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Lessons Learned From Having My Bike Stolen

Not my bike, but I’d sure love to know the story behind this one.

The Man With the Big Keychain

An old friend of mine is obsessed with security. He carries a huge bundle of keys and makes his way through each day meticulously locking and unlocking anything that can be locked. He drives his car through the alley into the detached garage, and the door seals shut behind his back bumper. After locking the car, he exits the garage through the  door into his back yard (which features locking fence gates) and locks the deadbolt behind him. He climbs the back steps and unlocks the screen door and the interior door, then locks them both behind him. On vacation, he spends a good portion of his vacation time locking and unlocking boats, barbecues and sporting equipment at the cottage, which sits on a peaceful private lake with only a few widely spaced neighbors.

This guy isn’t overly fearful in other ways. Like many of my favorite people, he’s a perpetual teenager at heart who devotes his life to having a good time with friends. He is a great person to invite to a party and he has done very well in his career. But for whatever reason, he has taken up the habit of protecting the living shit out of each and every one of his physical possessions, because “the crime around here is really bad.”

The Other Man with No Keys at All*

Mr. Money Mustache, on the other hand, follows the opposite strategy when it comes to material possessions. I never lock the house when I’m home, and my cars and bikes often spend the night sitting casually unlocked out back as well, while I sleep with the windows open all summer. For quick errands, I’ll often leave my bike just chilling on its kickstand while I run into the market for some avocados, and even when I do lock up, I use one of those stretchy convenient 6-foot cable locks instead of the recommended bomb proof U-lock. Unless I’m on a trip with a lot of strangers around, I keep my phone and my desktop computer password-free so I can get to work more quickly when the mood strikes.

I’ve lived at a fair number of  different addresses over my lifetime and some were more crime-ridden than others. But they were all in Canada or the US – two relatively safe, prosperous countries. If you average out all the thefts and other threats I’ve been through over the years, it is remarkably low – and this is of course part of the definition of a prosperous country. I savor this safe environment and use it to live a freer life. After all, higher levels of trust between people leads directly to higher wealth.

My Carefree Attitude Backfires

But all this came crashing down one afternoon not long ago, when I went to grab my fancy Trek road bike from the back patio, and found it was no longer there.

That was weird. I could have sworn I left that thing leaning right there against a chair. I searched the shed, and my side yards, and everywhere else I’d usually leave a bike. No bike.

I felt the bottom dropping out of my stomach as I realized what had happened.

Although I’ve been a victim of theft less than a dozen times in my life, it is always a shocking, violating feeling when you realize somebody unknown has stolen something from you.  How could they be so bold, coming right onto my property and wheeling this thing away? At exactly what moment did this happen? Where was I when this dickhead was stealing my bike? Why couldn’t I have seen it happening, so I could come out and dish out some Justice? When you catch someone stealing your bike from your yard, do you just yell at the thief to get the hell out, or do you punch him down to the ground and stand with your foot on his neck while you call the cops and wait for them to arrive, occasionally hurling expletives down at the perpetrator and spitting on his face?

Although I’m not a violent man in everyday life, this swirl of uncertainty and rage quickly combined with immaturity and testosterone and soon I was wasting my mental energy torturing an imaginary stranger. And my practical side started acting on the fear as well. “This changes everything. Do I add cameras and security? Do I build a garage immediately to house all my belongings so they can be safely locked up? Should I move out of the city to get away from crime?”

After calming down for a few minutes, more practical strategies started to emerge. Sure, my bike had been stolen. But this was the first theft in many, many years of very carefree living. The Craigslist replacement value of that bike was probably about $500. What value do I place on a decade of the fearless freedom of leaving shit happily unlocked and not worrying about it? How about the value of my time saved in not spending my life fumbling with an enormous keychain like my friend? 90 seconds a day for ten years is 91 hours, or at least $4500 of my time at $50 an hour. I was still coming out way ahead.

Anyway, it was time to think about a more pressing issue: I needed to get myself back on the road. Not having a bike for me is equivalent to a car person losing all access to motor vehicles. I use a bike several times every single day to get things done. Switching to walking would have me on the sidewalk for 4 hours a day, and switching to a car for local errands would be even worse. Car Clown driving. Why not just squeeze my motorized racing la-z-boy right into the grocery store and reach my hand out the driver-side window to select my produce and canned goods?

The reason I had been riding that Trek road bike around in the first place was that my main commuter bike was temporarily out of commission. I had destroyed a few rear spokes in a careless incident with the big hauling trailer. So I decided to take that wheel over to the local bike shop to have it re-spoked.

It’s More Dangerous Around Here Than You Thought

At the bike shop’s service desk, I ran into the friendly owner and shared my tragic tale of loss with him. His reaction surprised me:

You left your bike unlocked in your back yard? Right up against a public park?

YUP. YUP, THAT WOULD DO IT.

BIKE THEFT IS PLENTY BAD HERE IN LONGMONT. IF YOU’RE GOING DOWNTOWN, YOU NEED A BURLY U-LOCK, AND YOU NEED TO KEEP IT LOCKED UP AT HOME TOO. OTHERWISE, YOU’RE JUST ASKING FOR IT.”

And here I was thinking I lived in a low-crime city. The stats say we’re much safer than the US median and my neighborhood is especially chilled out. Anecdotal evidence was backing it up until now: not only had I experienced no crime since I moved here 10 years ago, I didn’t even know anyone who had experienced any crime. It was one of those things you were vaguely aware of from the local paper, but it played no part in the average daily citizen’s life.

