Recovering a stolen bicycle

Lock it up, even in a garage!

Lock it up, even in a garage!

While the chance of recovering a stolen bike is slim, it’s not as unlikely as you might think. Here are the strategies we suggest for getting it back:


It is challenging to (lawfully) retrieve a stolen bicycle, even one you know is yours, without having the serial number that proves you owned it. Write this number down, snap some pictures of your bike and stash both away (i.e., EMAIL IT TO YOURSELF)  in case of unfortunate circumstances such as this. Do it NOW! If you’re in Columbus, you can also store this information online through the Bug Your Bike service, which also provides a free RFID chip for your bike that City of Columbus, OSU and COTA officials can scan to help reunite it with you. If it’s already too late for you, check with the shop where you bought the bike to see if they have a record of it; your purchase receipt may also help.

On left: bike before theft. On right: bike after theft.  

On left: bike before theft. On right: bike after theft.  


Report the thefts of your bike to the police using their online system. They likely won't find it, but if anyone else does, you'll want that police report on file. If you do locate your bike, call the police to escort you as you attempt to retrieve it. The internet is replete with stories of people who pretend to buy their stolen bikes only to sprint away on them, but this is a very dangerous practice and not recommended. After your report is filed, call the police recovery room monthly for up to three months (when all bikes in their possession are auctioned). It's always possible your bike has been recovered without having its serial number run against the database of those stolen.


Post a photo and details of the theft on the Bike Snoop Facebook group page, members of which keep their eyes peeled for stolen bikes. Group moderator John Robinson also happens to be a great local resource for the poor souls who’ve had their bikes stolen!


Post a photo and your story on your personal Facebook page and other social media, as well. It's not unrealistic to imagine that a distant connection might happen upon your bike out there in the wild. It's happened before.


Watch craigslist, for Columbus and surrounding areas. If you see your bike for sale, contact the seller right away with a neutral offer to buy at the listed price. If you have proof of ownership, request a police escort to help you recover the bike. If you cannot prove ownership, consider simply paying out of pocket for the bike. Whatever you do, never attempt to steal the bike back! And don't post that your bike has been stolen—that's a sure way to prevent thieves from posting it for sale.


Sad to say, but many second hand shops continue to pay out of pocket for bikes, turning a blind eye to red flags that they’re stolen goods. Check and recheck ReTAGit (multiple locations), Dandy Bikes in the OSU area and pawn shops (Deal Breakers, in particular) for your bike. Second hand shops along a COTA line are especially likely to peddle (ha...) stolen bicycles. If you're lovely about it, shop owners who can put a human face to bike theft might even alert you if they see your bike come in. But be prepared to recoup them what they spent acquiring your bike—it's unfair, yes, but at least you’ll get it back.

A special note about an exceptional shop—Joe Kitchen, owner of Once Ridden Bikes in Clintonville, hates bike theft. Anyone who sells to him has to allow him to make a copy of their driver’s license, and if he finds out he has purchased a stolen bike he will not only help the owner recover it, he will testify in court against the thief. If Joe suspects a bike of being stolen, he’ll do his best to hold the seller there while he calls you and/or the police.  If only all shops had such integrity.


The Bike Snoop recommends this page to help you prevent future losses, or at least better handle the fallout. Also, don't forget to look for our bike corrals at community events, where a fence and team of dedicated volunteers keep your bike safe from thieves!


When someone takes the bike of a friend, it’s personal. Join our community, make lots of friends and boost the number of eyes watching out for ya. You never know who might be the one to recover your faithful steed.