The first recorded bike thief in Portland was shot with a rifle. Deterrent? Nay. A scant four years later, in 1899, The Oregonian—a turn-of-the-century daily newspaper—wagged its inky finger that the "bike thief has taken the place of the old-fashioned horse thief, and he plies his vocation unattended by the dangers of lynching or the penitentiary."
Little has changed. Reporting an epidemic of bike theft in this town is like declaring an epidemic of puberty among area tweens. Your U-lock won't save you. KOIN is abuzz with pictures of bike hitching posts sawed through with power cutters, and KGW excitedly interviewed an alleged bike-thief kingpin under the Hawthorne and Morrison bridges. More than 2,100 bikes were reported stolen in Portland in 2014, with probably an equal number never mentioned to police.
Those stats are slightly down from 2013, but two months after City Commissioner Nick Fish's bike got swiped off its cable lock in December 2014, Portland police announced a new bike-theft task force. Things are getting serious—never mind that only 2 percent of bike thefts are resolved by police, a statistic that anecdotally seems way higher than expected.
The real hope against our fair city's love of constant petty theft comes from a new world of bike tech. Reed College, for example, was plagued with bike theft this year, so it set out a "bait bike" with a GPS tracker. Within 12 hours, the bike was stolen—and police followed the signal to the thieves, holed up in a van filled with stolen bikes. Spokesman Kevin Myers says campus bike theft is now down by half just because people know GPS trackers might exist.
Still, GPS tech for bikes is apparently difficult to perfect. Many announced their Kickstarters years ago, only to be stalled in development. "The problem," says Kris Akins of Portland's BikeTrak, which has been working on a product since 2012, "is power." The damn things like to run out of batteries.
So the future seems bright, but the present is merely full of shining possibilities. Here are the ways people are trying to save your bike from evil:
Space Age handlebars! With, like, headlights! And GPS navigation! And GPS tracking!
Downside: They're $279, and shipping keeps getting delayed, and delayed, and delayed. Maybe this month? Or next? Also, installing front brakes on them seems like a nightmare.
It's basically a little registration sticker connected to a phone app. You take a picture of your bike and register it with an app, and if your bike gets stolen, you send an alert to a presumed team of vigilantes and police. If your bike is found in a weird spot, people can immediately crosscheck and notify you where it is.
Downside: Relies on human goodwill. Meaning somebody is going to have to be on the lookout for your bike when you send the alert.
Like a LoJack for your bike!
Downside: They've been taking $130 pre-orders since early 2013.
This crazy-looking lock is meant to mount directly onto your bike, and is equipped with GPS.
Downside: The GPS is on the lock, not your bike. So if they bust the lock…
Like lots of German things, this is crazily engineered: It's perma-attached to your bike and purportedly has six different sensors—including temperature!—to detect if it's being screwed with, at which point it alarms your phone and starts tracking itself.
Downside: It's still a prototype (although the prototypes apparently busted up a bike ring in Germany). Also, if they bust the lock…
Various companies proclaiming military credentials have little devices you can nestle under your bike seat. Just Google "GPS Dot" and revel in the possibilities.
Downside: Oh my God, they look shady. And they all run out of batteries.
Portland company Biketrak is on its fifth prototype of Bikecop, but says it's shooting to have a reliable bike GPS tracker on the market by next year that will sense vibration when a bike is getting stolen and alert the owner. The company also plans to hook in with police and tracker networks like 529.
Downside: It doesn't quite exist yet. But it looks promising—there are working prototypes.
Whether in the form of a bike lamp, bike cap or intra-seatpost tracker, this thing alerts you when your bike moves about 10 feet without your permission, and starts tracking your bike. So you can presumably chase your bike and duke it out for it, Double Dragon style. Or just call the cops. This is the only working bike tracker on the market, to our knowledge, and testimonials have been solid.
Downside: The company's in the U.K., and some U.S. users have reported compatibility issues with the $150 devices.