John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
New Yorkers are surprisingly honest when it comes to dismantling an unattended bicycle, as this neat time-lapse video shows
The below time-lapse video was created by branding agency Red Peak as a guerrilla promo for Hudson Urban Bicycles, although BIC Pens might deserve brand shoutout, as well. The company parked a bike outside its office in SoHo and took a photograph of it on each day of 2011. The idea was to monitor the way New Yorkers butcher street bikes like crazed ants taking apart a deceased beetle. However, the surprising honesty of passersby makes much of the footage an exercise in suspense. Check out that Advil package that gets stuck in the wheel for 50 days. Riveting!
No doubt a good deal of people's "honesty" has to do with the pair of serious locks fixing the bike to the rack, a heavy Kryptonite chain near the back and a U-lock (known in the U.K., oddly enough, as a D-lock) through the front wheel. A ne'er-do-well finally gives it some attention around day 160 by snagging the water bottle, which at this late stage probably has its own aquatic ecosystem. Here's hoping the thief likes the taste of amoebas.
The U-lock and basket are the next things to go, followed by the seat, spoke screens and back rack, front wheel and by day 270 the naked frame itself. The video ends after somebody snatches Red Peak's camera (not really).
The laziness of SoHo's harvesters shouldn't suggest that New York sidewalks are a great place to leave an unattended bike. Although the precise number of thefts in the city is hard to nail down, due to underreporting and police recordkeeping practices, this writer/theft victim estimates it is on the order of 100,000 bikes per year.