One does not have to have lived in Beijing for very long to count bicycle thieves among the true scourges of your existence. While I have been lucky in my 2+ years of living here, I can think of countless stories from friends who have walked outside one morning or afternoon to find their bike, or at least a wheel or a seat, mysteriously gone. Cousin Katie lost two bikes last summer in the space of a month, locks and all. Bike theft in Beijing is so rampant that it is treated not so much as a preventable crime but rather with the same fatalism as the traffic or the smog. I have been told that actually trying to protect your bike with locks is futile (though my US-made Kryptonite lock has held up so far), but rather that the best protection you can offer is to discourage thieves by using dirt and scratches to make your bike look older, thereby making the next bike over more attractive by comparison.
Last week, I came face to face with a manifestation of this invisible, omnipresent force. I was
walking out of the Teach For China office when, as I prepared to unlock my own bike, heard a soft sawing sound from just up the block. Looking up, I saw a man hunched over the bike several yards from mine, bent over the back wheel and, yes, sawing vigorously. He was making no effort to conceal it: people continued to cross the street nearby, no more than a few yards from the in-progress robbery. I flirted briefly with the notion of doing something heroic, of calling him out somehow, but wasn’t entirely sure what I would do or on whose authority I could confront him. So I opted instead to just stare in disbelief.
That was enough to get his attention at least. After a furtive look upward, he returned to his sawing. Pulling out my phone to take a picture, though, was enough to scare him off. He backed away from the bike and silently walked past me to the end of the block, throwing another guilty look over his
shoulder before he turned the corner. I went over to take this photo of the lock on the bike once he was out of view: in just about a minute he had already sawed most of the way through the lock.
I got on my bike to leave again, turning the same corner to find him idling there. As soon as he saw me approaching he began ambling back to his victim. The brazenness was too much for me to resist; I circled around again to find him back at the same bike, and pulling out my camera to take another picture was enough to scare him off again. At that point, though, my heroic urge to defend the bike lost out against the realization that I was already late for something. I’ll never know if I had harassed him enough to scare him off or if he returned for a third time to claim his prize.
Certainly this awkward confrontation was no more than confirmation of what we already knew. Even in broad daylight, with plenty of witnesses, your bike is not safe. I highly recommend the investment in a real Kryptonite lock.