Could it be that the bike shop owner had formed his opinion based on a biased sample? Just like a paramedic thinks that cycling is horribly dangerous, a police officer thinks that criminals are everywhere, and a corporate lawyer thinks that painful lawsuits are commonplace, the owner of a bike shop hears from everyone who has a bike stolen, while having much less contact with those of us who still have happy, operational bikes. Even on Mr. Money Mustache articles like this one, we inevitably get commenters piping up that their situation is immeasurably more dangerous. “You can’t ride a bike or leave your garage unlocked in my city. Because things are truly scary here.

Don’t Confuse Bullshit with Safety

This is a key flaw in human nature that will bring you great profit if you become aware of it: we tend to prioritize our own experience above real science when forming impressions of the world. And we also put more weight on scary and bad news than we do on good news (or an absence of news, which is usually good too).

This form of judgement (along with other great human tendencies such as racism, fear of change and learning through gossip) was appropriate for most of human history since it was the best we could do before we had science and effortless worldwide communication. But nowadays, we can do better. To attain greater-than-caveman wealth, you must make life decisions using smarter-than-caveman techniques.

An impossibly cheap $35 and one day later, I carried my pristine and true back wheel out of that place and fitted it to my commuter bike. It was a joy to ride around again and I wondered what the big deal was: my life was simpler now with fewer bikes. I had more open space in my shed and I hardly ever used that road bike anyway.

I resolved to continue my old life of not being fearful of crime. As any student of statistics knows, it is foolish to base your life on a single, isolated event. If things continued to get stolen from my back yard, I would eventually step up security measures. But for now, why not be free?

Lesson Learned

And then, as if the Universe had noticed that I absorbed this life lesson correctly, my Trek road bike came back.

The bike had never been stolen at all – I had just left it at a friend’s house. In a zoo-like day of helping him move a few blocks, alternately biking, running, and driving the moving truck back and forth and stopping somewhere else for lunch then celebrating with beers at the end of the night, I had simply ended up walking home late the previous night and going straight to bed with no thought about the bike.

This is not unusual at all for me – although I can’t seem to purge my brain of the complete spec list of most cars in production and every last note of every last 1980s guitar solo, I am remarkably useless at keeping track of objects. One time I thought I had lost my own car for a weekend because I had left it at work. But hey, it was nice of my bike to come back to me.

So I went back to my regular, carefree, unlocked life.

And I still get a little thrill when I walk away from my bike when I’ve left it unlocked in a public place. “I’m breaking the rules! You’re supposed to lock these things up! Is the world really this safe? We’re about to find out!

I also love the Responsible Adult feeling I get when driving my car, which is insured only for liability against other people. If I crash that thing, I’m aware that it will be me paying to fix or replace it.

Living the Unlocked Life is is both a joyful celebration of living in our safe and wealthy society, and a reminder not to cling to material possessions. Instead of fooling yourself with the security blanket of insurance, you can use it as a reminder not to buy stuff that would be financially painful to lose. If you can’t afford to lose it, you can’t afford to buy it yet – otherwise the object owns you rather than vice versa.

But How Does All This Make Me Rich?

Fear of loss tends to prevent us from doing all the best stuff in life. Investing. Quitting our unsatisfying job or starting a new business. Building a fun and profitable local social network. Trying things that might result in minor bruises or embarrassing failure. Compulsive locking and protecting of our trinkets is not curing this fear – just masking it. Taking away the security blanket and just taking the risk breaks down the fear, and brings much better results over a lifetime.

* It’s true: I have eliminated keys from my life whenever possible. The bike gets a numerical combination lock, and I outfitted my house with a programmable deadbolt which is more secure yet much faster to operate. This also helps me overcome my tendency to lose objects like keys.

**Fearful vs. Prudent: With all this advocacy of danger, how do I avoid doing completely stupid things? I try to keep it in context of “making a profit”. For example, locking my door when I leave home for a month takes only a few seconds and provides a long period of benefit. Likewise for shutting off the water supply, using a seat belt, or having a reasonable password on my bank account. Low cost relative to expected potential benefit.

Compare this to, say, spending 10 minutes every day making sure not so much as a frisbee is left out in my yard for potential thieves. Or avoiding going for beautiful evening walks for fear of potential muggers: higher cost to protect against less likely consequences.

  • dave December 8, 2015, 9:37 pm

    most of your fellow Canadians don’t worry much about security either

    Reply
  • edmunder December 8, 2015, 11:45 pm

    I’m going against the tide.

    In China I’ve had several bikes stolen and bike thieves are serious here. The best weapon against bike thieves is to have the worst bike possible. So they steal someone else’s bike. Even with locks, plural, terrible bikes get stolen even second in China. So its hard to have the mentality MMM is talking about. He would lose a bike every day, possibly several a day if he actually went bought and replaced the bikes after they were stolen in the morning, afternoon, evening, etc.

    Reply
  • Suvi December 9, 2015, 12:06 am

    I didn’t get it. Why would you confuse normal precaution with fear? I most certainly lock my doors, my bike, my car. I just don’t like the thought of having things stolen purely because I was too lazy (yup..) to take a few seconds to reach for the keys. Mind you, me, my brother, my husband, my mother-in-law….. All have had our bikes stolen. And this is Finland, a country that thrives on trust capital .

    Having my bike stolen did not shake my world or make me feel scared. It was purely annoying. Then again, I’m far away from FI and on a fairly low income, so the cost of buing a new one actually stings. I just don’t understand why I should be happily giving my stuff to idiotic criminals when I could a) have it or b) give it to (a real) charity. Maybe to you there’s no risk in not locking. It is not because the probability of theft is low, but because the cost is merely a slight inconveniance. That’s a good goal to have I don’t argue with that, but we’re not all in that place.

