According to the FBI, Americans lose $350 million each year because thieves take their bikes.
Almost 180,000 bicycles were reported stolen in 2010, according to the FBI, and South Florida is a very popular place for these thieves.
Just in Miami Beach in the last year, 282 bikes were reported stolen, according to the city’s police department. Alex Ruiz, owner of Miami Beach Bicycle Center says the trend has been picking up.
"Every day we get a couple of people come in ‘Oh, I just got my bike stolen or this is my third bike stolen,’" Ruiz said.
According to police reports, most of the bike thefts in Miami Beach happen in pedal-friendly South Beach, in spots like Lincoln Road, Ocean Drive and Washington Avenue. Manny Rodriguez and his girlfriend Danielle Pierce had their $700 bikes stolen on 9th Street and Ocean Drive in broad daylight on March 16.
"We decided to eat somewhere along South Beach, so we parked the bikes right here," he said pointing to a railing.
But after grabbing a bite to eat, the couple came back to find their chains cut and their bikes missing.
"It kind of took me a minute to sink in that our bikes were actually gone," Pierce said.
To see just how common this crime is on the beach, the Team 6 Investigators purchased a $130 bike. The bike’s serial number was written down and engraved with the station’s call letters, WTVJ.
The Team 6 investigators then took it to Precise Protective Research, a South Florida private Investigative company, so they could help install a GPS tracking system that was bought specifically for bicycles called Spylamp 2. After installing the tracker, security expert Brook Perez said to "wait to see if the bike moves so it sends us a text message and lets us know so we can track it down and see where it went."
The bicycle was placed in several locations along South Beach for four days. Each time, it was tied with a thin chain lock to different bike racks and posts, and Team 6 Investigators waited a few hours. After 4 days and a total of 15 hours doing surveillance, a man was seen walking by and staring at the bicycle on Ocean Drive between 6th and 7th streets. Team 6 surveillance uncovered that the individual who was staring at the bicycle waved to a second individual who came over and glanced at the bike as well. Two minutes later, the second man walked over and, despite people exercising just steps away, he pulled the bike up, freed the lock from the post without even cutting it and peddled away.
Using the GPS tracker, Team 6 Investigators were able to keep up with the bike thief. Video taken from their car showed the individual that had walked away with their bike peddling up the MacArthur Causeway heading east on his way to Miami. The surveillance continued for six miles as he peddled quickly and eventually stopped at NW 1st Street and 1st Avenue in downtown Miami, in front of the Miami-Dade County Commission building and next to another man on a bike. From their vantage point, the two men appeared to exchange words but then the biker continued riding another mile-and-a-half to the corner of SW 12th Avenue and 6th Street where he met up with two additional men. Team 6 Investigators’ cameras captured all three men having a brief conversation after which the new men took the bicycle while the man who originally took the bike from Miami Beach walked into a grocery store.
So what happened to the bike? A day after Team 6 Investigators’ cameras captured it being taken from Miami Beach, it was tracked back to the front of the Miami-Dade County Commission building, its first stop after it left Miami Beach the previous day. Next to the bike stood one of the men that Team 6 cameras had captured walking away with it from Miami Beach the day before.
The Team 6 Investigators asked him whose bike it was and he replied "mine" and claimed he paid $20 for it. However, when questioned, he couldn’t explain how he had met the person who sold him the bike.
He offered to return the bike and after he took his new chain off, Team 6 Investigators verified it was their bike and that the GPS system and engraving were still intact.
While Team 6 walked away with the bicycle, experts say victims rarely recover their stolen bikes. Cops say in part because people haven’t registered the serial number of their bikes and don’t include that in their police reports.
Miami Beach Police spokesperson Bobby Hernandez says: "Often times we stop a homeless person and we know that person did not buy that $5,000 race bike, however when you run the serial number in the system it comes back as not being stolen."
Hernandez says at that point the police "don’t have anything and he goes on with his bike which we know in our minds has to be stolen."
Police also recommend owners write down their bike’s serial number so they can claim it in case it is stolen and recovered. They suggest people never tie it to a sign or post and purchase strong locks that have bike replacement warranties.
If you use a GPS system and track your stolen bike, police say it is dangerous to take matters into your own hands. They recommend you call police.