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My pedals disappeared. Several months ago, my chain disappeared in the same location. On both occasions, the bike frame was locked, but the totally unsecured quick release wheels and other accessories were undisturbed. There was no evidence of damage.

The bike and the components are obviously cheap.

What might be the motive for the crime?

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    The question's not on topic for a stack exchange network site I think; you're asking us to guess as to the psychology associated with petty thievery and SE network sites typically deal with questions that can be objectively answered with a fact. My opinion would be that just because these accessories are cheap doesn't mean the thief had the means or desire to pay for them, or time to wait for them to arrive. Stealing them from your bike was quick, cheap and less traceable than stealing something with identifying marks, logos or the risk it had tracking/security marking associated with it – Caius Jard Oct 21 '19 at 11:14
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    Given how hard it can be to remove stubborn pedals from a crank (last time I had to use a camping gas stove and a hammer) the thief probably really wanted them. – Vladimir F Oct 21 '19 at 11:28
  • @CaiusJard The question has an objective answer. I will concede it is possible nobody here knows it. – Anonymous Physicist Oct 21 '19 at 11:47
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    As soon as someone posts the correct objective answer you accept it and call the police for you have found the thief? – gschenk Oct 21 '19 at 12:35
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    I would like the left open and edited it to be more acceptable- the answer by @Max is very insightful and provides valuable information to the OP and other people in this situation. – mattnz Oct 21 '19 at 19:09
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The motive is to steal the whole bike.

Since you cannot ride back without pedals or chain, they expect that you will leave the bike locked but unattended at night so they can finish up stealing it without much interference.

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    Probably more accurate to phrase the "A motive", but its a great answer - Only the theif knows what the motive is ... unless..... :) – mattnz Oct 21 '19 at 19:06
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    Great answer, but surely there was an easier way to do this than to steal the chain? – Anonymous Physicist Oct 21 '19 at 21:48
  • I once had someone steal the steering wheel from my car, so it would be left overnight. However my dad had a spare steering wheel so he brought it over and we drove off. When I went out a couple of yobs burst out of the bushes and threw rocks at us because their "prize" was getting away. – Criggie Oct 22 '19 at 0:43
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    If the chain had a quick link, inside 30 seconds which includes time to examine chain and determine if it's connected via quick link, position the link and disconnect. Use of a chain tool to push a pin out and disconnect: inside 45 seconds. Use of wire snips through the center of the plates at an external link: 3-5 seconds. None of these methods are difficult in the least. The difficulty lies in finding easier ways, in fact. – Jeff Oct 22 '19 at 2:13
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    This could certainly be the case in some situations - a particularly desirable bike, for example, and/or a location where a thief could get away with noisy tools at night. Someone using small bike tools on a bike away from the lock doesn't look too suspicious, unlike using tools that can defeat a decent lock – Chris H Oct 22 '19 at 6:06
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It is extremely difficult to utilize a bicycle when a pedal or pedals are missing or inoperable. A missing chain means the rider must find alternative means of to move the bike forward. Most solutions to this problem are far less efficient and will draw attention to the biker. A damaged chain can make the bike totally inoperable by jamming the drive train and if, instead, it constantly falls off, well then the bicycle is in nearly the same state as the problem pedal bike.

Now then. Pedals and chains. Some of the most frequently troubled parts of a bike and also the most quickly worn to the point of repair or replacement. If a nearby discount department store carries the correct type and size of these parts AND they happen to be discounted down in price, well then, one can walk away from the store with these parts for around $10 a piece. Of course, based on the theme of this q&a, one could walk away from the store with the parts without paying for them. However, with security, cameras, and more than a few people milling around, shoplifting can be far more risky than a theft as described in the question.

The thief is motivated by a desire--here a need for the parts or a need for something from someone who has a direct need/desire for the parts. Willingness to commit the theft is enhanced by opportunity. The opportunity is bandied about weighing the benefits (fullfilling the desire in a timely manner with satisfactory gain) versus the risk of getting caught (police involvement; shame: being the object of a parent, spouse or friend's ire; fear of reprisal from the victim). When the benefits out weigh the risk by a certain amount AND the opportunity presents itself, the conscious decision to act comes about, and the plan is executed.

Now the risk-benefit-opportunity triad is dynamic and interdependent. (I lump desire in with benefit as these aspects are directly proportional: raise desire and the perception of benefit increases as well. Diminish desire and the benefit appears diminished as well). The opportunity of your locked bike fell into the thief's desire- benefit wheelhouse and the risk score seemed acceptable.

Pedals and chains: high maintenance, low on the fun/flash scale, high on the necessary equipment. Easily stolen to satisfy a need for another bike .

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Another speculative answer that accounts for the pedals assuming they're nothing special: the thief has stolen a bike with uncommon pedals and wants to make it more saleable (e.g. a cheap hybrid with clipless pedals). It would then have been unlucky that they picked your bike.

The chain is another matter, but given all the silly ways of locking bikes up, they could well have stolen one and broken the chain - or stolen one locked in a vulnerable spot because the owner broke the chain - and it sounds like you've got a vulnerable spot.

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