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The National Bike Registry is an nationwide registry of bikes with identifying information (serial numbers, make/model, owner information) in the US that is intended to help identify stolen or impounded bikes. There are of course other bike registries such as the recent Bike Index, many municipal registries, and the International Bike Registry.

Are these registries effective, both at reducing bike theft (i.e. if you put a sticker on your bike thieves are less likely to steal it) or in tracking down stolen bikes?

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I think these schemes need a critical mass to be effective. Possibly the ideal (from a registration perspective) would be to have the same kind of thing as a central automobile database, but for bikes. But that brings its own issues... – PeteH Jun 25 '14 at 7:01
One of the biggest problems is that there are so many competing registries. I just signed up at '', but I have no idea if it's used by the local police. It would be great to see a rundown of the different services. How they are run and how (if?) they work. – Popup Jun 25 '14 at 12:43
Relevant XKCD Although I can see why it would be so hard to set up an official database, because there just isn't that much at stake. Most people own bikes that are worth less than $300. And theft rates are pretty low, especially outside large cities because it's not financially sound to transport stolen bikes to other cities for sale, and selling a bike in town is too risky if the population is too small. – Kibbee Jun 25 '14 at 13:28

5 Answers 5

The point of the National Bike Registry, and similar schemes, isn't so much to prevent theft as it is to make it (sometimes) possible to recover a bike after it's been stolen. Police departments do recover a lot of bikes; but, since it's usually impossible to trace ownership, most of them end up in police auctions. The bike registries help to solve this problem, so that if your bike winds up in the hands of the police, there's at least a fair chance they'll be able to get it back to you. If the tag is still on the bike, the cops (or a bike shop) won't have to look in five or six different databases. They'll know which one to check. But I agree it would be much better to have a single national (or better yet, worldwide) database.

I have a nice bike, and I know that there's no single way to prevent losing it to the creeps who go around stealing bikes. But the more I do, the better my chances are.

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Its hard to say for a few reasons, but I'd be inclined to tend towards its not very effective:

1) People have to be aware of it.

2) It doesn't physically provide any security.

3) The people who use this are likely to use it on nicer bikes so it could act as an attracting mark.

As far as I can tell, for the most part, the stickers could easily be removed or the bikes could be stripped for parts or more likely just used as is in a city (where delivery boys or whatever need cheap bikes frequently and don't really care where they're from, or whatever) - the bike would have to go through a bike shop which saw the sticker, and on top of that, did query the number in order to make use of it. Or, recovering an impounded bike.

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Another point, semi related to the first, is that ideally there can only be one of these schemes. Your last sentence - the last thing a bike shop is going to want to do is to check through five or six databases with this query. Exactly the same goes for a cop. I mention this because in the UK there are a few such schemes, seemingly in competition. – PeteH Jun 25 '14 at 9:58

Having lots of bikes registered would make the registry more effectively. If bike shops automatically registered every bike sold and governments that license bike automatically registered every bike, the system would be more more effective. these processes could be computerized so that the shops and government needed very little additional effort.

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Welcome to SE Bicycles. Bike shops will kick back about the time and costs, but if it can be wrapped into a "warranty registration" then there's perceived benefit to the customer. As long as its not compulsory. – Criggie Oct 6 at 22:56

Bike Registration is a solved problem. It's what Bike Index has done.

  1. It's the largest independent registry in the world
  2. It's free to register (it's not for profit)
  3. It provides automated registration for bike shops
  4. Police use and search it
  5. It does lots of other things and is open source

Bike Index recovers stolen bikes (> 2600 to date), because it works.

Additionally: Bikes have serial numbers, adding additional registration points (such as stickers) is counterproductive, since it adds one more thing to track (and another point of failure).

Disclaimer: I'm a co-founder of Bike Index. I built it because I was frustrated by existing registries and that they took advantage of bicyclist without delivering.

Reasons National Bike Registry is a scam:

  • it costs money to register
  • registrations expire (and aren't transferable)
  • limited and inaccessible search for stolen bikes
  • No support, it's impossible to reach them
  • no maintenance or updates

Paying National Bike Registry for a registration is absurd, it doesn't do anything. Don't give them your money.

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I suggest editing "scam" back out and disclosing any affiliation you have with Bike Index. Too make your answer better than the accepted one you would need to provide links to back up your assertions. Perhaps also discuss how Bike Index is better than as well – Mσᶎ Oct 13 at 23:44
@Mσᶎ - Fair. I considered disclosing my affiliation when I was writing, but I mainly was concerned about the persisting belief that National Bike Registration does something. We might not be the ideal place for everyone, particularly since we only provide the service in English. But NBR is not the place to register. Use Safe Bikes or Project529 or if you don't want to use Bike Index. RE: - see my comments above about stickers. RE: international, check out recent reported thefts, – sethherr Oct 14 at 20:19
Thanks for the edits. FWIW your assumption that bikes have serial numbers is only "mostly correct". Most mass-produced bikes have serial numbers and many custom ones, but I don't think any of mine do. – Mσᶎ Oct 14 at 20:40
@Mσᶎ - yeah, one of my bikes doesn't have a serial, but I believe all mass produced bikes after 1980 have serials (aka, bikes that people who aren't nerds ride). Bikes that don't have serials generally are distinctive enough that a photo serves just as well/better (at least with the police departments in that we've worked with). Out of curiosity, what sort of bikes do you have that lack serials? – sethherr Oct 14 at 21:37
all of mine are one-offs, some from professionals and some I made myself. I've had problems in the past when the "serial" is 'Mσᶎ001' and the people looking at it just thought I was a wanker, but making up a number while trying to avoid clashes is harder than it sounds. A surprising number of insurance and police systems require that a serial number only contain digits, for example. – Mσᶎ Oct 14 at 23:44

Perhaps we need a meta-index, one that searches all the bike indexers in all the countries, then reports on matches based on serial number / brand / engravings etc.

Something like a email RBL blacklist DNS searcher, like

Personally I'd expect the sticker to be one of those permanent ones, or forgo that and use engraving on the steel/alloy frame.

Downside is, police don't have a lot of time for low value recoveries like this, so there's no incentive to use these databases.

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