Hot Wheels: Bike Thieves Beware

by Whatsblem the Pro

Bike-Thief-2

The latest issue of The Jack Rabbit Speaks links to a survey about stolen bicycles:

“Runs With Scissors has a cool project:

“It happens frequently: in the worst situation, you may find yourself exhausted after a party in deep playa – and the bicycle you were planning to ride back on is no where to be found, but a mangled wreck with a broken chain has been left as a sorry replacement. There are stories of people who have bicycles taken from racks in the backs of their camps on the first day and there are stories of people lifting whole clumps of chained bicycles and putting them into trucks.

YOU ARE GOING TO DIE

YOU ARE GOING TO DIE

“The trouble is that I only have stories and I want real statistics. I want to build a map that tells me where the most likely place is for a bicycle to be lost. I want to know what the qualities are of a bicycle is that makes it more likely to disappear.

“If we have enough data points, we can learn when and where we need to protect ourselves and how to prevent this from happening to ourselves. If you have ever had a bicycle disappear, please take the time to fill out the quick survey below.”

Life is so unfair

Life is so unfair

What really interested me about this JRS item was the mention of “people lifting whole clumps of chained bicycles and putting them into trucks.”

While wandering in the deep playa this year, I happened upon two separate caches of perhaps a hundred to two hundred bicycles each. They were mostly high-end steeds, and they were all lying down and locked, some to each other. These big caches of locked bikes weren’t near anything whatsoever; they looked as though they were just waiting for a big rig to pull up and someone to load them in.

It's better exercise than a handbasket

It’s better exercise than a handbasket

It’s undeniable that, after Exodus, a huge number of lost and abandoned bikes remains on the playa, deliberately ditched by departing attendees from far-flung corners of the Earth, or taken for an unauthorized joyride and abandoned, or simply lost and forgotten by their owners in the general frenzy. They’re not typically locked, though, and this wasn’t after Exodus; these caches of mystery bikes were there before the temple burned.

Three hundred used high-end bicycles sold at a cut rate of a hundred dollars each brings in thirty thousand dollars.

Is an organized bike theft ring operating in Black Rock City?

25 comments on “Hot Wheels: Bike Thieves Beware

  1. I had my bike stolen. Seat said FirmStrong it had a coconut cup holder on the handlebars and was grey black. With white lights around the rim. And the seat tilted upward. Very sad there are that many thieves at the playa. Next year I will have traps set up and watch them work.

  2. 2013 I couldn’t make the trip out to the Playa so I loaned my bike to a camp mate that had lost her bike the year before and needed one. She was in a car accident the week before BM and was so happy to have my bike to get around. The very first day on the Playa while visiting one of the theme camps the bike she borrowed from me had been taken from the bike rack that she’d locked it to. Not only did she spend a hefty amount of $$ tuning it up and decorating it for the trip,paying to have it shipped out there,she depended on it to get around due to the injuries from the previous car accident. For the next few days she cried and felt very let down,then she had to tell me when she returned that my bike was gone! Not her fault,she did nothing wrong but I felt really upset not just for her experience but the fact that MY BIKE WAS STOLEN!! Guess I’ll need to figure out things for my next burn to keep this from happening again. Really disappointing but it won’t stop me from going back. Peace 🙂

  3. Several years ago, I literally chased a guy down who we realized was riding away on a friend’s bike. He was argumentative at first, saying that it was okay for him to take it, but I hauled him AND made him apologize. At our regional burn this month, we had several people’s handmade playa coats stolen when they were put down to enable dancing. One guy even fought with the owner, saying unattended items were “gifts”. We simply have to educate about the norms of the community are and what “gifting” really means. I would hate to think that these people are really that evil in our midst; I tend to believe that we just haven’t communicated our culture to newcomers well enough yet.

  4. Pingback: Burning the Cyber Man | Burners.Me Burning Man commentary blog

  5. Here is an idea to prevent bicycle theft: All burners need a ticket and a bike to enter the playa. No bike? No entry. Self-reliance mandatory.

    • Good concept, but several problems. First, many will take that as license to steal bikes, considering them all the more a “communal” resource. Second, people will bring in anything that reasonably looks like a bike. Third, there are some people who cannot or do not ride bikes.

  6. Is it possible that law enforcement presence emboldens thievery? Get caught stealing in the desert, hundreds of miles from the nearest cop? That’s not the kind of risk you wanna take to get a bike. I’m not arguing for this, but just wondering.

    Piles of locked expensive bikes in deep playa is fishy for sure. Don’t just watch shitty things happen, do something. Talk to your neighbors and other burners.