    I have to say, this felt weirdly new agey for me. That or trying to be right, always, when you could’ve just locked that thing. Dunno. I’m not in the wisdom yet.

    Reply
    • superbien December 9, 2015, 11:47 am

      Yup. There was a whiff of sanctimony – ‘I didn’t worry and the universe rewarded me for my faith’ – that got my back up too.

      Reply
      • Metro detroit December 11, 2015, 7:57 am

        Well it was never actually stolen either, so that helps. If several bikes of his are stolen I’m sure he’d lock them, it would be anti mustaschian otherwise, yeah?

        Reply
  • Marven December 9, 2015, 12:29 am

    I can definitely relate as I had my bike stolen about three weeks ago and my cell phone stolen yesterday and my bike definitely was not forgotten at a friend’s house. It forced me into the car for a couple days as my other bikes were also non-op. One potentially good means of thwarting thieves is with the wheel (aka cafe) locks that attach to the frame. I have one of them, but three bikes, so I have to remember to move it around. Which is what hadn’t happened when it got borrowed. But they’re really great, especially for short stops or trips to a social event because a kickstand is all that is needed to secure the bike and the key will even stay in the lock until it’s locked. They’re a great alternative to the common U-locks and hard to forget; that’s why I like them.

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  • Kiwikaz December 9, 2015, 12:58 am

    This post really begs the question of what happens to all these stolen bicycles? Is there a massively popular black market for stolen bikes and bike parts? Do they ship them to other states/countries and then sell them on Craigslist? Is there an underground bike smuggling ring? Is the bike you almost purchased some poor kid’s bike stolen in California and trafficked across state lines to Longmont? Someone should really investigate ….

    Reply
  • TinyT December 9, 2015, 2:05 am

    I’m doing better, but I lose keys all the time. I’ve even lost my car keys in my car, but it’s the kind with a push-button to start it as long as the key is somewhere IN the car. I’ve even left it like that overnight before, so basically anyone could have hopped in the car and driven it away.

    But I lock the doors where I live. As a single woman of small stature who lives alone, I’ve seen way too many episodes of Forensic Files and the like.

    Reply
  • Alex December 9, 2015, 3:25 am

    I live in the Netherlands, and a rough estimate is that about ~10 bikes have been stolen from me in my lifetime.
    If you leave your bike in a larger city unlocked you might get away with it once or twice but not much more.
    Being a bicycle thief is a full time job for some people here, instead of a ulock the main lock here is a “ringslot” a ringlock attached to the frame, no hassle at all (i didn’t find a good translation in English might be a market opportunity perhaps) it’s just a click open/or close less than a second work. Why tempt other people to consider stealing your bike.

    Reply
  • JoeP December 9, 2015, 6:07 am

    Our neighborhood was safe for years until a wandering thief discovered that everyone in my neighborhood left things unlocked; I live in the northeast. Once a thief finds easy pickings such as unlocked doors, unlocked bikes, etc., you get put on the “thieves guild” preferred theft list.

    I personally had my apartment broken into twice, a moped stolen (recovered via vigilante method), bikes stolen, tools stolen. What put an end to all of that was installing metal doors, bars on specific windows, and locking up the moped, bikes, and tools. It took a crime watch and beefed up doors/locks/bars to stop the thieving epidemic.

    I have personally witnessed a thief climb up 3 floors via balconies to get into an open window. His mad dash down as I screamed at him would have made any competitive free climber proud.

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    • Laura33 December 11, 2015, 8:44 am

      This was our problem. We live in a safe, first-ring suburban neighborhood, and I really don’t think at all about crime. But then someone discovered that my husband does woodworking and started breaking into our garage and cleaning out his tools. And once the guy knew what was there, it became a target — we had 3 break-ins over about a 2-year period (including one where the guy apparently drove a panel truck all the way back to the garage — a neighbor noticed, but we were working on the house, so he didn’t think anything was wrong).

      But I do agree with the point of the story: make your decisions based on the real risks, not generalized fear that the world is going to hell; spend your valuable time and mental energy on only on legitimate problems, not assuaging unsupported anxiety. We now have hardened steel locks and window bars on the garage, because someone knows it’s a nice target. But the door to our (unfinished/not connected to the house) basement still doesn’t lock, and after 12 years we still haven’t bothered to fix it. I still leave the house unlocked when I’m home or running errands. My daughter walks to and from school, and I walk or run outside at night. Because all the data and our own experience say that it’s a safe neighborhood.

      Reply
  • Norm December 9, 2015, 7:03 am

    I’ve had this same fight with my wife over the doors. She’s okay with having them unlocked when we’re home, but leaving the door behind the glass storm door open is a big no-no. As if the appearance of an open door is the only thing stopping someone from robbing and murdering you.

    Since buying a two unit rental property, I feel like I am swimming in keys now. I’ve done a good job reducing my wallet down to an extremely slim profile, but I really need to up my key game. My bike lock and the lock for my new shed I built are both combination locks just for this reason.

