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How Bicycle Owners Use Technology To Track Down Thieves

In Philadelphia, Lajuane Stewart’s bikes have been his economic engine to deliver Grubhub and Uber Eats. He is incensed whenever one gets stolen, which has been more often than he can recall. Two years ago, he purchased a new, expensive electric bike to help with his 100-mile rounds.

This time, he mounted an Apple AirTag GPS device under the seat, a small device that helped him track, surprise, and confront two thieves caught in the act. “I have to keep track of the bike,” Stewart said. “If I don’t have it, I’m not making money.”

Nothing seems to stop determined bike thieves, who use bolt cutters, pry bars, power tools, and even low-tech devices such as a 2x4 to wedge between locks and posts until one or the other gives way. Most don’t seem to care that they are often captured on video, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Since 2018, 6,416 local bicycles have been reported stolen, an undercount because so many thefts go unreported.

Stewart is one of many Philadelphians who have tried to hunt down their bikes or find the thieves, who are undeterred by Kryptonite locks and steel cables latched to posts on bustling city streets, stowed in yards, and even hidden in parking garages.

Cyclists are using technology to help one another track sightings, and, even though it might not be wise, set up their own stings and confront thieves.

They bond through social media such as the Facebook group Philadelphia Stolen Bikes, where they post pictures of taken Treks, captured Cannondales, and ripped-off Raleighs. They post doorbell videos and share surveillance. One post shared details of an ad hoc chop shop under I-95 where thieves can grab parts they need.

Some victims get lucky and recover their bikes; most do not.

The first time Stewart’s bike was stolen, it was locked to a steel post on a street while he made a food delivery. He saw it as a lesson learned. “There’s really nothing you can do to stop your bike from being stolen,” he said

After one theft, Stewart immediately beckoned an Uber and followed the moving bike in real time on his phone through the AirTag’s GPS.

“I tracked it to a pawnshop where the guy was still inside trying to sell it,” Stewart recalled. “I told him, ‘It’s mine, and I tracked you on the phone.’ He just looked at me, and said, ‘OK, here you go.’”


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