Longtime “Robbed in Barcelona” collaborator Summer Fingersmith provides us with a story (*.pdf) written before most of you were born–March 2005–from El Periódico, entitled “I rob a bicycle every day.”
The article highlights that back in the day two out of every five cyclists in Barcelona had had their bicycle stolen at least once. Further, for every 10 bicycles stolen only 1 was returned to its owner.
The newspaper gives its urban readership tips on the best locks to choose, displaying two of three lock types that were considered “easy to break” and a third (the farthest right in the accompanying image) that was more of a challenge for thieves.
The article’s lead reads: “Bicycle thieves in Barcelona boast that no lock is infallible. Bicycles are stored on rooftops in Ciutat Vella and then sold on the street or in illegal markets for between 15 and 700 euros.”
El Periódico interviewed a bicycle thief, and this is what he had to say:
“I steal a bicycle a day. It’s not much–a professional steals five or six. They live on that. How are they stolen? With pliers. It’s the easiest and quickest way.”
The interviewee, identified only by the initial “M,” was somewhere between 17 and 20 years of age when interviewed and of Moroccan nationality.
The article states that M is fully aware that stealing bicycles is a crime, but that this does not scare or stop him. “I am only afraid of my family and God, ” he says. “I do it for money, to survive, like everyone.”
The piece goes on to say that bicycle theft in Barcelona has become more popular in recent years and is a thriving business thanks to how simple it is to steal a bicycle and for the handsome profits it brings. Five minutes’ work for 60 to 120 euros per bicycle. If the bicycle is sold to an intermediary for resale in an illegal city market, then the earnings fetched are somewhat slimmer.
Each thief has his own turf, preferred victim profile and preferred approach.
For M, the best place to acquire bikes is the bar and restaurant terraces in the Barceloneta on weekends. His victims? Groups of inattentive tourists who lock their bicycles with a single spiral chain, sometimes connected only to the wheel. “Nighttime is best, but any time is good.”
The article then describes a particular case, a Friday night in March. The tourists park their bicycles near a terrace without noticing two guys lurking nearby. The victims are distracted, laughing and nursing their first beers of the night. It’s time. The two “partners” (as they refer to each other), two Moroccan adolescents, waste no time. One of them, always the same one, lingers a few meters away from the bicycles. He keeps lookout for the police and an eye on the tourists. The other pulls a tool from a bag and bends to work the lock. In under five minutes it’s broken, and he mounts and cycles away. The tourists haven’t noticed anything. His partner goes in another direction and they meet at one of their apartments. They plan where and when to sell the bicycle and discuss whether to repaint it. “I keep the bicycles on my roof or my neighbors’. At one point I had over 11 up there.”
The Friends of the Bicycle Association reported that bicycle theft had increased 67% in the preceding year, and that robbery is one of the most significant barriers to more people cycling in Barcelona.
Another good place to steal bikes according to the article is the square in front of the MACBA. The illegal markets are to be found at the end of Rambla del Raval, in Plaça George Orwell and by Glòries.
If the bicycle is missing parts, broken or worth little, various parts such as seats and wheels can be sold to mechanics. The most profitable approach, however, is to steal a nice bicycle from a nearby village or town and then bring it to Barcelona where it can reach prices upwards of €700. This particular approach to bicycle theft is carried out by older thieves–in the 40 to 45 age bracket–who steal in towns like Sitges.
If you’ve gotten this far, you might be interested to find out what happens when bicycle robbery goes wrong. See here.