Journalism sophomore Cameron Aikman was leaving to buy groceries for his new apartment when he noticed something different: the balcony where he’d left his bike was empty.
“I actually made my roommates stop in the middle of the road and I jumped onto our balcony from the sidewalk and checked to make sure it wasn’t there,” Aikman said. “It wasn’t there.”
According to The University of Texas Police Department, theft is the most common crime on college campuses, with bicycle thefts in a category of their own on UTPD’s daily crime log.
Since August 18, the first widely available on-campus move-in date, officers have recorded 34 bicycle theft incidents as of publication.
For Aikman, his bike was stolen during “the one day the lock wasn’t on correctly,” a common story among students. UT Austin’s department of Parking and Transportation Services reported that almost 90% of bicycles stolen on campus either don’t use a U-lock — a locking mechanism with a thick metal ring that attaches to a crossbar — or are improperly locked.
“Always secure your bike with a two lock system. We recommend using an independently locking cable lock, as well as a U-lock,” a UTPD spokesperson said. “Remember to secure the bike frame and front wheel to a bicycle rack with the U-lock, and thread the cable lock through your rear wheel and other accessories.”
This fall, however, stolen bikes are not limited to just those sitting outside unlocked and unsupervised.
International Relations and Global Studies junior Madelyn Doyle never doubted that her bicycle was secure in her West Campus home’s garage until someone broke in three weeks ago and took it from the property.
“One morning, I walked in to grab my bike to go to school, and it was just gone,” Doyle said.
Since moving into the house last year, Doyle has always felt safe, but she said this is not the first time she’s heard of bicycle thefts nearby.
“I’ve had four friends get their bikes stolen since I was a freshman,” Doyle said. “My one friend just got her bike stolen last week. She had it outside locked up, and they just disassembled her bike and took it.”
UTPD map data of reported thefts reveals that West Campus and Dobie Twenty21 have been hotspots this semester. On some bicycle racks in these areas, discarded bicycle parts like wheels, tires and frames from disassembled and stolen bicycles can still be seen.
One of these racks is at the 26 West apartment complex in West Campus, where government sophomore Nicholas Moore said his locked bike was among multiple bicycles stolen from inside the complex’s gates.
“(My bike) got stolen from the bike rack along with a couple other bikes, but they left my front tire,” Moore said “You can see remnants.”
Moore said he contacted university police the next day and remained hopeful that the AirTag tracker attached to his bicycle would help them find it quickly.
“It showed me a location like two miles from where it was stolen,” Moore said. “UTPD determined that (the AirTag) had just been thrown away in a dumpster. So I assume that whoever is stealing these bikes are professionals. They know what they’re doing.”
According to a UTPD spokesperson, the bicycles that they can track most easily are those registered at the university — a key piece of information for the over 9,000 new undergraduates enrolled at UT this semester.
“Remember to register your bike with Parking and Transportation Services,” the UTPD spokesperson said. “Registering your bike is free, and bikes registered with PTS are more likely to be recovered if stolen.”
Still, another barrier to recovering stolen bicycles for some students is making the initial police report.
Aikman said he called UTPD right away and they requested that he make a report in person at the station. Unable to easily get there, he said he instead tried UTPD’s online reporting system.
“After 10 minutes of going back and forth with this (UTPD) robot, it said, ‘Sorry, we can’t do this online. You have to call us later,’” Aikman said.
Aikman said he wants to see “some easier way of reporting” put in place going forward with fewer steps before police take action.
“I could have gone to the station but as a college kid, I don’t have a car; I lost my bike,” he said. “There was no super accessible way to do it.”
Doyle said she hopes to see solutions that make her area directly safer.
“If there was one thing I think would be really helpful, it would be more lights,” Doyle said. “Where I live can tend to be a little bit of a dark area at night, just because we don’t live by apartment buildings.”
As students learn proper bike security, Moore said he believes the number of thefts will decrease in the coming months.
“I don’t think there’s anything exactly that could stop this besides the individual taking the precautions to double lock their bike,” Moore said. “If we as individuals can just realize the threat that’s in place, and just lock up our bikes, put them in safe places, then I think the problem will diminish.”