    Reply
  • David December 9, 2015, 7:28 am

    Mr MM
    I agree with your viewpoint for everything except bikes!
    I live in Cambridge UK, cycling capital of Britain. Here we have over 2,000 reported bike thefts each year for a population of just over 100,000 which means at least a 1 in 50 chance of having your bike stolen EVERY YEAR. In fact it’s higher than that because of unreported thefts and because everyone else’s bikes are locked and yours wouldn’t be!
    We’ve had two bikes stolen ourselves – one was locked to a wooden frame which they smashed, and one had a lock cut through.
    If you adopted your attitude in Cambridge your bike would go missing within the first week of being here!
    But you’re right about everything else.
    Cheers
    David

    Reply
  • Jessica December 9, 2015, 7:33 am

    Do you ever get worried that so many readers know the details and location of your day to day life? Such as announcing everything is unlocked and net worth being generally high?

    Reply
  • JN2 December 9, 2015, 7:55 am

    Isabelle Allende, the Chilean author, refused to put bars on her Latin American house windows, unlike everyone else. She was burgled several times but said it was worth it to not live in a prison.

    Reply
    • superbien December 9, 2015, 11:54 am

      I adore Allende! And that woman has had *rough* life experience, and a gloriously twisted gritty imagination. That’s so interesting that a woman who has fled violence, gotten death threats, is famous and fabulously wealthy… Still makes that choice. That’s very interesting, and thought provoking.

      Reply
  • Ryan A December 9, 2015, 8:04 am

    Ahh within 10 months of moving to Chicago from a rural town, my car was stolen from the side of the street.
    A couple years ago my bike was stolen too.
    I lock everything.

    Reply
  • TropicNebraska December 9, 2015, 8:17 am

    As a paramedic, bikes aren’t horribly dangerous; motorcycles are.

    Reply
  • Ryan Bradshaw December 9, 2015, 8:40 am

    “Unless I’m on a trip with a lot of strangers around, I keep my phone and my desktop computer password-free so I can get to work more quickly when the mood strikes.” -MMM

    Get yourself a Nexus 5x or 6p with a finger print sensor. That way you can conveniently unlock your phone as you pull it out of your pocket and enjoy the convenience you seek while still using Project Fi. Plus who doesn’t want their fingerprint stored in a Google database somewhere? :)

    Reply
  • Zac December 9, 2015, 9:36 am

    I remember, in 2009, the day after Christmas my family was together for our annual tradition of “shopping, movie theater and dinner” together at the local Great Lakes Crossing outlet mall. During the movie, I lost my wallet. I didn’t realize it was lost until later that night once we were back home, and I wasn’t sure at the time where I had lost it. Being the day after Christmas, the wallet had a few hundred dollars in “gift money” from the parents and grandparents. I was pretty torn up.

    We retraced our steps and deduced that it must have gotten lost at the movie theater. I called the theater before they closed, and explained my situation. The person on the other end was nice, took down my information, explained that they would check after the show lets out but that they can’t make any promises… I felt, on the phone, like they were only half paying attention to me. I didn’t have high hopes for ever seeing my wallet again.

    That night, I made peace with the fact that my wallet was gone. I decided it was easier to move on, get the driver’s license replaced (I needed a new picture anyways), get my bank cards reissued (Chase had a new black visa that was slick) and start fresh with a new, bi-fold wallet (had a tri-fold at the time… bah who likes tri-folds). I rested much easier that night then should have been possible. I guess the holiday sprit was strong!

    Early the next morning, I got a phone call from the theater saying that a wallet had been turned in, and if I can verify certain details (which I was absolutely able to do), I could come pick it up! I was ecstatic! Getting something back after making peace with its’ loss is a fantastic feeling. It was an entire additional day-of-Christmas. It was like getting the gifts all over again.

    When I finally recovered the wallet, not a single dollar was missing. I still don’t know who, to this day, found my wallet and turned it into the theater (employee or patron) but I am very grateful to that anonymous individual. I’ve been doing my best to pay-it-forward ever since.

    Thanks, Humanity! You’re pretty all-right :)

    Reply
  • HenryDavid December 9, 2015, 10:12 am

    We travel a lot for months at a time, and trust the house to graduate students we sort of know, and give our car to acquaintances so it gets driven a bit. About 50 people know where the “hidden” house key is. No problems in 12 years–in fact friends are great at looking out for the place–except the house did get broken into once while being house sat. Took the housesitter’s purse. My mom-in-law (a first-generation immigrant) just said “thank goodness you’re like us, not the kind of people who have expensive stuff burglars want to steal.”
    Restin’ easy . . . . it’s so relaxing not to be too “precious” about the house and the stuff in it, even though there are things we care about, to the degree one cares about “just things.” It’s one more way to make life better and happier at far less expense than the fancy/expensive/high security way.

    Reply
  • HFT Dude December 9, 2015, 10:42 am

    “I never lock the house when I’m home” – MMM

    I am baffled by people who lock the door when they are home. This might sound awkward to some (or not), but I do not even have a key to my house. I lost it a few years back and never bothered to have the locks changed. The house has not been locked for a long time. Small town living I guess…

    Reply
  • Monsieur d'Or December 9, 2015, 10:43 am

    I had a bike stolen from the bike rack outside of a metro station not too long ago. I remember experiencing that same rage that you mentioned in this article. It was a huge blow for me since I live in Los Angeles and I don’t even own a car.

    I researched all kinds of security measures and bike locks and GPS trackers. But, eventually I calmed down and came to my senses. The bike was about $200 and served me well for about a year. That’s a pretty good return on my investment.

    I haven’t replaced the bike yet. Unfortunately, I didn’t earn enough this year to max out my retirement accounts. And, because of the proximity to the end of the year, I thought I should just deal with the inconvenience until January and gift that $200 to my 60-year-old self.

