After Harvard graduate student Lulu Li had not one, but two of her beloved bicycles stolen, she decided to take action.
A little over a week ago, the 25-year-old design student launched Bikenapped.com, a website that allows cyclists to map the locations of bicycle thefts and share their stories. Scorned cyclists can also print a “Bikenapped” flyer to post at the location of the theft, warning other riders to take precautions.
“They steal everything from $3,000 bicycles to $20 beater bikes, but there is a sentimental value beyond the monetary value of a bike,” said Li, who described her bike thefts as “traumatic.”
Her first bike swiping happened when she was an undergrad at Yale University years ago. A thief made off with a bicycle her father had given her while in fourth grade.
“It was too big for me back then, but (my father) said I’d grow into it. I had it all those years and then it was just taken,” she said.
On March 27 – yes, she remembers the exact date – now a Harvard grad student, her three-week-old bicycle was stolen.
“There is really nothing you can do to stop a thief once he is committed to stealing your bike,” said Li. “I realized that the most important thing one can do is raise awareness.”
The website so far has roughly 460 reports of bike thefts, which averages to about $228,620 in property loss.
Li has spent months collecting the majority of the bike theft reports from the Cambridge, Harvard and MIT Police Departments, but since launching the website on Nov. 30, more than 30 bicyclists have already weighed in.
In October, Sarah Gluck’s bike was stolen in broad daylight.
“I relied on my bike as my main mode of transportation to take me through the city and keep me healthy and alive… (I) miss it very much,” she wrote on the forum.
Li is hoping to get more people to share their “bike-napping” stories.
“I was pleasantly surprised at how far its gone in short time without a massive push for publicity. To me it validates that this is a big problem. I hope to create a really robust platform,” Li said. “A lot of people I have interviewed said that bikes are their main mode of transportation. If a car is stolen, it is taken a lot more seriously than if a bike is stolen.”
What Lulu learned about Cambridge bike thefts:
- 66% of stolen bikes were secured with a cable lock. The majority of bikes stolen were locked with cable locks, which can be compromised by common tools.
- 8% of the bikes were unsecured. Those were mainly stolen from private porches and yards.
- 15% of the bikes stolen were secured with U-locks.
- 11% stolen were tied with a chain lock.
- According to Harvard Police, the average property loss per bike theft is $497, however police logs show that the value of stolen bikes range between $50 and $3,000.
- Six years of public police log data shows that bike thefts are more prevalent in the summer months than in winter. August shows the highest incident rate, with an average of 130 bikes reported to the Harvard Police Department that month.
- Bike theft is the most common deterrent to cycling. Of cyclists who experience theft, about one in four never return to cycling, and 66 % cycle less often.