This is a rider’s worst fear realized; an unfortunate occurrence you hear about and, to some degree, prepare for. But no amount of mental training is enough to numb the senses when you discover your bike missing. You might be upset, angry, vengeful, or all of the above. Whatever the case you have to act fast as time is essential in locating your bike.
This article is based on my own experience when my beloved Ninja ZX-6R was taken by thieves. I’ve also included tales recounted to me by other bikers and anecdotal information about bike thefts.
Assess the Situation
Before you take any actions, take a minute. The emotions I listed above can easily flood your mind and prevent you from thinking rationally which only serves to hurt you in this situation. Get the basic questions out of the way: is this where you last left your bike, would a friend have borrowed it? Now think back to the last time you saw your ride. If you went grocery shopping and returned 30 minutes later then it’s time to get a move on! However, if you were gone for a full weekend your chances of recovery are greatly reduced. Try to determine if this was a random act or you were the victim of a targeted attack, for instance visiting a friend and parking on the street as opposed to having been parked in the underground garage of your condo. Unfortunately a combination of the latter option for each question most likely means the bike is gone.
Call the Police
Unless you have sight of the bike or a GPS tracker telling you where it’s going, this is step one. It’s not exactly a well kept secret that the police will not prioritize the hunt for your bike over their other tasks. However, this is a crucial action you must take in order to cover your own ass. Filing a stolen vehicle report can help indemnify you in case things turn really sour if, for example, your bike is involved in another crime. A police investigation number will also be required by your insurance company in order to process the claim which you will open up soon. Despite what you may think at that specific moment a motorcycle theft is not an emergency. Use the non-emergency phone number to report the crime, unless you witnessed the robbery or it became violent. The dispatcher will ask you all the questions they need and they may even send officers to your location.
I waited roughly one hour until two police officers arrived. They took a statement and provided me with a case number, at which point the three of us went back to the underground parking garage and quickly canvassed the area in case the bike was just moved. Sadly we didn’t find anything. Ensure to write down the officers’ names and division. If I had a device transmitting my bike’s location I’d start by jumping into my car in order to track it down and call the cops on the way.
Spread the Word
If you think your bike is still in the area take to social media and mobilize the local army of riders. Motorcyclists are part of a tight-knit community or, at the very least, don’t like to see bikes getting stolen. Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp… if you have an account post a picture of your bike along with some details. You never know where someone may be cruising and what they might stumble upon. Even if no one finds your bike you’re sure to receive sympathetic messages from like-minded people.
If your motorcycle is not found you will want to get a new one. But getting a new one may be somewhat difficult unless you have lots of disposable income. And if the picture I’m painting does not accurately reflect you then you’ll undoubtedly want to be reimbursed for your machine. Even if you don’t have theft protection (which you should!) call your insurance provider anyway to tell them what happened so they have a record and can remove the bike from your policy.
My interaction with the insurance company was fairly quick and painless, much to my surprise. Within a few days I met with a representative who took down my statement and informed me that there is a holding period where they wait to see if the bike turns up. Mine never did so after a few weeks I received an email with their valuation of my Ninja. One very important thing to keep in mind is that this is a negotiation. You do not have to accept the first offer you are presented; there were a few things wrong with my valuation and I did not hesitate to make that known. To establish a base price they look at ‘comparable vehicles’ which are all examples of your bike model currently up for sale, and two of the three on my list were from out-of-province, advertised at lower prices due to different laws. Secondly none of my modifications were included. Remember that the insurance company is supposed to pay you out based on what it would cost to replace the bike and parts; this is typically more than what the bike is worth. I responded with a list of all my receipts and more accurately priced bikes to compare mine to. I was frank with the insurance adjustor, explaining that I was just looking for a fair value and had no intention to fight over the last penny, and the next day I got an email with a revised valuation that was $2,500 more than the first one.
Obtain Surveillance Footage
Realistically if it comes down to analyzing grainy security camera recordings your bike may be long gone. However, certain clues might be discovered which reveal the thieves’ identities or their vehicle. In my case the police requested the footage (whether they ever got around to viewing it I don’t know) and a friendly security guard I’m on good terms with assured me he would take a look as well. If allowed you can also scour the reel for any suspicious activity but policies may differ about distributing footage to ‘civilians’. This is a tedious task, no doubt, but worth it if future thefts are prevented.