    Like you, I decided that I wont change my bike-security measures. A simple lock will work to ward off the casual thieves. Professional thieves are an inevitable risk, regardless of security measures. I just won’t buy a bike I can’t afford to lose.

    I do believe that all of these years of reading your blog has indoctrinated me into thinking the way you would in situations you haven’t even written about yet! :)

    Reply
  • Mary Ellen December 9, 2015, 11:33 am

    Bikes are a little different than other thefts in that having one stolen out of your yard, garage, or any habitual storage spot makes future thefts more likely. Usually these bikes are stolen by someone who has noticed that your bike is always in the same spot and takes the time to come back for it with the tools to break the lock and a truck to take it away. Someone like that is pretty happy to check back in a few weeks and see if you’ve replaced your bike.
    We recently had a bike stolen out of our front yard where we had lightly locked it for a year. We live on a busy street and someone of the tens of thousands who saw it there came back in the night to cut the lock. I realized that we needed to change things up with the replacement bike and start locking it in the back yard so that it wouldn’t be so tempting. Out of sight out of mind.
    Incidentally, another good strategy is to just ride older bikes. My 1982 mountain bike was totally unlocked beside the one that was stolen, and it wasn’t touched.

    Reply
  • Ryan December 9, 2015, 12:01 pm

    Well, here I was like “well that’s just mean….steal from a guy who rides his bike…sheesh..”. I would be imagining a sneakthief getting his just deserts, being staked to an antpile, or perpetually trapped in a dead end job for a low wage for all eternity due to my bike….

    I’m also forgetful.

    We do lock up our scooters, and insure them pretty well. But we depend on them, nearly every day. I wouldn’t die if they were stolen, but they represent a real sentimental value too. That and I would take a loss that would piss me off.

    However, I draw the line at spending all day worrying about it. That sucks the joy out of owning something. Sure, take pride in it, have fun with it, but it’s just an object.

    Though I am still a beginner Mustachian, I’ve felt very enriched by just selling stuff off, giving it away, or just using it until it’s a useless husk, and being rid of it (though I try to minimize that, for waste purposes). There’s TONS of stuff I’m going to get rid of in the next few months, simply because I plain don’t need/want it anymore.

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  • Reuby Tuesday December 9, 2015, 12:05 pm

    My parents used to say they weren’t worried about getting robbed because any thieves who broke in would take one look around and leave. Not that we lived in some empty shack :-D We had a really comfortable home but most of our stuff was used and/or old.
    As I’ve gotten older/my own home/my own stuff I find that it’s also much easier to be generous with my stuff when I haven’t tied up so much of my income and personality in it. Sure, you can borrow my electronics, tools, etc. Worst case scenario I have to go rustle up a few new-to-me ones if you forget to return them or break them.

    Reply
  • JasonB December 9, 2015, 12:11 pm

    “Fear of loss tends to prevent us from doing all the best stuff in life.”

    So true. So very very true. Even if you lose you win by the wisdom you gain.

    Reply
  • Gerard December 9, 2015, 12:21 pm

    I had a surprisingly similar thing happen to me a few weeks back. Came down the basement to get on my bike, and it was gone! (I can ride through my basement door directly onto the street, a wonderful setup.) I started kicking myself for not locking the door, then opened it to find… my bike! I had gotten home the night before, leaned the bike against the front porch while getting the groceries inside, and forgotten all about it.
    I think maybe my neighbourhood is safer than people who live elsewhere think. Maybe because most of us have very little worth stealing?

    Reply
  • Jim C December 9, 2015, 12:23 pm

    A related thought regarding car security. It is quite common to find that a locked car was broken into, receiving $500 of damage, so the crack head could make off with a $39 iPod and a bag of Cheetos. Leaving the door unlocked, and nothing of value in my truck has eliminated any fear of theft. I also do not lock up my $25 garage sale bicycle.
    Just another way to look at the possession obsession.

    Reply
  • Alex December 9, 2015, 12:37 pm

    Sounds like you had a real-life exercise in stoicism, MMM… imagine your bike is stolen, come to the realization that you’re fine without it, and then boom – turns out you never lost it in the first place!

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  • Patrick December 9, 2015, 12:47 pm

    I agreed with the part on not letting irrational fears control you, but not on your conclusion that there’s no point in locking your bike. That’s some amazingly convoluted rationalization you talked yourself into there.

    If your bike had actually been stolen, and *if it were your only bike*, it probably would have been very inconvenient. Consider how incredibly fortunate you are to have not one awesome bike, but two. I’m not saying it’s not Mustachian, just that you have redundancy which is acting as theft insurance – it’s insurance that would cushion the blow of one bike getting stolen.

    Locking a bike is relatively painless. Just because losing my bike wouldn’t be financially painful isn’t a reason not to lock it. My bike is geared up to be the perfect commuter bike. If it were stolen I’d have to waste a lot of time re-equipping and fine tuning a new bike, plus filing the police report.

    You do live in an unusually safe suburb, but not all US cities are like that. Bike theft of unlocked or cable locked bikes is much much higher than U-locked bikes in many large cities.

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  • Brianne December 9, 2015, 12:50 pm

    Right on, MMM. It was a revelation to me the just last week when I realized that the most valuable thing in my house was a case of Honest to Goodness apple juice from Gingerbrook Farm in Washington, Vermont.

