that can be stolen as quickly as possible. While some people assume this means only unlocked bikes are at risk, even locked-up bikes can be a split-second steal in some cases. Bolt cutters are a bike thief’s best friend; for this reason, the luxury of using a simple cable lock to prevent theft is becoming a thing of the past.

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“A bolt cutter will cut through most cable locks pretty quickly. If you’re strong enough, you can get it in one shot,” Lundin remarks.

When it comes to preventative measures, Lundin says the best way people can keep their bikes safe is by taking a little extra time to make sure their locks are up to par and securing every part of the bike from frame to wheels. He warns against using cheap or thin locks, advising that it's better to opt for stronger, more efficient locks that can’t be easily broken or cut off.

“Generally I suggest a heavy duty lock, usually a U-Lock. That’s going to be harder to cut, you won’t typically get through that with a lock cutter,” Lundin says. “If you can, also have a braided cable that you can run around it to connect to the U-Lock and put it through the wheels at the same time, and then wrap all of that around whatever you’re locking the bike to.”

Mentioning that braided cables are easy to cut off, he also recommends taking measures to ensure the security of the wheels themselves. Many bikes have a quick-release feature on the wheels, making them easy to remove. While this feature can be good for fitting a bike into a car, it can also make it easier for a thief to pop the wheels off if they aren’t properly locked up.

“If you have quick-release wheels, they’ll take those if they can. We’ve seen that many times,” Lundin says, adding that bikers with quick-release wheels can purchase wheel locks, often called locking skewers, to prevent the removal of the wheel from the frame.

Lundin stresses the importance of investing in quality bike locks. If bikers aren't taking the time to secure all parts of the bike, it can fall into the wrong hands in a matter of seconds.

“Bike thieves will pretty much take anything they can get ahold of,” he warns. “It’s a crime of opportunity.”

Related Topics: BURGLARY
Madelyn Haasken is the multimedia editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. She is a 2020 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Mass Communication, with minors in writing and design. In her free time, she likes watching hockey, doing crossword puzzles and being outside.
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