  7. I had an idea a few years back that I wish I could make happen but lack the practical skill. My idea was to have 5-10 bikes that had the capability to spray ink like the kind used in the theft prevention tags they put on clothing in stores. It should be a kind that would stain the skin for a good few days. You place the bikes out in front of various camps and have them set to go off when they have traveled 15 ft or so. The bike thief is covered with a highly identifiable ink and would bear the stigma of being “marked”. I’m sure word would go around rapidly about the bikes existing. After one goes off you wipe it down reset the ink and then put the bike back out in front of the camp. The legend of these bikes would make a lot of people think twice about jumping on a random bike and riding off on it.

  8. I had an idea a few years back that I wish I could make happen but lack the practical skill. My idea was to have 5-10 bikes that had the capability to spray ink like the kind used in the theft prevention tags they put on clothing in stores. It should be a kind that would stain the skin for a good few days. You place the bikes out in front of various camps and have them set to go off when they have traveled 15 ft or so. The bike thief is covered with a highly identifiable ink and would bear the stigma of being “marked”. I’m sure word would go around rapidly about the bikes existing. After one goes off you wipe it down reset the ink and then put the bike back out in front of the camp. The legend of these bikes would make a lot of people think twice about jumping on a random bike and riding off on it.

    • That would be cool! Cultural instead of legal consequences. I like it. Might even have a proximity version, so you could actually use the bike, and it would only spray if you did not have the ID unit in your pocket.

      Of course some thiefs might not be dismayed by the spray. Or once the world got out, they might carry a towel to intercept any spray from a pilfered bike.

      • I suppose that someone who is setting out to steal a bike might bring a towel, (Don’t panic and never forget your towel!) but it seems like most of the bike disappearances are crimes of opportunity. In other words, “I don’t feel like walking…” or “I wasn’t able to transport a bike out here so, I’ll just take this one…” I heard from my own camp mates, “We didn’t want to have bikes on the outside of our vehicle so no one would know we were going to Burning Man.” (As if the ancient RV that was 5 beautiful playa people deep didn’t give it away already…but I digress.) Their plan was to roam open playa until they found random bikes and “borrow” them for the week, or to snatch up yellow bikes and change their appearance, (to which they got a stern laying into and a reminder that these ideas weren’t funny, but were crimes.) These really bad ideas were thwarted but still got their karmic return when these folks discovered that someone had “borrowed” their RV’s gas cap in the same manner.

        The stealing on playa feels like it is getting so bad and it is so hard to not feel helpless to it. It is completely impractical to keep everything you own locked up out there. I have heard the suggestion to not bring anything to the burn that you don’t want to lose, but that is also impractical since we all want to bring our most special things out there to create the magical environment that IS Burning Man.

        Someone came into our camp this year and cut down all of our pirate flags. The person climbed into people’s personal spaces and literally slashed them from wherever they were hanging. I remember hearing people saying that they were sentimental gifts from old friends or symbols from home. I know the one I lost was special to me. I have had that flag on playa with me every year for eight years now, since my very first year out there. There is a sense of “This is now my home” for me after I have built my structure and hang out my flag. The emotional process that we all went through was to express our disappointment and frustration that someone at THIS event could do that, grumblings about how the “festie kids” are ruining everything, and then the look out at the huge sprawling city that is Burning Man and, finally the acceptance, with resignation, that our precious thing is never coming back.

        I had a bike stolen outside of the Temple in 2009 and I remember experiencing that same feeling of defeat. I had gone in to say goodbye to my Grandmother who passed shortly before the burn. When I came back out, still in tears, I found that my bike was gone. I tried to put on a make-the-best-of-it face for the friend I was with saying, “Oh it was an old bike. It’s time for me to decorate a new one”, but I felt betrayed. Who was so low that they could steal a bike from the Temple?

        The “inking bike” idea came from trying to find something that fights back with a sense of humor. A way that makes us a little less helpless and insists that there really could be a consequence if you “borrow” someone’s bike. Maybe the details still need to be worked out, and maybe everyone of them would need to look different, but even if there was a wide-spread rumor of these things existing it would make the average person think twice about jumping on some one else’s bike, just in case.

    • I like it. I’ve heard many ideas, but the mob mentality is a risk, the idea just makes tons of work, it’s expensive, but this is interesting.

  9. This is what I read on the burning man blog, this is what robot heart is doing:
    “At the end of every roving party session, we get on the mic and exhort everyone to spend 30 minutes picking up every last speck from the playa and neatly lining up the hundred or more abandoned bikes left behind.”
    The bike caches might be this?

  10. As a general pattern, the BOrg has no concern for the participants or their fate, only any skin they might have in the game. Interesting that this problem has increased along with the increased presence of LE.

