Rampant bike theft poses issue for Evanston residents, Northwestern students


Daily Northwestern/Lexi Goldstein

Evanston’s poor street lighting, large student population and affluent demographic make it more susceptible to bike theft.

Lexi Goldstein, Assistant Campus Editor

It took just more than an hour for Weinberg freshman Adam Valiji’s new bike to disappear from the bike racks outside the Norris University Center. 

“I looked everywhere,” he said. “I thought maybe I just parked it somewhere else, and then I found a bike lock, so I knew that it got stolen.”

Valiji is one of many Evanston community members affected by bike theft. 

Some students and residents returned to Evanston following Thanksgiving and Winter breaks to find their bikes missing from the racks they had locked them at.

Charlie Swain, sales manager at Evanston’s Wheel & Sprocket, said bike theft is widespread on NU’s campus and the broader Evanston community.

Right after Thanksgiving, multiple people a day were coming in saying that their bike had been stolen over break, whether they had left it inside a garage, or on a porch or at a bike rack on campus,” Swain said. 

There were about 209 bike theft incidents in 2022, which was an increase from about 176 in 2021, according to figures provided by Evanston Police Department Cmdr. Ryan Glew. However, he said the number of stolen bikes is likely higher, since the provided data may not account for instances when more than one bike was stolen.

Evanston resident Brian Solmos (McCormick ’23) had two of his bikes stolen from his off-campus apartment complex’s bike room. He reported the second theft to Evanston Police Department officers for insurance purposes, he said, and informed his landlord of both incidents.

“I don’t think anyone’s bike has ever been recovered by the police,” Solmos said. “So it’s kind of like a formality to report it.” 

Valiji reported his stolen bike case to University police but said he was told they were too understaffed to further investigate the case.

The Evanston police force has decreased in size in recent years, with 27 officer vacancies in 2022.

Lou Kuhn, owner of Evanston bike store The Pony Shop, attributed increased theft over holiday breaks to convenience. He said bikes in outside areas are vulnerable when students are out of town. 

“I don’t think people are stealing the bikes because they want to ride them around,” Kuhn said. “They have to be stealing them for other reasons, which the number one reason is probably money.”

Swain said bikes in Evanston are targeted because of poor street lighting, NU’s presence in the city and the COVID-19 pandemic causing streets to be quieter.

They said bikes with fewer locks attached are more likely to be stolen because it takes less time to remove them.

“Any bike can be stolen,” Swain said. “Any lock can be broken.”

Wheel & Sprocket was broken into twice last winter, and general manager Gretchen Brauer estimated about $20,000 worth of product was stolen. The Pony Shop also suffered two break-ins within the past five years, according to Kuhn. Since then, both shops have installed steel shutters.

Recent bike theft outside of store break-ins may be due to increased security at Evanston shops, Swain said. He added, it is more difficult to steal newer, expensive models from stores.

Kuhn said about one customer per week contacts The Pony Shop to say they’ve had a bike stolen. He reviews anti-theft measures with customers when they purchase bikes and encourages bike registration, he said. 

But some students are disincentivized from purchasing any replacement bikes.

“I am not getting the third bike until I move out of Evanston,” Solmos said, laughing. “I am done tempting fate when it comes to owning a bike here.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @lexipgoldstein

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