What should you do if you find a bike that appears to be stolen? Should you turn it in or just leave it alone? Occasionally I'll see a bike that appears to be abandoned, which I assume to be stolen for a joyride then tossed. It's possible that the true owner just left it by the side of the road, but it's also possible that it was stolen and by reporting it to the police I can help the owner recover it.

This morning on my ride to work I saw a pretty nice looking cruiser tossed in the ditch. I decided to call the sheriff and the dispatcher who answered the phone basically said "What do you want me to do about it?" She said she'd send a deputy to pick it up, but pointed out that if the owner left if there, it would be gone when they came back. Based on the location and time of day, I really doubt the owner left it there. Still, she made me feel pretty dumb for just calling it in.

My thought is, what's the probability that the bike actually was stolen AND the owner reports it stolen and gets it back, vs. the probability that the owner just abandoned it in a weird place? Is it likely enough to be returned to the owner that it's worth turning it in, or am I just wasting everyone's time?

If my bike was stolen I would report it, but that doesn't mean everyone will. Also, if a bike was unlocked outside a business, or in someone's yard, I wouldn't assume that it's stolen. I'm talking about finding a nice bike ditched in a poorly lit area that's inconvenient to walk to, in a high-crime part of town.

  • That's a fairly standard reaction from a non-rider, no matter what the problem was. If it were a car, a baby, a suitcase, or a leaking drum there'd be more action. You see how dispatcher equated the bike with "lost skateboard" or "dumped CRT TV". There's not really any good answer. Perhaps ask the dispatcher next time what they'd recommend as an appropriate action.
    – Criggie
    Dec 9, 2017 at 3:08
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    ....and you've reminded me to go check my bike serial number inventory, so thank you.
    – Criggie
    Dec 9, 2017 at 3:09
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    How exactly did you call the sheriff? This clearly wasn't an emergency so, if you used the emergency number, then the dispatcher's response was basically a polite version of "Somebody might need me to save their life right now but, instead, I'm talking to you about a bike." Dec 9, 2017 at 9:38
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    I used the non-emergency number. I'm guessing I spoke with a dispatcher, since she said she would "send a deputy", but I don't know for sure.
    – Pacman
    Dec 9, 2017 at 10:30
  • @Criggie I just reread your comment and it made me laugh. Yes, if I found a baby on the side of the road I would have reacted much differently too. I agree with your point though.
    – Pacman
    Dec 9, 2017 at 17:57

2 Answers 2


As private citizen you cannot do much more than reporting it to the police.

If it was stolen and the theft reported, the legitimate owner may have it back.

If it was thrown away, there is the chance that the police will arrange the removal.

(Both points strongly depends on the country where you are located. In some places police officers may simply laugh back at you for reporting a suspected stolen bike, but again, if you take it you are breaking the law, too)

  • Both of your points tell me that reporting it is the right thing to do. I considered taking it and posting a found add online, but decided that was a bad idea. You're right, whether or not it was stolen before, if I take it I'm possessing stolen property.
    – Pacman
    Dec 9, 2017 at 17:41
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    You're right. As riders we treat the bike tin the same category as a car. Someone who doesn't ride puts it in the category of a toy, something for kids.
    – Criggie
    Dec 9, 2017 at 21:12
  • Not sure if permitted where you or OP are located, but here a private citizen can deliver lost property to the station, with an accurate description of where and when it was found (photos are good) After 4-6 weeks of being in the lost property, you're able to claim it as yours legally. My other half found an assemble tent blowing down the road, and made efforts to find owner. After a couple months on the shelf of the police station, we now own a fairly nice tent.
    – Criggie
    Dec 9, 2017 at 21:15
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    Definitely call police. Actual story: my nice but weather beaten 20 year old road bike was stolen, I filed a police report just for the formality, no serial number. Four days later the police called me that someone found it in an alley and called to report an abandoned bike. They too debated whether to call but eventually did. Police were professional all around, reasonable size city.
    – prototype
    Nov 4, 2019 at 23:54

In the UK you need to make a reasonable effort to return it, and if it doesn't work then since 2019 you can apparently keep it although you presumably need to be prepared to return it if it's claimed later. Good article here: https://notlost.com/the-definitive-guide-to-lost-property-laws-in-the-uk/

Edit in response to a comment: The article acknowledges that the definition of "reasonable" is subjective. Personally I have two thoughts on this:

  1. Think "what's the worst that can happen?", could you be taken to court? Do you live in a regeneration area (also known as rough area) and intend on using the bike in the area a lot, and could you be beaten up by the original owner when he sees you on the bike and considers you the original thief?
  2. In a wider sense, any conversation about the definition of "reasonable" requires... well, reasonable people, and not everyone is.

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