  11. Warning: Rant approaching.

    I want to know what part of anyone’s dust-addled brain thinks “borrowing” a bike on playa without telling its owner – other than a clearly-designated Yellow Bike – is somehow okay.

    “Oh, gee, it happens,” we bleat. “Ah, well, the playa will provide. Ain’t burners a hoot?”

    Um, no. Burners who take other people’s bikes without asking – for any reason other than to boogie to the nearest Ranger to report a life-threatening situation – are STEALING. They are ill-prepared, selfish fucking thieves. Full stop.

    A borrowed bike is to the owner’s mind a missing bike, and a missing bike is easily, commonly and reasonably presumed to have been fully and irretrievably stolen.

    Once the owner finds his bike missing, he usually gives up hope – and moves on. “Fuck it. Someone took it.”

    When he realizes the theft, he’s usually out and about, nowhere near his camp, nor near anyplace to which he’ll necessarily return – and the moment for reunion with his bike is forever, hopelessly lost.

    Time and place are in constant flux in BRC, and there’s no reasonable chance of connecting again in the vast bustle of the city with the person who swiped it, so you just … give … up.

    And then you hoof it the rest of the week, or rely on friends – whom you ask first – to lend you some wheels.

    This dynamic – “I just ‘borrowed’ it” –> “Hell, it’s stolen, I give up” – is why thousands of the goddamn things are simply abandoned on-playa at the end of the event – because the common Playa Bike Thief’s Fantasy is a load of ill-considered horseshit.

    The “borrower”‘s idea that it’s “just for a few hours” and “I’ll bring it right back” is based on radical selfishness, juvenile rationalization and just-plain-assholism.

    You didn’t bring a bike? Cope. Don’t inflict your failure on someone else’s burn.

    Almost worse? Vandalism.

    One of my campmates caught some guy tinkering in broad daylight at our camp’s bike racks with a bike that clearly wasn’t his. The vandal was down on his knees at my campmate’s bike, working with a wrench.

    Campmate: “Hey, that’s my bike.”

    Vandal: “Huh? No, you’re mistaken. It probably just looks like your bike. Yours is probably nearby.”

    Campmate: (clearly angrier now) “No, you don’t get it. That IS my bike, get the hell away from it.”

    Vandal scuttles off and by the time Campmate realizes what had happened, his rear axle nuts – the only thing holding his wheel on – are GONE. It took him the better part of a day walking block after block, camp to camp until he finally stumbled on a bike-repair camp and scared up a pair of replacements.

    All become some little shit decided it was okay to inflict his non-self-reliance on a random stranger.

    Look, I’ve been burning since ’96 and honest to gopod, none of the changes in our fair city – the massive growth, the slow decrease in the active-participant ratio the creeping Krug-ist guerilla commoditization, the godawful soulless homogenization of dance by the relentless, withering barrage of bad dubstep, the heavy-handed harrassment dealt out by the Law, the drive-by gawking of the turnkey-RV-corral crowd, the constant whinging about how “It used to be better” – none of them bother me. At. All.

    I’m just not that crusty old burner.

    We have a strong, vibrant, living culture that – like all smart viruses – mutates to survive and shows extraordinary resilience and startlingly exotic beauty in its mutations and staying power. Change has been good for Burning Man.

    Except: the boom in common fucking lowlife thievery?

    Urge. To. Kill.

    I wish every last one of them could suffer – endlessly – what their victims suffer. I want them to feel that cavernous, pit-like sensation of being violated, hamstrung, bummed and victimized all at once – like their joyful burn has rotted into a bottomless pool of suck – for every single night that they ever dare to return to the playa.

    Forever.

    (PTOOey.)

  12. I think Burning Man has created a culture where it is seen as okay to ride away with another person’s bike. This has become a huge problem that must be addressed at the top.

      • The linked post suggests getting law enforcement to conduct sting operations targeting bike thieves. I hate theft as much as the next burner (and I’ve had bikes and gear stolen), but I don’t think even more LE and more arrests is the best way to deal with the problem. If we find organized large-scale theft operations, sure let’s turn them in, but most of the problem is individuals who don’t get the values, culture, and social norms of Black Rock City, and come to BM with the me-first, narcissistic mentality they carry in the default world. How do we either help them internalize our cultural values, or strongly discourage them from coming, without resorting to authoritarian solutions (which tend to reinforce the lack of social conscience they already have)?

  13. Nice to see someone looking into this ongoing/often overlooked thievery. My son’s ‘brand new’ locked bike was stolen a few years back, never to be seen again. My bike is way too janked for anyone’s interest!

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