    I had a bike stolen once — a blue Huffy that had been my mom’s — and I still miss it sometimes. But it’s cool. Shit happens. I rode it around town for years, leaning it up against the library, hopping off it and letting it drop in my friend’s front yard as I was running up the stairs to hang out.. There’s something that feels so exciting, so hopeful, so unencumbered about arriving someplace by bike that kind of gets ruined when you start fiddling around with a lock (and it most DEFINITELY gets ruined if you arrive by car). If I think of all the times I arrived to see a friend, or check out some music, or go look for a book with that awesome I-just-arrived-here-by-bike feeling, I would never trade that to get my blue Huffy back.

    Reply
  • Kayla December 9, 2015, 12:51 pm

    Interesting read. I will say I have a certain level of paranoia about personal information that has been printed. (It drives me crazy that financial institutions insist on sending a ton of paperwork in the mail before you’re given the option to sign up for paperless communications online.) I’ve also had my bike stolen out of an apartment garage, but I actually felt sorry for the thief since the tires were flat and the bike was rusting. They must have needed it more than I did. (Most likely, it was sold as scrap for money, according to a friend of mine, who’s father was a cop.) However, when it comes to our apartment and vehicles, I take a much more laissez-faire approach than my SO. He insists on locking the front door while we’re home, which drives me BONKERS, especially when he’s home and I have heavy bags of groceries. Now I kick the door to have him unlock it for me, instead of setting everything down to get my keys out/unlock the door (I need two hands to unlock the door, since it’s a tricky lock.) Also, one time his driver’s side car door would not lock (all of the other doors would). He was SO paranoid that someone was going to steal his car. His three-year-old Ford with nothing in it that is parked in a middle-class neighborhood. I could not understand why he was freaking out over it. I kept thinking, “No offense, but I highly doubt if anyone had the option to steal a car, it would be an older model of said vehicle.”

    Reply
  • Jeremy December 9, 2015, 12:56 pm

    This article reminds me of the one about safety being an expensive illusion. Our first house had three deadbolts and a lock in the knob, installed by the previous owners. Seriously!? If evildoers wanted in that bad couldn’t they have just busted out a basement window? My brother’s experience with his bikes makes clear to me that if they want something bad enough they’ll figure out a way to get it. I find that you can protect yourself by simplifying (as others have previously mentioned). I never lock my stuff up, there’s no need. I keep my valuables in my back pocket, and all my stuff is the most basic and utilitarian as you can get; Hardly a target for thieves. My brother on the other hand suffers from constant risk and loss because he’s buys the most expensive and luxurious shit he can afford.

    Reply
    • Miles Teg December 9, 2015, 2:23 pm

      The purpose of any security device is not to prevent all possible loss. The purpose of a security device (whether it be a bike lock or a captcha on a web forum) is to make yourself a less desirable (read: easy) target.

      In college, I thought my Huffy wasn’t worth a decent lock so I went with a cheapy. It lasted a week before it got stolen.

      Reply
  • Chris December 9, 2015, 12:57 pm

    I heard a podcast a while back – an episode of 99% Invisible – and it was all about lockpicking conventions, which people do for fun. Basically, what the gist of the story boiled down to is, there is no un-pickable lock any more; they are more of a societal convention than anything else. The history they gave about locks and lockpicking challenges was quite interesting. http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_eye/2015/04/15/a_history_of_lockpicking_from_99_percent_invisible_and_roman_mars.html

    Reply
  • Derreck December 9, 2015, 12:57 pm

    I really liked this article as it relates to any bike rider (hopefully everybody reading this blog).

    I always leave my bike in my house at night and locked with a heavy U-lock at work. I live in Chicago though.

    Where I grew up in Iowa, and when I visit home, just leaving it in the back yard is enough. I still wouldn’t trust it in my front yard, even in my small home town. My grandpa used to say: “You wouldn’t want to tempt an otherwise honest person, would you?”

    Of course, my bike is worth about $700. My wife’s bike is worth maybe $150 and I feel that if my bike was only worth that, than I wouldn’t mind being more lax with security. Sometimes the cheaper things in our life give us more freedom, and yet other more expensive things need to be ‘babied’ more. It just depends on the situation, I suppose.

    Reply
  • Brian December 9, 2015, 1:13 pm

    You failed to make a police report on what you thought was a stolen bike and then use Stats to say how it’s not a problem. So Stats are to beleived even when people don’t report crimes?

    Reply
  • Ed Flowers December 9, 2015, 1:24 pm

    It should also be noted that your chances of getting burglarized are directly proportional to the value of your publicly visible possessions. It’s just one more reason to live the MMM lifestyle. The smaller, more minimalist the home, the less attractive it is to thieves. More importantly, smaller homes 1) force you to spend more time together as a family 2) offer more incentive to get outdoors. Still, I lock the doors at night and set the alarm for the safety of my family.

    As a cyber-security professional, though, I must implore you to always set a password. There just as many dangers to your child on-line as there are on the playground.

    Reply
  • sockgal December 9, 2015, 2:01 pm

    I had all the parts of my bike stole when I was in college. My bike looked just like the bike in your photo. I had a u-lock on the frame, but they stole all the bike parts including the handlebars. After a final exam I walked home, forgetting I rode my bike until the next day. So yeah… I always have locked my possessions up nice a tight so people don’t steal them.

    Reply
  • Gordon December 9, 2015, 2:10 pm

    It’s called Loss Aversion, theres a whole wikipedia article on it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loss_aversion

    Reply
  • CWeise December 9, 2015, 2:26 pm

    We don’t lock up often. I have been robbed twice before when we lived in a crime-ridden area of our old city. (go figure) What I found is this: If you don’t have the latest and most desirable gadgets then no one will bother to rob you. We have an old computer, a bulky laptop, & a small (by today’s standards) flat-screen TV that no one wants anyhow. Our cars are empty so if someone goes in looking for spare change, there isn’t any. We also have a manual transmission car. It probably won’t get stolen because most people wouldn’t know what to do with a stick shift – LOL. My husband philosophy is that they will just break a window if they really want what you have anyhow and most of our items aren’t valuable enough to be worthwhile. So far so good.

