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Stolen Bay Area bikes are big business on Facebook. This guy’s trying to change that

A man cycling in blurred motion
Bryan Hance spent hundreds of hours compiling evidence about a ring of bike thefts in the Bay Area. | Source: Pictore/Getty Images

Bryan Hance may live in Oregon, but he’s one of the Bay Area’s most prolific bike detectives. He’s spent the past four years tracing hundreds of cycles stolen from across San Francisco and Silicon Valley through his work as the co-founder of Bike Index, a nonprofit that lets people register their bikes, making theft recovery easier.

His diligent documentation allowed him to untangle a scheme that systematically funneled pilfered bikes hundreds of miles into Mexico and ultimately sparked an FBI investigation and indictment. 

“This prick in San Jose was basically a fence for every criminal within a 100-mile radius around the Bay Area,” Hance sums up dryly. 

He can rattle off specific victims, like the bartender who mourned his $2,500 fixie or the tech worker who had a $5,000 eBike stolen from his apartment building’s garage (in true SF fashion, that person created a website sharing his experience). 

Wired recently documented Hance’s multi-year saga of tracking down the people responsible for trafficking the stolen bicycles, including the San Jose “prick” and a businessman in Mexico who peddles the products and who he estimates has sold more than $2 million worth of ill-won merchandise (it’s a long read, but well worth the time). 

Hance also published a blog post about the elaborate investigation, where he shames another culprit in the criminal enterprise: Facebook. 

The hundreds of stolen bikes Hance tracked all wound up getting resold on Facebook or Instagram. Since 2020, he and other bike vigilante volunteers have repeatedly reported the problem to Meta via automated forms and conversations with execs. Despite all the evidence—and even a criminal investigation linked to his findings—the company still hasn’t taken down the pages hawking the hot wares, according to Hance. 

A screenshot of an Instagram header for an account called ConstruBikes.
Hance has fought for the ConstruBikes social media account—which he alleges is part of a stolen bike network—to be removed, to little avail. | Source: Screenshot via Bike Index

“They clearly don’t give a damn,” he told The Standard. “I have no more patience or time for corporate double-speak around how ‘We take this seriously.’ They’ve had four years to take it seriously, so at this point, it’s just total complicity.”

Hance exudes palpable frustration as he rails against Facebook’s inactivity and how one employee insisted the company would eventually solve the problem through AI. 

“I was like, ‘I’m giving you actual human intelligence, backed by hundreds of hours of work and photographic proof,’ and you’re telling me you can’t do anything. It’s a joke,” he said. “They created a monster and they literally can’t control it.” 

Meta didn’t respond to The Standard’s request for comment.

Bicycle theft is a major problem in San Francisco, with the police department estimating that several thousand are stolen in the city annually. Bike Index, Hance’s site, includes more than 10,000 reports of pinched bikes within 10 miles of San Francisco, and he says the pandemic was particularly bad for thievery in the Bay Area. 

“I could tell you about bike after bike, crushed victim after crushed victim,” he said. 

How to keep your bike safe

While Hance admits that thieves have upped their arsenal of tools and tricks—they’ll bring portable power tools to cut through locks or use ladders to access bikes on balconies—he offered some suggestions for anyone looking to keep their property as safe as possible. 

First, don’t trust your building’s “secure” bike storage area in the basement, Hance said. He’s seen too many examples of thieves breaking in with angle grinders and managing to sneak away because the storage room’s location underground means no one hears their antics at 3 a.m.  

“Screw your apartment building’s policies. If you love your bike, keep it in your actual apartment,” he said.

Also, don’t post about your sweet rides on social media. 

“If you post a picture of your amazing garage with thousands of dollars worth of bikes in it, it’s pretty trivial to reverse search a name to find an address,” he said. He’s heard of bad actors trawling social media to suss out potential victims.

A man wearing a bike helmet and sunglasses stares into the camera.
Bryan Hance and Seth Herr cofounded Bike Index in 2013. Hance (pictured) has spent the last four years obsessed with Bay Area bike crime. | Source: Bryan Hance

For those who like to track their rides online, he also recommends adjusting Strava so that it doesn’t show the exact location of where each journey begins or ends. 

Still, you should also prepare for the worst-case scenario. Naturally, he advocates for registering your bike on Bike Index and taking pictures of it. 

Another tip? Try to have some sort of unique identifier, whether you’ve affixed a sticker or taken note of the exact location of a scratch or dent. “If you can look at a picture of a stolen bike online and say, ‘I’m 100% sure that’s mine and here’s why,’ that goes a long way,” he said. 

Ultimately, Bike Index claims to have helped people recover nearly 14,200 stolen bikes, valued at more than $25 million. In all his years of working on bike thefts, though, Hance said that his Bay Area investigation has been his most impactful.

“This is definitely the biggest, craziest thing, the longest-running investigation and the most effort that I’ve put into any one particular project ever,” he said.