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Ballpoint pens used to easily steal bikes

Steven Soloway/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Computer science freshman Frankie Castro locks his bike with a U-lock. Bike thieves on campus have been picking U-locks with nothing but a Bic pen.
By Zach Colick
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
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Popular U-Lock can be opened with Bic pens

Cunning bicycle thieves who already have an effortless time stealing bicycles have found a new way to snatch their next prized two-wheeler with a ballpoint pen in less than 10 seconds.

The New York Times reported last week that ballpoint pens can be used to open Kryptonite U-locks by putting the hollowed pen into the keyhole and turning it like a key. The pen-pick can be carried out in a matter of seconds, the New York Times reported.

"The products have worked like they've always worked," said Donna Tocci, public relations officer for Kryptonite. "It's disappointing to know that this can occur. There's always someone bound to beat the system."

Tocci said that Kryptonite will provide free product upgrades for customers who have purchased certain locks since September 2002, in response to consumer concerns.

Consumers can visit the company's Web site,, to learn how to participate in the security upgrade program.

"We're trying to ease our customers' concerns," Tocci said.

Steve Arnold, a pre-business sophomore, said Web sites and blogs that show how to unbolt a Kryptonite lock with a ballpoint pen aren't a good idea. He said tips coming into the hands of thieves might be costly to others.

"I don't think it's right to spread information like that. You have that information; you might as well keep it to yourself," Arnold said. "As far as bike thieves are concerned, it's pretty easy for them. You buy a 99-cent pen and there's a $200 bike just sitting there. Who's going to go out and buy a bike?"

Michael Slugocki, an undeclared freshman, said word will spread if one person finds out.

"I think it's really dumb to tell people how to steal a bike," he said. "They should maybe tell their friends and Kryptonite especially about the flaw, but not millions of people through use of the Internet."

Some students said it might have been fellow bicyclists who figured this out, not the thieves, who are trying to spread the word.

Jesse Tadlock, a pre-business and mathematics freshman, thinks it might have been bike owners who figured out the Bic pen trick by losing their keys to the lock and using whatever means necessary to open it.

Tadlock said thieves who like to be as inconspicuous as possible wouldn't want to try the pen trick because they would stand out in a crowd and increase their chances of getting caught red-handed.

"If you can't steal it quickly then you're not going to bother," he said. "There's not going to be a thief sitting around for a few minutes trying to jam things into a lock."

Patrick Whiteford, a geography junior, said thieves who figured this out were desperate, but also innovative.

"Obviously they're really creative, but I think they have too much time on their hands," Whiteford said. "You know, who thought of the idea of putting their credit card through a door to open a door? Here's a pen, let's use that.'"

Whiteford said while bike theft is inevitable, the best bet is to be prepared for it by getting a U-lock and a seat that doesn't come off easily, and to lock bikes through their front tire to their base.

"If it's gonna happen, it's gonna happen. You can't plan for everything," Whiteford said.

While bike aficionados believe the Kryptonite U-lock is the best safety deterrent, Whiteford said a U-lock with a combination rather than a key is the better option.

"I have one of the U-locks with the combinations and I think one of those is the best because you either know the code or you don't," he said. "There really isn't any other way that you're going to cut through it."

"You look in the Police Beat and there's two to three (incidents) every day. Even if you have the world's best lock you're still susceptible to it being stolen," Arnold said.

Tadlock, who's had his bike for years, said if his bike, gets stolen it's not a big deal.

"(Having a lock) is more of a preventative measure for a grab-and-run kind of thing, because if you don't lock your bike someone can just pick it up and go," he said.

University of Arizona Police Department spokesman Eugene Mejia said UAPD relies on students and faculty who see suspicious

people hanging around bike racks to call UAPD in order to catch bike bandits in the act. Otherwise most crimes go undetected, he said.

"It's disappointing to know that this kind of behavior can occur," Mejia said. "Our mission is to advise the community that we serve, to report suspicious activity to combat this kind of behavior."

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