Pranksters take bike parts and locks, but owners and police aren’t laughing

Posted November 6, 2017

Upon completing a shift at her on-campus job, UW-River Falls senior Sarah Knack returned to the North Hall bike rack, where she was surprised by what she saw and even more surprised by what she did not see.

“I biked to campus, and I came to North Hall where I work, and I locked my bike like usual,” Knack recalled. “I went to go to my next class, and the bike was there, fallen over, but there was no lock.”

A series of incidents is occurring on campus and in the River Falls community, where parts such as tires, seats and chains are being stolen, but in many cases the bicycles are remaining, according to the UWRF campus police department.

“Somebody, for some reason, was taking bicycle parts off of different bikes,” said Karl Fleury, chief of campus police. They were “switching them around, and doing different things. Whether they thought that was amusing, it’s just not the norm.”

Given the fact that Knack’s lock was one that required a key to operate, amusing could be exactly what the swindler had in mind when taking the lock. However, despite the amusement, real consequences can follow the victim whenever one of these thefts occur. In Knack’s case, it resulted in a minor back injury that happened due to no longer being able to safely secure her bike outside.

“Since I didn’t have a bike lock, I actually had to try to drag it up fire stairs to my apartment,” Knack said. “I’m literally dragging this thing, and at one point I had to spin it off the rails to try to open the door and then maneuver into my apartment, and I pulled the right side of my back muscle. It’s been sore the last week.”

In addition to the soreness in her back, Knack has also found it irritating to store the bike in her apartment.

“It’s currently sitting behind my futon,” Knack said. “Now it keeps falling, so whenever I put my head back, I keep smacking my head on the handlebars.”

Since sharing the living room with this new piece of furniture, Knack has purchased a replacement for her previous bike lock. Although she remains uncertain how the old lock was removed without the key, the police department sees it as nothing new.

“Some of the cable locks and some of the locks that they use are pretty cheap in the sense that they’re easily defeated,” Fleury said. “A lot of them have locking mechanisms that are easily defeated.”

The UWRF campus alone has had 37 reported incidents of stolen bicycles since the start of the year, 16 of which have been recovered, according to Fleury.

For students on campus who are concerned that they might one day face the reality of having a stolen bicycle, there is a program available to students that makes the recovery of the bicycle much easier, but only if the student takes the initiative to register in the program before the bicycle goes missing.

“We have a bicycle registration program – it’s free,” Fleury said. “We have a form that the students fill out online, and that provides us with all the information, so if the bicycle was found anywhere in the U.S. and somebody would run that serial number, it would pop-up as a stolen bicycle out of UW-River Falls.”

For other students, given the age and/or style of their bicycle, it might be more likely that their lock gets stolen than their bicycle.

“It’s some clunky old bike of my mom’s,” Knack said, “so if anything, maybe that’s why they took the lock and not the bike.”