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Gear Prudence: I’m always bothered by stripped bike frames on the street. Do bike owners just lock them and forget them, like co-workers who leave half-eaten takeout in the office fridge? Do owners opt to cut their losses after they find wheels missing? Is something more sinister going on? —Larcenists Evidently Found The Bike Easily Hackable. I’m Nearly Demoralized. 

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Dear LEFTBEHIND: Sinister? How exactly? Some sort of financial chicanery that involves creating an artificial shortage in the aluminum market that’s resolved, to great profit, when thousands of previously abandoned bike frames are finally recycled? Or a false flag operation led by a pro-car cabal attempting to portray bicyclists as nogoodnik litterers too irresponsible to be worthy of public facilities? Imaginative (read: nutso) as these ideas might be, abandoned bikes are the result not so much of fantastical plots as sad reality. 

You posit two pathways to a stripped bike and they share the same steps but in different orders. Do thieves prey upon bikes that owners have all but forgotten, or do the thieves steal parts from bikes that their owners then choose to abandon? Each is possible. 

GP can imagine a scenario in which an owner takes an unloved bike on a rare trip, uses other means to get home, and then delays in recovering it. Maybe because they’re busy, but maybe just because they don’t really care. In the interim, those who covet a piece or two take note of the obviously immobile bike. As more time passes, anything of value finds itself detached and we’re left with a bike carcass. In this case, the bike is less like forgotten take-out in the office fridge and more like a picked-over chocolate sampler in the breakroom, where the only morsels left are filled with coconut or cherry goo. Stealing parts from a bike (even an unloved one) is wrong, but it’s not a surprising outcome when the owner makes no attempt at recovery. 

Alternatively, theft might precipitate the abandonment. Maybe a thief absconds with a wheel or two. Or a saddle. The original rider returns to find their bike less than whole, and therefore unrideable, and assesses the options. Am I really dragging this half-bike home? Or do I, mad at the universe for the cruel indignity, simply walk away and renounce ownership? This approach is irresponsible too, but seems more cosmically justified: Unable to bear the cruel fate of loss, the owner copes through denial.

In either case, most stripped bikes share one common bond: They didn’t start as great bikes. If a bike has any residual value (pecuniary or sentimental), it’s never left to rot. Its owner will attempt to recover it. But even not great bikes shouldn’t sit stripped on the street. It’s depressing. Do your duty and report abandoned bikes through 311 to have them stickered and eventually removed. —GP