    Reply
  • Miles Teg December 9, 2015, 2:55 pm

    A lot of folks talking about making sure they have “utilitarian” possessions to deter thieves. It doesn’t work that way. What’re some of the most commonly stolen vehicles?.

    Honda Accords, Honda Civics, F-150s, Chevy Full Size, Dodge Rams, Toyota Camry, Dodge Caravans, and other common vehicles.

    Why, because they are popular and have a thriving parts market. This means that a thief/chop shop can easily part that vehicle out to sell the parts. This is the preferred method of dealing with a stolen car, because it’s nearly impossible to sell a stolen car whole due to VIN tracking, etc.

    If you are a thief, the only way you go after high priced, low market share vehicles is if you have a way to sell them off shore. In other words, large, international criminal organizations.

    It’s a similar situation with bikes and other things that get serial numbers. It’s a lot harder to find a market for goods that are obviously stolen (scratched off serials, VINs, etc.) than it is to strip out the non unique parts (wheels, saddles, handlebars, aftermarket addons, etc.)

    So no, having a utilitarian possession is not necessarily a deterrent to thieves.

    Reply
    • fellaflowers December 10, 2015, 10:21 am

      That is a very good point. Certain cars are the equivalent of the O- blood donor because their parts can work on multiple vehicles. So yes, the high-priced cars are less likely to be stolen, but they are a giant advertisement about what one might find in your home. If you are gullible enough to buy a four-door e-hybrid Porshe, you probably maintain that pattern in all purchases.

      Reply
    • takalak December 11, 2015, 6:28 am

      This is why I love my piece of shit 1993 Ford Explorer. Vehicles like them are the opposite of what thieves desire … low priced, high volume vehicles, and mine is a manual with 180,000 miles on the odometer with more than one rust spot (too many snowy and salted Midwest winters). When I’m not walking or riding my bike, I love driving to Costco and leaving the keys in the ignition, doors unlocked, and windows wide open. Or park it at the airport and not worry about taking the keys with me on vacation. It sleeps unlocked in my apartment complex. I’ve done this for the last 12 years with no incident. If someone does steal it, I missed out on a book value of about $1200 traded-in … big deal.

      So, paralleling your last comment, the best deterrent to thieves is to own as little as possible, or own things thieves don’t want. I feel great freedom when I don’t have to worry about my vehicle.

      Reply
  • Steve December 9, 2015, 4:01 pm

    I live in L.A. where there’s plenty of crime. My friend was car-jacked in Santa Monica in broad daylight (gang initiation?) Fortunately the cops caught them, but when she bravely testified in court, the defense attorney gave her address in open court, and warnings were painted in front. She was afraid to answer her door at night and finally moved. The defense attorney certainly did his job in trying to scare witnesses!

    Reply
  • Butch December 9, 2015, 5:35 pm

    I think the Grand Master of Science Fiction sums up the philosophy of your wonderful post very well:

    “It seems to me to be important to believe people to be good even if they tend to be bad, because your own joy and happiness in life is increased that way, and the pleasures of the belief outweigh the occasional disappointments. To be a cynic about people just works the other way around and makes you incapable of enjoying the good things.” Isaac Asimov

    I discovered MMM not long ago and was thrilled to find someone intelligent, eloquent and bad-ass, describing a lifestyle and philosophy I’ve lived since I was in my twenties. (I was never as polished at it as MMM, but I’m still learning.) You’re validating my often socially-not-acceptable choices over the years. (Like not having cable) But they paid off; I’m 59, have had to start over twice from absolute scratch, yet twice I’ve taken multi-year “retirements” to travel or learn, I haven’t worked full-time since 2004, and I’m right on the edge of FI again.
    But even so, I am of the opinion that the greatest value in MMM philosophy is not even about the money. It’s the lifestyle of freedom, choosing happiness over possessions, minimalism over gluttony, and family and friends over co-workers that is so rewarding.
    My own favorite quote is “You can always make more money, but you can never make more time.”
    Keep on rocking, MMM!

    I miss Isaac.

    Reply
  • ultrarunner December 9, 2015, 5:44 pm

    I’m not paranoid, but I usually lock my stuff up (bike, house, cars). Nothing fancy, no alarms or anything, I just make my stuff slightly harder to steal than the lowest common denominator in the . It’s worked well, I’ve never had anything stolen in my 42 years on this planet. Worth the few seconds a day, for me. YMMV, of course. Do what makes you comfortable.

    Reply
  • ultrarunner December 9, 2015, 5:45 pm

    I’m not paranoid, but I usually lock my stuff up (bike, house, cars). Nothing fancy, no alarms or anything, I just make my stuff slightly harder to steal than the lowest common denominator in the (neighborhood, parking lot, bike rack, trailhead). It’s worked well, I’ve never had anything stolen in my 42 years on this planet. Worth the few seconds a day, for me. YMMV, of course. Do what makes you comfortable.

    Edit: looks like brackets get stripped out, sorry about the double post.

