After his $2,300 fat bike was stolen from a friend’s house 15 months ago, Cody Peck didn’t skimp on a lock.
To protect his new ride, he spent nearly $100 on a New York Noose, a 10-pound nylon-covered chain and lock considered so impenetrable that its maker, Kryptonite, offers a $4,000 guarantee.
And for months, it kept his new Surly Wednesday fat bike secured to a rack in an arena parking garage while he was working at Hudl. That changed March 7: “I came out of work and the bike and 98 percent of the lock were taken,” Peck said.
All that remained was a single chain link, cut so clean he believes the thief used a cordless grinder — a brazen and noisy move during the middle of a Wednesday in a public parking garage.
“It’s just a sickening feeling,” Peck said. “My first thought was, not again, and then there was the fear of being targeted or sought out.”
He’s not the only cyclist feeling that way. In December, Sarah Knight woke to find her apartment’s communal garage near 27th and A targeted, and eight bikes missing.
She lost two, a Salsa Vaya worth $1,800 and a Surly Ice Cream Truck fat bike that retails for $2,400, but it had expensive upgrades and emotional value; the bike mechanic who built it became her boyfriend.
The thieves also broke into her cabinet and took her most-valuable components. Altogether, she lost about $6,000, she said.
Knight knows about opportunistic thieves who see a stranger’s bike as convenient transportation. That isn’t the case here, she said. These thieves know what they want, and the bikes and their parts are rarely seen again, most likely taken out of state.
“What scares us is they’re becoming increasingly sophisticated with the way they’re stealing bikes.”
In her case, the thieves smashed a lockbox to get a garage key. They avoided cameras. They disconnected the garage door from the automatic opener. They had tools to cut the cables securing her bikes to the wall, and to snap the padlock on her cabinet. And with eight bikes, they must have used a truck or trailer.
“The thing was, when that happened to me, it almost seemed inevitable,” Knight said. “I’ve had so many friends who also had bikes stolen.”
She provided a list: Nine cyclists she knows (including herself) who have lost higher-end bikes — many of them wide-wheeled fat bikes — since 2016.
Like Peck, whose first stolen bike had been locked to a porch in the Near South neighborhood, and whose second was taken from a city garage.
Like Rick Dockhorn, a longtime manager at Cycle Works, who locked his $2,200 Salsa Blackborow fat bike with his wife’s outside Yia Yia’s Pizza during the shop’s Halloween Ride.
That stretch of O Street was busy that night, with 30 to 40 cyclists at the restaurant and a crowd spilling out of the Bourbon Theatre next door. Still, in the middle of it all, someone on the sidewalk cut the cable securing their bikes, taking his but leaving his wife's electric-assist bike.
That told him something about the thieves, and what they were after. “They may not have known, but hers was worth a whole lot more than mine,” Dockhorn said. “It says to me, ‘This isn’t on their list.’”
And it says to the cyclists who lost bikes: There could be a bike theft ring operating in Lincoln.
“We feel Lincoln is being targeted by professional bike thieves, and we want the general public to be aware of it,” Knight said in an email.
Lincoln police aren’t ready to go that far, because the numbers don’t show a recent increase, said Officer Angela Sands. As of this week last year, officers investigated 39 bike thefts; this year, 35.
Last year at this time, three stolen bikes were valued at more than $1,000; this year, two. (Of the 509 bikes reported stolen in 2017, about 28 were valued at more than $1,000.)
After talking to cyclists, the department had its crime analysis unit search for patterns or common denominators — something linking the theft reports. It didn’t find anything.
“There’s nothing common here,” she said.
The only noticeable change from last year? Roughly a third of the bikes stolen so far in 2018 were reportedly locked, compared with about a fourth by this time last year.
Still, the department plans to meet with cycling groups to field their concerns and offer tips for keeping bikes safe, she said. It also plans to be proactive to curb the thefts, and could begin using a bait bike for stings.
The cyclists aren’t waiting. They’ve already changed some of their riding and parking habits. They’re tightening the privacy settings on the apps that track and record their rides so thieves can’t follow them.
They’re thinking twice about how much to publicize group rides and where they plan to gather; last year, a cyclist lost a bike locked outside Hickory Road Barbecue during the weekly Pub Pedalers ride.
Cycle Works, which hosts multiple rides, might provide less route information in the future. And that’s unfortunate, Dockhorn said.
“When you want people to come to an event, you want to say, ‘We’re going to do this and we’re going to do this.’”
They’re also looking out for each other, sharing stolen bike alerts on Facebook, checking the impound lot and monitoring online sale sites. So far, nothing.
“They’re getting out of town. Where they’re going, I don’t have any idea. But you don’t see parts showing up on Craigslist,” Dockhorn said.
And Dean Rohwer now pays more attention to parking areas with nearby security cameras.
The day before Cody Peck’s bike vanished from the parking garage, Rohwer rode his own Surly fat bike through the snow to a meeting near 50th and R streets.
He works for the state’s probation administration, but the nearest rack was on Doane’s nearby Lincoln campus. When the meeting ended an hour later, his bike and U-lock were missing, and he was out nearly $3,000.
He’s commuting on a spare now, dealing with insurance, hoping Lincoln’s tight-knit cyclists can help end the thefts.
“The bike community here is amazing,” he said. “People will call the cops if they seem something shady.”