Stolen Bikes: Maximizing the Odds of Recovery

Too many people have had this experience: they left their bike unattended only to return later and find it gone. Despite the feelings of anger – and sometimes heartbreak – experienced at the loss of a bike, it is important to remain calm. What you do in the first hours after discovering the theft is critical.

In fact, that’s when the steps you took before the bike was stolen come into play. When buying a new bicycle, it’s important to consider two major problems: theft and warranty service. Therefore, two key pieces of information should be kept in a safe place – your bike’s serial number and the original receipt. Having these in your possession is how you prove ownership of the bike. And, one thing that can work to your advantage in an emergency is keeping your bike’s serial number stored in something that you keep with you at all times – such as your phone.

Most manufacturers stamp serial numbers on the bottom bracket, but depending on the manufacturer, it can be located elsewhere. The most common locations for serial numbers are shown in the diagram below.


Bicycle Serial Number Diagram

Diagram Courtesy Of


If you can’t find the serial number, contact the manufacturer (or your local bike shop) for assistance.

It’s also a good idea to take photos of your bike. The best photos show you with the bike (these are used when the bike is recovered, as further proof of ownership). Photos of the frame are particularly useful when the bike has unusual decals or other markings to distinguish it from other bikes of the same make and model.

Making copies of your original receipt is also a good idea. I learned this the hard way when the receipt for one of my bikes was lost during an accident in my home and I needed warranty service on the frame. Even though some manufacturers require the original receipt, they may give you a break if you provide a legible copy of it instead.

If you’re planning to lock the bike outdoors, you should seriously consider registering your bike with a registry service such as the National Bike Registry (NBR), which lists stolen bikes throughout the US. This service provides:

“Registration and a tamper-resistant NBR label to identify your bike. Then, if your bike is ever stolen and recovered, no matter where, it can be returned to you.”

The NBR is a paid service with several registration choices which cover various time periods and number of bikes registered. While this method isn’t a guarantee of recovering your bike, the NBR stolen bike database can be searched by police using your bike’s serial number.

Another option,, offers an international bicycle registry. Their reason for offering a global registry is that bikes can now be sold online to people who live far from the area where the bike was stolen.

It is free to register your bike with them. There is a nominal fee for purchasing the registration decals for your bike. Using the registration decals is a good idea because they are extremely hard to remove and bike shops look for them when people bring in bikes for service.

The database allows you to register all pertinent information about your bike, including a photo. While registering your bike before it’s stolen is recommended, they also permit registration of stolen bikes.

In addition to the above steps, it helps to use common sense to keep your bike from getting stolen. First, invest in a good lock. A high quality U-lock is your best bet. U-locks are portable and create a challenge for casual thieves who will pass on your bike for an easier target.

Lock your bike at home (even if it’s kept indoors), especially if you will be away for an extended period of time. A heavy duty chain lock or U-lock should be used. If using a cable lock, buy the heaviest gauge you can find and pair it with a hefty lock.

Once your bike is stolen, you must act quickly.

Contact the local police (in the area where the bike was stolen) to file a stolen property report. Police have a tendency to keep reports brief. Ask them to record particulars about the bike including the serial number, any distinguishing features of the bike, where it was located when stolen and the approximate time. Tell them anything that might aid in the recovery of the bike, such as your noticing someone eyeing the bike at a previous time. A description of that person could be included in the report.

If you’ve registered your bike, go to the database(s) and report it as stolen. Then list your bike in as many stolen bike databases as you can.

Nationally, you can register your stolen bike at Their database includes the US and Canada. In addition to providing details about your bike, they allow you to offer a reward to anyone who finds it. You can browse or search their stolen bike database here. As an added service, they offer a bimonthly email list of stolen bikes broken down by city, state, or zipcode.

There may also be a local database where you can list your stolen bike, especially if you live in or near a large city. For example, the City of Boston maintains an online database of stolen bikes.

Always identify local stolen bike resources before your bike is stolen.

After you’ve followed the above steps, be persistent. Check every database on a daily basis. Contact police departments in the area. Search regionally by compiling contact information for police departments in nearby towns. How far you extend your search is entirely up to you. But, at the very least, contact a few police departments to inquire about your stolen bike.

Some police departments maintain online databases of stolen property. Even police departments in smaller towns may have photos on their websites. Here is an example from a suburban police department outside of Boston, Massachusetts.

It is very important to call the police repeatedly to see if they’ve recovered your bike. Don’t be shy – it’s their job to recover stolen property. Keep in mind that if they do recover your bike, they are only required to hold it for 30 days. After 30 days it’s considered to be abandoned property and the police have a right to dispose of it. Most police departments auction off unclaimed bikes either locally or online.

Obtain information about police bike auctions and attend as many as you can to see if your bike turns up there. Worst case scenario: if you spot your bike at an auction, you may have to buy it back. But, with a little luck and proof of ownership, the police might return your bike to you at the auction.

Unfortunately, only a small percentage of stolen bikes are returned to their rightful owners. If the bike remains in your local area, the odds of it being spotted by you, the police or a local bike shop are greater. With proper preparation, quick action, and persistence you can maximize the odds of finding yourself among those who are reunited with their beloved bikes.


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3 Responses to Stolen Bikes: Maximizing the Odds of Recovery

  1. Brooke says:

    Thank you so much for these helpful tips! My Jamis Coda Sport (2007) was stolen yesterday morning, so I came across your website in a futile effort to find my bike. I’m grateful for all the info., and for the fact that i kept my original receipt, woo hoo!!!

  2. Norma says:

    Bought my son a bike in Oct 30 of last year. He took it to school the next day and it wa stolen. He reported it missing to the campus police. Couple days ago they said they might have the bike in question. It was a fixie bike , yellow and red tires… I took them my walmart receipt And the card with the bikes pic on it. They said I needed the serial number.
    Where can I find the serial number other than on the bike.
    Please help!
    Thank you!

    • Unfortunately, at this point, you probably won’t be able to find the serial number. When you buy a bicycle at a local bike shop, they usually keep a record of the bike’s serial number on file. A copy of the serial number is printed on your receipt, as well. Mass retailers, like Walmart, don’t do this.

      You can try asking for the serial number at the Walmart where you bought the bike. Show them your receipt; they may be able to look up the transaction. The bike’s serial number could be associated with it in their system.

      You can also try discussing it with the police again. If no one claims the bike after a certain period of time, they might be willing to give it to you — since you were the only one who reported a bike, fitting that description, as being stolen. Police are only required to hold a stolen bike for a limited period of time. Once the required time period has elapsed, they usually auction off unclaimed bikes. Ask them to return the bike to you at that point; in the event that they refuse, you can always “buy it back” at the auction, if it is held locally.

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