The Star Tribune began a recent article about Minneapolis garage thefts ("Break-ins target pricey bikes," July 25) by stating, "The thieves got into the garages by prying the doors, breaking windows or just turning the knob on doors left unlocked. Thirty-eight garage burglaries happened in a single week this month in southwest Minneapolis, and thieves typically left with only one kind of loot: high-end bicycles ..."

But the article went on to describe these thefts as an "opportunity crime," with personal narratives that underestimate the extent of the problem of bicycle theft. I've worked in the cycling industry for years, and I still cannot get over the myths surrounding bicycle theft.

For example: 1) Thieves primarily steal cheap bikes on the street; 2) Thieves are only interested in "nice"-looking bikes (an arbitrary criteria by any standard), and 3) Thieves do not have a sophisticated network of locations and people who make a living off of bicycle theft.

In fact, most of the bicycle thefts reported to our bike shop are from garages. And not just in south Minneapolis, but everywhere, all the time, particularly in the suburbs. People are usually shocked that their garage has probably been cased and that the "thieves" are not kids but adults who know where to go for parts and accessories that will triple the value of the bike.

Also, the police don't understand how a bike could cost as much as $4,000, since most of them are not cyclists and do not understand that cycling is a serious and integral part of our culture The profile of this "thief" is not on their radar. This thief is the one driving the nice van or SUV -- full of bikes -- next to the cop car.

I have a friend who is an insurance agent who says that folks should insure their bikes. However, many insurance companies do not offer such insurance, since bicycles are stolen so often. Still, if you spend $1,500 on your "entry-level" road bike, insurance might be a good idea.

When we receive a theft call at our bike shop (typically every day), it is usually from a homeowner whose garage was broken into. We often tell people not to store their bikes in their garages, or, if they do, to lock the bicycles up. We recommend getting a good lock. One coworker often says, "It is not just what you lock your bike with, but where!" Storing it in your garage is not the same as locking your bike.

Although I am grateful for marginal attention to what we see every day, the Star Tribune still doesn't get it. Thirty-eight bikes in one week is modest, and not an indication of how many thefts are not reported. After all, who is going to look for a bike?

Last season, I decided to record all of the phone calls and e-mails about stolen bikes that came into one of our shops just during my 40-hour weekly shift. I counted 91 from March to Nov. 1. If the newspaper added all of my coworkers' shifts, and all of the bike shops in the Twin Cities, then it would write with a new understanding.

Bicycle theft is not an "opportunity" crime. With minimal knowledge about the value of frames, components and parts, and of the strategies involved, one could argue that stealing bicycles is a small-business model.


Ashanti Austin is a worker-owner at the Hub Bicycle Co-op in Minneapolis.