Journalism freshman Kylee Brown said she woke up on Wednesday, Sept. 29, excited to ride her bike around campus to see where she could park it for her classes.
When she walked up to the rack directly outside of Nipumuʔ Residence Hall where she had locked her bike, it was gone.
“I just stood there in shock,” Brown said. “There were two other people there that got parts of their bikes stolen as well, and we kind of just stood there together in silence and we talked about what happened.”
Brown was using a U-lock, but because she only locked the front wheel, the thief was able to remove the rest of the bike.
“We looked around and there were so many bikes that were missing parts,” Brown said. “One was missing both wheels, one was missing just the frame, one was missing the bike seat.”
Since students began living on campus for Quarter Plus in August, the San Luis Obispo Police Department has received 39 reports of bike thefts including one stolen tire. Only five of those bikes have been recovered. There have been 143 reported bike thefts in San Luis Obispo since the start of 2021 — including three total bike parts stolen — and 23 of those bikes were recovered.
“We have increased patrols in areas where the bike thefts have occurred, [including] vehicle, bicycle and foot patrols,” Cal Poly Police Department Corporal Frank Herrera wrote in an email to Mustang News. “Cal Poly Police Officers patrol about 10 square miles that we are responsible for, and it is simply impossible for officers to be always everywhere.”
Bike theft is not new in San Luis Obispo.
Off campus, San Luis Obispo Police received 223 bike theft reports in 2020 and recovered 29. In 2019, 285 bikes were stolen in the city and police recovered 43.
“It’s really tough to have a bike here,” Brown said. “It sucks because they say you can’t ride any other vehicles — skateboards, scooters — but bikes get stolen every single day, so it’s like, what are we supposed to do?”
The Cal Poly Police Department wrote in an email to Mustang News that many bikes stolen on campus are sold on different online marketplaces like Craigslist, taken to swap meets or taken out of San Luis Obispo county.
When Brown filed a report with the campus police, she said their advice did not reassure her.
“[The officer] just said that [bike theft] happens all the time, it’s the most common crime on campus and that I should just get a very cheap bike because it’s just going to get stolen anyway, basically,” Brown said. “He said even if you lock everything, there’s still a chance of it getting stolen.”
In the future, Brown said she plans to lock every part of her bike and take her seat inside with her.
Mechanical engineering sophomore Dylan Featherson said his bike’s front wheel was stolen at the Mustang Village Apartments Friday, Sept. 24. With the bike lock he had, it was difficult for him to lock the front wheel as well as the frame.
“I just thought we were in a better community [than this],” Featherson said. “I feel like it’s a bit low to steal someone else’s bike. I’m just disappointed that someone would do that.”
“At bike shops in town, it’s not uncommon to see stolen bikes come in.”
– Sam Coyle, Cambria Bicycle Outfitters employee
At 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 5, aerospace engineering senior Kellen Andrew was late to class. He left his hand-welded custom bike unchained outside of the university’s Propulsion Lab — a decision that cost him the bike. Andrew said that he checked on his bike periodically during the lab.
“During the 15-minute period between my last glance and lab ending, someone had snagged it,” Andrew wrote in an email to Mustang News.
He immediately started blasting pictures of the bike on social media and had his friends spread the word. With a custom frame and paint job, Andrew said he was sure that it would be very recognizable as long as others knew what to look for.
Andrew then sought out campus police to report that his bike had been stolen but wrote that he felt that they did not take the situation very seriously.
He said they informed him to “let them know if anyone sees it so that they can help recover it without anyone getting endangered.” However, Andrew believed that if his bike was spotted, there would only be a minimal timeframe in which he could recover it.
After a few hours, Andrew’s bike was spotted at Cambria Bicycle Outfitters by aerospace engineering senior and CBO employee Sam Coyle. The staff suspected that the customer who had Andrew’s bike had stolen items from their store before.
“We watched [the customer] a little closer than normal,” Coyle said. “He seemed to be a pretty experienced thief from what we could tell.”
When the customer left after about 30 minutes in the store, Coyle’s manager looked out the back window to see him unlocking Andrew’s bike. Coyle immediately went out the front entrance and around the building to confront the customer.
“I asked him, ‘hey man, can I see your bike real quick?’” Coyle said. “Expecting me to be a bike mechanic, he handed it right over. I simply said, ‘I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to take this from you.’ I just hopped on it and took off. I rode a couple of blocks up the street and before my manager could even get around the building to confront him, he was already gone.”
Coyle described the thief as a thin white male of average height with long wavy brown hair. He also said that the man had a number tattooed across his chest, although he couldn’t identify what it was.
“At bike shops in town, it’s not uncommon to see stolen bikes come in,” Coyle said. “Bicycles are just dollar signs — the more expensive bike you have, the more of a target it is.”
When Andrew was reunited with his bike, he found that his hand-sewn frame bag had been removed from the bike and the pedals had been changed out.
Andrew left a message with campus police, informing them that his bike had been recovered and tipped them off to the perpetrator who had likely been caught on security footage from the adjacent Central Coast Brewing.
After several days, however, Andrew wrote that the police have still not responded.
“At this point, it doesn’t seem like [they] care enough to pursue the criminal,” Andrew wrote. “It just seems a little backwards to me, that’s all.”
Andrew’s advice to students is to always lock up their bikes — no matter what.
“This was the first time I didn’t lock my bike up and unfortunately, that’s all it took for it to be stolen,” he wrote. “The scumbags who steal bikes on campus are professionals and they know how to make them disappear very quickly. It’s truly a miracle that my bike was recovered.”
Bike theft on and off campus can be reported to the Cal Poly Police Department and San Luis Obispo Police Department, respectively. Stolen bikes on campus are covered by Cal Poly’s dorm insurance. When locking your bike, it’s most important to secure the frame as thieves can remove most front bike wheels in a matter of seconds.
As of publishing this article, Cal Poly Police Department is still processing a request for the number of bike thefts on campus.