Bike owners pay the price of fixie fixation

The fixed-gear bike craze has certainly generated a lot of demand for bike shop owners like Doug Forrest and Oswaldo Lopez of Echo Park Cycles. It’s also generated a lot of concern about what they say is a rising wave of bicycle theft, with the owners of those popular fixed-gear bikes or fixies being among the most likely victims. They hear about their fellow riders coming out of Echo Park and Silver Lake bars to find their bikes gone or stripped of everything from toe straps to wheel sets. “Everyone should carry at least two locks,” said Lopez, 34, who has also worked as a downtown bike messenger for 15 years. “You got to lock everything … take off everything or it will get stolen.”

It’s bike messengers like Lopez who have helped popularize fixies and track bikes, turning them into status symbols. One bike blogger explains the fascination with fixies this way: “When you ride a fixed gear, you feel a closer communion with your bike and with the road. There is a purity and simplicity to the fixed-gear bicycle that can be quite seductive.” The many fans of fixed-gear bicycles include teens and kid. But, with bike prices ranging from about $300 to above $2,000, many kids can’t afford them. “They want them,” said Lopez. “If you can’t afford it, you steal it.”

Getting an accurate picture of bike crime is tricky. Some bike shop owners and riders say it appears that some neighborhoods – such as Echo Park and Silver Lake – are suffering more than others, like Highland Park and Cypress Park. Complicating matters is that relatively few riders report stolen bikes and parts, and LAPD statistics vary widely. Last year, the LAPD Northeast Division, which stretches from Hollywood to Highland Park, received only one report of a stolen bike, said Sgt. Vince Aguirre, who oversees crime reporting. Meanwhile, downtown had 129 reports of stolen bikes.

Josef Bray-Ali of the Flying Pigeon LA bike shop on the border of Highland Park and Cypress Park said he has not heard of much of an increase in bike theft in his area. But he said the owners of track bikes – among the most prized of fixed-geared bikes – are prime targets – and they are more common in Echo Park and Silver Lake than in his part of the Eastside.

“The people that ride track bikes are pedaling around on some serious status commodities, and it is super easy for a group of kids with some tools and limited expertise to snag what they want for their own status commodity bikes,” Ali-Bray said in an email. “My area has a group of track bike riding kids and young men, but nowhere near the levels of Echo Park and the rest of the city (the West Side is rotten with bike riders).”

Echo Park resident and rider Stephen Roullier said that it would make sense that bike theft would be focused in places like Echo Park, Silver Lake and downtown Los Angeles. “These areas were the ‘ground zero’ for the urban cycling boom that we’re seeing now, so maybe there’s some logic to these areas becoming the hotbed of bike thefts,” said Roullier via email. “Just in the Echo Park area alone, I know cyclists that have been victims of theft at the Library, Masa, Two Boots and Barragan’s. Even if the entire bike isn’t stolen, wheels often are, but in addition pedals, saddles and lights are vulnerable, too.”

Some bike enthusiasts fear that the spike in bike crime could dampen the growing enthusiasm for urban biking across Los Angeles. Forrest, who does not own a car, said he’s taken a cab instead of his bike to nightspots for fear that his bike will be stolen. He also worries what will happen to sales at Echo Park Cycles and other bike shops if customers keep losing bikes to thieves. “They will be less inclined to buy another bike,” Forrest said.

In an effort to combat bike thefts, Echo Park Cycles started offering young riders the opportunity to help out at the store in exchange for parts. Late last year, the shop also hosted a meeting to explore ideas to fight bike theft. About 20 riders, in addition to police, showed up. One idea that was floated was the creation of a website where bike owners could post photos and information about stolen property. A subsequent meeting was held a few weeks later but nothing has come of it.

While there are a lot of complaints about bike theft, few owners apparently take the time or trouble to record bike serial numbers or take photos of their property – two items that can help police. “It is also highly recommended the owner use an engraver and engrave his or driver license number on the bottom bracket to further assist in identifying later,” Aguire said in an email. “Please remind your readers to ALWAYS report crime no matter how large or small.”

But Roullier, the Echo Park bike rider, said that LAPD probably has bigger problems to worry about than stolen bikes and parts.

“I’d like to believe that the bicycle is here to stay this time in Los Angeles and these are the growing pains,” he said. “In the meantime, lock your stuff up well and keep an eye on your bike.”

Related Links
* Police bust downtown bike theft rink. Downtown News
* Cyclists and LAPD working on their relationship. StreetsblogLA
* Hal grades your bike locking. Streetsfilm

Top photo by Ario/Flickr; middle photo by Dennis/Flickr; bottom photo by avi4now/flickr

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