Search Online Classifieds
Sometimes you might be dealing with professionals, and other times you might be dealing with careless idiots; regardless, it does not take a lot of effort to hop onto your favourite online car- and stuff-buying outlets to do a bit of browsing. Search for your bike and, if you’re really lucky, it might show in the results. Also consider that some quick modifications were done or removed to make the machine look different. Exhausts, tank grips, levers, even fairings can all be replaced fairly quickly. Check the date of the posting – if it’s a new ad and the generation matches your bike you may have a contender on your hands. Look hard for any defining details you know were present on your motorcycle. Before getting the pitchforks out check to see if a prior copy of the ad exists as it’s commonplace for sellers to post multiple times in order to get their listing to the top of the search results. Begin by contacting the seller and trying to establish some history about the bike: when did they purchase it? what is the reason for selling? is there a maintenance history? etc. Someone who is averse to answering your questions may be hiding something… or they simply might be a typical one-word-reply seller. Unfortunately it’s difficult to pinpoint the camp they fall into so go with your gut feeling. I can only imagine meeting face-to-face with the person that potentially has your bike so, given that time has passed since my Ninja’s theft and I can better assess that situation, consider asking a friend to look at it on your behalf. Arm them with details and the VIN. If it’s a match call the police and inform them. Be smart – do not confront the person and risk potentially escalating things to a point where the cops show up for you.
Pro tip: ensure your search covers not just your city but the entire province/state, and then expand to neighbouring ones as well.
If we take a more “glass is half empty” approach then your ride may be parted out. In that case you will find several ads posted in succession with a similar writing and photography style. As before, look for any features unique to your bike such as scratches, wear marks, and colours. Repeat the above steps and message the seller to find out the circumstances of this liquidation.
Assess the Situation, Again
Like it or not it always pays dividends to think about the place you are currently at and where you go from here. If you’ve been unable to locate your bike for several days or a week, have no leads online or from the security tapes, then there’s a good chance you won’t ever be reunited. If your bike was fairly new and worth good money it potentially got shipped out of the country; if it was older and had more sentimental value than financial it may have been used as a donor bike. Although you never have to completely give up the search it may be time to throw in the towel and focus on resolving the matter. To be honest this is easier to do if you have theft coverage (hopefully by now your insurance company has attended to the case and provided you with a quote for your payout), and if not, keep on looking and carefully read the next section.
This step is an absolutely pivotal one in your ordeal and can help prevent the same event from happening in the future. To be clear, you are not at fault here – you didn’t invite anyone to steal your bike and there’s a good chance you took some precautionary measures that the thieves had to defeat. At the end of the day if someone really wants your property they will be able to get it – it’s your job to make that task as difficult as possible.
Consider the location where the bike was taken from. And I don’t mean that, if you were visiting a friend and parked outside, you should never visit that same friend again, or never park outside. In my case I had the bike in an underground garage and I preferred to park as far away from other vehicles as possible. I thought this would attract less attention to the bike and reduce the risk of door dings. I now realize that this decision may have been my Ninja’s undoing because there is generally less foot traffic in those areas which is an open invitation for unscrupulous individuals. Had I parked on the upper floor or near the elevators the risk of someone walking out to the robbers in action may have acted as a deterrent. Furthermore, surveillance is a major turn-off for professional thieves. They run a business and don’t want themselves or their cars caught on tape. If you can choose where you leave your bike pick illuminated spots with security cameras or a patrol.
Now think about the security methods you used. What worked? What failed? I learned that using a disc brake lock will not keep the bike on the ground where it belongs. Sure, it may prevent a small-time thief from rolling the motorcycle away but two guys can still lift it up without a problem and bypass the immobilization. Securing the bike to a stationary object is as crucial as using the appropriate hardware when doing so, otherwise you’re not creating much of a challenge for the bad guys. I will also now be taking a look at post-robbery retrieval mechanisms such as GPS trackers.
Don’t forget about the rest of the process either. Namely, police, security, and insurance. Although the two officers dispatched as a result of my call didn’t magically find my ZX-6R they highlighted some of the security shortcomings in my building. Prior I had no idea about the relatively small number of cameras in the garage but now I can, and will, bring that to the attention of management and work to rectify the problem. Dealing with insurance reminded me that it’s a business and you have to demand a fair value for your property.
Finally, the most important takeaway from all this is one that I will carry around with me forever: I am not immune. I never thought I was but a different reality sets in after a trauma such as this. I’ve become paranoid about security and want to do everything possible to keep my next bike until I am ready to part with it on my own terms. And I hope that you, the reader, also feel a little less safe and will take extra precautions with your ride.
The sliver of silver lining is that you get to go shopping for a new bike! Take this opportunity to look at different options from all styles of riding. It may be tempting – it sure was for me – to find another example of your previous bike and hop on. There is nothing wrong with that either but if you have the time it can be a fun exercise to gain some new insights about other motorcycles.
Before picking up another bike you will want to take a close look at the list of items you wrote down in the “lessons learned” category. Anything that’s a security requirement such as chains and alarms should be prioritized. Get these items before or with your new bike and begin using them right away to establish good habits.
Be vigilant out there. Keep your bike safe so that you can continue to ride safe.