Bike Theft Ring Busted, and We Launch Stolen Bike Registry

Cable locks like this one offer very low security. They should only be used for short-term parking in low-risk areas, like outside a coffee shop while you are inside keeping an eye on your bike.

As a Spring reminder to properly lock your bicycle frame and wheels, the University of Wisconsin Madison Police just took down a professional ring of bike thieves and recovered 592 bicycles. Sadly, many of them nicer bikes that have been stripped down to bare frames.  As bike geeks, we understand the personal connection that can develop with our favorite traveling companion, so please remember to lock up, no exceptions.

Cable locks are pretty easy to cut, even when they look thick.

The other side of bike theft is selling the stolen bike. Thieves often try to fence the stolen bike back to a local bike shop and the shop. When someone comes in trying to sell a bike that doesn’t look like it fits them or with a suspicious story, the shop owners haven’t had any place other than Facebook pages or local Craigslist to check if the bike was reported stolen. We have heard from a few shops that it would be helpful if the Bike Fed could maintain a public web-based registry of stolen bikes so shops have a one-stop place to check.

In response to that request, the Bike Fed has added a bike registry page to our website. You can find it by clicking on the Stolen Bike Listing link in the upper right menu bar of our site. See the green circle and arrow in the image below. We also encourage everyone to register their bike. Thanks also to Bike Fed member Sam Dodge for pushing us to do this.

Click the button in the upper right menu to look for stolen bikes or register your bike.

Once on the stolen bike registry page, you can view a list of bicycles reported stolen. You can also search and sort the list using a number of filters. The registry is part of an international database provided by, so the database is good for anywhere in Wisconsin, or the US. Shops were very clear that this was an important feature and we shouldn’t create our own private database. This also allows shops in other parts of the state or country to check to see if a bike was reported stolen elsewhere, because sometimes bike theft rings move bikes to sell in other cities.


Click this center button to register a non-stolen bike (red button) or a stolen bike (blue button).

Hopefully you will never need to register and report your bike stolen in our database, but we encourage you to register your bikes now anyway. The system allows you to register bikes that are not stolen, simply by clicking on the center blue button on the add a bike page. The button changes to red if you are just trying to register a bike that was not stolen. This makes it a lot easier to report in the case that your bike is stolen, because it is a lot easier to enter the serial number, model, size, etc., when you have the bike in front of you.

We are also considering offering our sustaining members at the $10/month level and above a bonus benefit of $100 toward your insurance deductible in the case your bike is stolen and not recovered. We understand most people have larger deductibles than $100, but it might help take some of the sting out of being ripped off. We looked into using outside insurance providers for this, but it was too expensive. Instead we would self insure. Stay tuned for more on that after we runs some numbers past our actuarial friends.

The other things the Bike Fed is doing to help reduce bike theft is we have partnered with University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Department and other around the state to provide information on how to avoid common bike theft patterns. Highlights from what we’ve tested or learned include the bike bait program, education to students and citizens about documenting serial numbers of bikes with the help of cell phone cameras, promoting other existing bike registration, down to the simple act of putting your name and contact info in the bar ends of your handlebars.


4 thoughts on “Bike Theft Ring Busted, and We Launch Stolen Bike Registry

  1. Great post, Zac. And the Stolen BIkeRegistry is a valuable service that the Bike Fed is now promoting. It gets me thinking that the City of Madison should officially discontinue its bike registration program, which is outdated and of limited value.

    Madison charges $10 to register a bike. It’s technically required but not enforced; and information about a reported theft is only stored on a local database and purged after 2 years. The database that the Bike Fed is now promoting is way better – it’s free, universal and permanent.

  2. This is really wonderful! I was a little hesitant about adding my stolen bike – it was stolen from my place of work in 2013 or about adding the replacement I was given (looks like a ‘big box’ Schwinn). Then I saw bikes stolen in 2005 listed! And, hey, my bike is *MY* bike and important to me. Thank you for this wonderful service!

    Once again, you show me why being a member of the Wisconsin Bike Federation is a very good thing!

  3. Thanks for tying into This is really awesome news.

    I suspect one issue in getting enforcement officials to take bike theft more seriously is the ‘bikes are toys’ attitude. If the general attitude is that bikes are generally worth $75, how many resources will be allocated?

    But of course, many bikes are worth far more. And I’m not just talking high-end racing bikes. My daily ride is a quality town bike with hub generator, internal 8-speed, ring lock, and more features for urban convenience. Cost me about $1400 and worth every penny. I’m unsure, but its theft might fall into a serious crime category based on value. And that isn’t even my most expensive bike – my Brompton folding bike – more suitable for certain situations – topped $2000 when I bought it.

    Should anyone claim these are extravagant Items, i’ll be quick to point out that the vast majority of the US pays at least 10 times more – maybe even at least 20 times more – for their daily transportation vehicle of choice. Mine will outlast theirs, and in a decade mine will likely still be worth well over half my original purchase price with reasonable care.

    Extravagant? I have a strong case that I am frugal in my vehicle purchases. But that doesn’t make me a second-class citizen when it comes to pursuing leads and enforcing the law if I ever become an unfortunate victim of vehicle theft.

    So I really appreciate the Bike Fed linking this stolen bike registry on their website. I’ve read about before, and it sounds like an outstanding resource. This convenience for bike owners is an important step towards more broadly addressing the rampant bicycle theft problem in cities big and small all around Wisconsin.

  4. Great service and great post, Bob. I agree that attitudes need to change concerning bikes being a luxury, “extravagant” purchase. I moved to WI from a very bike UNfriendly state and learned to ride in traffic in Death Valley, AKA New Orleans.

    I decided this spring to make my 12-mile commute on my Orbea. I am kind of shocked to see those cable locks cut like that. I really had no idea they were that easy to breach.

    So far, I have about $2k tied up in my commuting bike, including a Selle Italia Diva saddle, some upgraded SRAM components, GatorSkins, 2 sets of pedals- wireless computer, lights and more. It adds up quickly and you get what you pay for in this market. I think I would’ve completely flipped out if someone gave me $75 or a Schwinn-looking thing as a replacement.

    I did discover my homeowners’ insurance will only cover a loss up to $1500 without a rider on our policy. My commuter bike has an aluminum frame and carbon fibre fork, seat mast, etc, but I also own a full-carbon Orbea Orca Silver that would cost far more than $1500 if I had to replace it. We found that this $1500 limit also applies to electronics, musical instruments (my cello has its own policy! They can cost as much as a car or house), jewelry and artwork. We have Nationwide fwiw. Not sure if other companies have the same limits.

    I certainly don’t have any payments or fuel costs and the fitness aspect and actually ENJOYING going to work is lagniappe. The downside is being treated like I’m invisible on the road; we almost got picked off a couple days ago by the Lexus (Northshore) “courtesy vehicle”. Apparently the driver of said overpriced Toyota felt I had no right to travel in the left lane to make the turn onto my street. He caught an earful and is lucky he didn’t get some custom bodywork from my cleats.

    Thanks for the info on theft. I had no idea bike theft was so rampant here. I will certainly be purchasing a different lock for sure and Lord help the fool who tries to steal my bright orange Orca. Back home in New Orleans, they could not care less if your bike is stolen and probably know who did it.

    My bikes are precious to me, like Chrisppp in the first reply.I am fairly new to cycling since I broke my ankle and can no longer run. The smiles I get from my miles on the ‘Bea are irreplaceable.

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