How to (Not) Abandon a Bicycle

Every year, several bikes are parked on campus and then never reclaimed by their owners. While these bikes are upset, alone, and probably have a lot of issues to work through while locked to a forgotten rack, this this problem is not unique to Virginia Tech, and bikes are abandoned all over the world. Most universities, towns, and apartment complexes have policies for “abandoned bicycle” eyesores that take up valuable space.

photo of abandoned bicycle parked at rack, bent wheel, missing parts
This is a sad, abandoned bicycle. It used to work and have value. photo:kvasov/flickr

Abandoned bikes are a problem. Basically, they take up much needed space at bike racks for months, then they become a target for opportunistic thieves, and then finally, they waste someone’s time – tagging bikes and cutting locks is really time intensive, and the university staff who do this task each year have other responsibilities – and this task takes them away from their jobs. Also, because these bikes have been sitting outside, broken, rusting, and perhaps missing vital parts, they lose a lot of value and are generally are non-functional: they become “bike-shaped objects” and someone else will need to put a lot of time, effort, and money into making them work.

At Virginia Tech, bikes that are suspected of being abandoned are “tagged” with a notice instructing the owner that his/her bicycle is suspected of being abandoned and that he or she needs to remove the tag to indicate that the bike is still cared for and wanted. If the tag is not removed within a reasonable amount of time, then the bike is impounded and stored for several months before going to the VT auction as surplus property. After that – who knows where it goes?

If you or someone you know has lost interest in a bicycle, you have options for getting rid of it while it’s still useful or, at least, almost useful. This is really the responsible choice and more preferable to abandoning it at a rack.

Donate It

While you can always just dump it with the Y or Goodwill, you have two options that ensure your bicycle will get recycled into a useful transportation device in the local area. By donating it to either of these organizations, you know that your bike will find new life for someone who needs it.

Blacksburg Bike Co-op
This grassroots group provides bike parts, tools, and space to for people who want to have a bike, build a bike, or learn how to build and maintain bikes. My first Blacksburg bicycle came from the Co-op and my initial $35 donation and several hours of hard work gave me a functional bike that lasted for several years. I also met people who were able to give me advice, ideas, and a connection to the bicycle community of Blacksburg.

The Bike Kitchen
This is a new project and involves collaboration between the NRVBA, VT, and the town of Christiansburg to get working bicycles, and bike know-how to the 19% of the NRV living below the poverty line. Basically, a bicycle is the cheapest and most efficient way to travel under your own power – a bicycle might help someone without a car get to a job, or could help a teenager learn valuable mechanic skills and get around town to participate in after school activities.

Sell It

Whether by Craigslist, EBay, or CT Classifieds, you have a lot of options. Essentially, your bike is probably worth something to someone. If it can be fixed into rideable condition with minimal effort, or scrubbed of enough rust that it functions, someone will think it’s worth a few bucks. Bicycles depreciate pretty quickly after they are purchased (just like cars, motorcycles, and diamond rings), so don’t expect to get a whole lot of cash, especially if the bike isn’t in like-new condition.

But,wait! I didn’t abandon my bike!

If your bicycle doesn’t look abandoned, then it probably won’t be treated like an abandoned bike, which means it is less likely to be a target for thieves, and it will be worth more to someone else if you ever decide to sell or donate it

Keep it in working order
Bent wheels, flat tires, solid rust, and missing parts make a bike look ugly and abandoned – a target for bike thieves and even casual cheap skate thieves looking for parts fix their own broken bikes. If you park a bike in front of your dorm or apartment for weeks at a time, visit the bike, keep the tires full, and make sure that it’s lubed well enough to avoid rust.

Move it occasionally
Riding a bike is the best way to keep it functional. You break up newly formed rust, redistribute lube, and hopefully you’ll pump up your tires and keep your brakes in working order.

Register It
A registered bicycle is the only bicycle whose owner can be reached by Virginia Tech if the bike is suspectd to be abandoned or if it is recovered after being misplaced or stolen. Registration is free, and you can do it online. You just need to have your bike’s serial number, your Hokie Passport number, and know your own address. Bike regestration is available to all members of the VT community.