What Should You Do if You See a Bike Thief?

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A man trying to cut a lock off of a bike.

Image Source / Getty Images

We've seen before how few people will confront a bike thief, and we've also heard the advice of a former bike thief on how to keep your ride safe. (Let's not forget Hal, the dreadlocked mechanic, and his grading of New Yorkers bike locking abilities either.) Now James Walsh over at The Guardian's Bike Blog is weighing into the debate, having witnessed and failed to stop a bike theft. What would you do?Walsh recounts the story of his own failed attempt at confronting bike thieves as he was heading out for an after-work drink with a friend in central London. Walking past two lads fiddling with a bike lock, he and his friend realized something was amiss. Their suspicions were confirmed when one of the two lads pulled out a pair of bolt cutters and snipped the lock. Bravely, or some would say fool-hardedly, Walsh and his friend confronted the two boys—accusing them outright of stealing the bike. One lad tried to deny it, while the other simply threatened Walsh, and they took off. And that was that.

A nearby witness called the police on their cellphone, and Walsh and friend took off to the pub to discuss the matter further—probably not the wisest of moves—although they did later return to leave a note for the cyclist. But Walsh put the question of what should he have done to the bike blog, and the answers from commenters seem to be pretty unanimous. I'll summarise below:

  1. Do not confront the perpetrators
  2. Do get as good a description as possible, or even take a photo
  3. Do call the police
  4. Do not disappear to the pub (OK, I couldn't resist that last one...)

Anything missing here? Given the frequency of bike theft in most major cities, it's worth thinking about before the fact. So I thank Walsh for raising the debate, and for taking a stand—however unsuccessfully.