    Reply
  • Pigeonherd December 9, 2015, 7:02 pm

    Did you let the bike shop guy know you found your bike??? A potentially embarrassing story to relate, but it might brighten his outlook, and you get the fuzzy feeling from knowing that after ten years of unlocked bikes right up against a public park you’ve STILL NOT had anything stolen from your yard. ;)

    Reply
  • Actuary December 9, 2015, 7:17 pm

    I love your blog. I’ve been trying to find a blog like yours for years and came up mostly with women’s writings about how to save money with coupons or baking at home. Yeah, that stuff wasn’t going to cut it.

    Keep writing…your stuff is gold.

    Securing stuff does take a lot of time, and used time has a cost. After having a lot of stuff stolen throughout my life and living with and near untrustworthy people (a few times being assaulted), I’ve found one the of the best ways to avoid people taking what little crap I have is to not live in diverse/poor areas (sorry #Hashtagistan P.C. police, my time in San Juan, the Bronx and D.C. was not pleasant), stay away from areas with high addiction rates (i.e., Appalachia) and also live away from highways. Property is much more common where there is easy access to multi-lane motorways.

    Some things I don’t lock up now. I never have locked up my bicycle, but I do lock up my house. Home invasions do happen, and while they are exceedingly unlikely — if it is your wife or child that gets raped and sliced by some anti-social individual it’s unacceptable risk, no matter how unlikely it is. Staying up at night worrying about my family has a significant cost.

    One great protector of property is a big dog. I love dogs, they enrich my life and make me a better person, and best of all the riff-raff are usually terrified of them. Dogs come with a price tag, but as a dog lover it’s a price I’m willing to pay…and the shelter dogs get a good home. A home security system will not attempt to kill a burglar, but my Staffordshire may.

    Reply
  • Marilyn December 9, 2015, 7:37 pm

    Well, I’m jealous! Growing up, I lived in a tiny town where I never locked up my bike or anything else. No worries. Where I live now, I have once had my bike stolen from my front patio (it was behind a wall – not even visible from the street!), and my son had his bike stolen when he left it outside (after I repeatedly warned him not to0). So our bikes now live inside, and if we go anywhere, we secure them with u-locks. There really IS a lot of crime here, and bike thefts are commonplace. It’s sad.

    Perhaps we should move to Longmont…

    Reply
  • moneyoryourtime December 9, 2015, 8:19 pm

    Wonderful article but it really is proportionate to where you live.
    We lived in Europe for many years. We had countless things stolen and my business had numerous attempted break ins and broken windows.
    Now living back in Canada, I have accidentally left my garage wide open more than once over night with no adverse effects.
    Two very different cultures and two very different responses to home security.

    Reply
  • C.R.E.A.M. December 9, 2015, 8:33 pm

    Nice work Mustache. The fearful vs prudent bit could do with its own blog post. People are scared of everything nowadays. Don’t let fear hold you back from achieving everything you want to. Go ahead, lock your bike up, but don’t fear it being stolen. Wear a helmet for safety, but don’t fear accidents or injury. Weigh things up and take sensible precautions that don’t detract from your enjoyment. You need to take risks in life. Fear is the friend of exceptional people. But for the fearful it can be a prison.

    Reply
  • Randy December 9, 2015, 8:34 pm

    I feel like MMM was in my world when he wrote this. I am also remarkably worthless at keeping track of small objects and I have two keys on my keyring, and neither of them are for my own house. Originally I thought it was just because I don’t like to carry anything in my pockets besides my pocket knife, but in the end I realized that I didn’t care if someone stole my car (it also helps that the power locks don’t work anymore, and I am too lazy to walk around to all four doors and lock them).

    The laid back philosophy of whether to lock or not lock also extends to my grocery store purchasing strategy, which amounts to handing my 11 yr old and 9 yr old daughters each one half of the grocery list and telling them to come back with the stuff while I grab a few other things. The looks I get from people are amazing. “You aren’t going to let those children out of your sight in this huge store…are you?”

    One person actually asked me what I was doing and without thinking I just blurted out something like “We homeschool, and this is part of homeschooling. They have to go and get the healthiest option at the best value for the items on the list. It teaches them many things they won’t learn otherwise. You should see what kids in other countries do all day.” I don’t know if the lady was impressed, going to call child protective services, or just call me a lazy bum.

    Reply
  • Michael Graham December 9, 2015, 8:49 pm

    I agree with the carefree lifestyle sentiment, but it definitely depends on where you live. In my safe little neighborhood, like yours, the inconvenience of locking my car outweighs the tiny risk of getting jacked.

    But when I’m riding my bike away from home the lock always goes on. Bike security is enough of a concern that I prioritized “quick removal” in my custom designed electric bike kit, so that I could take the expensive parts with me when I leave the bike. Please excuse the self-video plug MMM but as you are a bike-loving-engineer I think you’ll appreciate seeing this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FYBbffZj_Y

    Reply
  • Mortimer December 9, 2015, 9:30 pm

    Couldn’t agree with the general perspective of this article more. When I was in college I often had my bicycle (which I never locked) “borrowed” and placed somewhere else on campus. Inevitably, I’d be walking somewhere else and realize, Hey! That’s my bike! And ride it home. (It was a small campus.) But that refusal to give in to fear has served me well in other areas of my life. One thing that helps me (because I like numbers) is that it is literally safer than it has been in twenty years in the United States. Per the FBI, the rate of serious crime has dropped incredibly since 1993. Consider these reductions in the rate of crime on a per capita basis:

    Murder rate—down 50.526%
    Rape—down 34.55%
    Robbery—down 55.898%
    Aggravated assault—down 44.994%

    In other words, there’s never been a better time to feel free and safe. (But don’t be reckless.)

    Reply

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