Bike thefts in La Crosse up 250 percent in last three years

Biking is a way of life for many people living around La Crosse.

“That’s my commute downtown, hop on the bike and go,” biker Allen Kantowski said.

But with bike riding so popular, it might not surprise people to know that bike theft is also becoming increasingly more popular.

Over the past three years, the number of bikes reported stolen to the La Crosse Police Department has risen significantly, increasing by more than 250 percent from 182 in 2013 to 457 in 2015.

That’s exactly the reason Kantowski was at Smith’s Bicycle & Fitness Thursday buying a new bike lock.

“I really just don’t want to risk that loss,” Kantowski said.

Smith’s sales manager Kylie Mannion said one of the most common questions asked at her store lately is, “Have you seen my stolen bike?”

That’s why she said if you don’t want your bike stolen, you should make sure you have the right lock.

“The best thing you can do is to buy a U-lock as opposed to a cable lock,” Mannion said.

She said U-locks are the most difficult kind of lock to cut through. A cable lock can easily be cut with bolt cutters.

Mannion said riders should be locking the frame of their bike with the U-lock to an immovable object such as a bike rack. For extra safety, get a cable to connect your wheels to the U-lock.

“It’s an unfortunate reality that bike theft has gone up, but it is the reality,” Mannion said.

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse police are seeing a high volume of bike theft as well. It created a bait bike program in response. The bait bike sits locked in a campus bike rack. It has a GPS system built into it, and if it’s moved, officers can track it to within a few feet.

“Unfortunately, we still continue to have bike thefts, but hopefully, the thieves will think twice about coming to UWL,” Chief Scott McCullough said.

McCullough said he also recommends the U-lock. Mannion said it’s worth the price.

“A U-lock is more expensive than a cable lock, but it’s a lot less expensive than replacing your bike,” Mannion said.

The La Crosse and UWL police departments also recommend a person registers their bike. They can do so simply by giving police the serial number and description of your bike online. That way if it is ever stolen, no matter where it’s found, it will be returned.