Survey: Stolen Bicycles Sales at the Laney College Flea Market

laney college flea market bicycles

When my mountain bike was stolen last July, it was recovered at Laney College’s weekend flea market. This was when I first learned that if you’re looking for a stolen bicycle, chances are it might pop up for sale among their vendors. It also spurred me to try and tackle this problem in the Bay Area, and now over a year later, I’ve acquired more knowledge about bike theft — and some supportive allies — during this time.

Officer Matt Friedman of SFPD (who runs @SFPDBikeTheft) has been doing a tremendous amount of work in combatting the problem of bike theft in San Francisco. But he’s also been proactive with helping our community on this side of the bay as well. Earlier this week, he organized a meeting with representatives from Laney College, managers of the flea market, Alameda County law enforcement and the East Bay Bicycle Coalition to address this subject (unfortunately, I was out of town and couldn’t attend.) But my colleague and fellow EBBC board member, Glenda Barnhart of Bay Area Bikes, took excellent notes. Here’s an excerpt from her write-up:

Currently, Alemany Flea Market in SF has completed stopped the sale of bikes, however Laney appears to be reluctant to go this far. It appears that they are most concerned with having to police the 1-2 bikes that may be included in a load of household/garage goods. (My note: They don’t want to discourage the infrequent/one-time seller who’s having a “garage sale” and happens to have some old bicycles included in the mix.)

Laney’s manager has implemented some strategies already, such as not allowing into the market what appears to be $1000-and-above bikes, checking for the required sellers’ permits, and involving the officer on duty when the situation calls for this. These strategies may be difficult to enforce and have questionable effectiveness, since valuation can be arbitrary, sub-$1000 bikes are stolen every day and some bike shops are known to deal with stolen bikes and bike parts.

It was agreed that having policy-based enforcement would be more effective and easier to manage than targeting and enforcing what appears to be illegitimate sellers. Any new regulations or restrictions should be concrete and applied universally so that there is no opportunity for profiling or bias.

Ideas that were presented include:

–Completely stopping the sale of all bikes at the flea market
–Isolating all bike sales at the market into one location, rather than throughout the market
–Creating a list of vetted legitimate bike shops that will buy and sell used bikes
–Patrolling and enforcing the perimeter of the market to prevent the sales from moving just outside the market
–Active policing by PD inside the market, with guidance provided by the policy
–Undercover and bait bike operations by law enforcement
–Continuing to educate the bike community re: prevention

Glenda and I had a follow-up meeting with Oakland PD Officer Jennifer Sena, who has been regularly patrolling the flea market as of January of this year. She’s helped to crack down on illicit sales of DVDs and electronics during her bi-monthly visits, and she’d like to be directly involved with our efforts to prevent thieves from using the flea market as a steady distribution point.

One statistic of note that Ofc. Sena relayed to us was that only one bike theft has been reported stolen (and recovered) from the Laney College flea market in the past 11 months. We replied that most people, once they’ve recovered their bicycles, probably don’t follow up with the police to add this information to their report. So in the interest of getting some informal data to help with our efforts to brainstorm solutions, we’d love to get your responses to the following survey:

  1. When you had a bicycle stolen, did you file a police report?
  2. Did you try looking for it at the Laney College flea market?
  3. Were you successful?
  4. Did you follow up with the police afterwards if you were able to recover a bicycle?
  5. Do you have any suggestions for improvements in regards to bicycle sales at the flea market?

Please leave your answers and feedback in the comments section below, and share this post as we’d love to get as much information as possible. Thank you!

  • ulrikada

    What if a datbase was posted publicly and vendors had to enter the frame number of any bike at the flea? Random testing could keep vendors honest (no fake numbers) and if the bike was stolen but bought in good faith, owners looking for it would at least have a chance to recover it.

    • That is something we’re already discussing, thanks for your feedback!

    • nualasawyer

      Exactly what I was going to say. If there was someone checking serial numbers at the beginning of each day at the flea markets that would be amazing. The next step would be to make sure that people REALLY knew what to do when their bikes got stolen – ie immediately file it with the police complete with serial numbers.

  • Wilson

    Never been to the Laney flea market so cant give specific feedback. Through the notes, seems like the lack of follow-up between owner of stolen bike/recovered bike and police is the bottleneck for feedback and further prevention/policy. Don’t like the idea of police getting involved, it should be case by case scenario. It’s convenient as it is right now that when a bicycle gets stolen, the answer is, “go to the Laney flea market to find your bike.” There is an obvious buyer group at Laney.

    • Thanks for your feedback, Wilson! Oakland PD has already been involved for the past year, and it seems they’ve been very effective in stopping other black market activities. I think if they can help oversee vendors at Laney and make sure that the flea market is accountable for its activity — it’s another useful tool in the toolkit.

  • Dan Pannell

    curious if there was ever a study done to see if there was any drop in reported bike theft after they shut down sales at the SF flea market? My first thought is that if bike sales were not allowed at Laney, the bikes would simply end up at another nearby flea market.

    • I haven’t heard of any, but I’ll make some inquiries. Thanks!

  • 4ras

    There’s this story from 2010 re: the folks doing onsite checks of vendors selling bikes at various flea markets. Show up with laptop, check bike serials. Worth a read:

  • disqus_Tn2hYqGjDb

    I like the idea of concentrating bike sales in one part of the market. That seems like it would be beneficial to legitimate buyers and sellers, while a deterrent to vendors of stolen bicycles. The idea of banning bicycle sales completely seems that it would hurt legitimate participants more than the thieves. I would also think that having a central marketplace makes discovery of stolen bicycles and recover operations safer and simpler, rather than having to create sting operations all over the bay area.

  • Dave

    1. 2 bikes were stole on very separate occasions. I filed police reports for each (Cal PD and Berkeley PD)

    2. In each case I did not check Laney. I checked Ashby and Craigslist.

    3. No luck.

    4. N/A

    5. Require bikes being sold to be photographed and posted online. Later, victims can ID their bikes and start to flag sellers. Too many flags and you can’t sell any more. No arrest, as the evidence is totally circumstantial, but less theft hopefully.

  • Ellie

    My bike was stolen from SF, and I recovered it at the flea market in Oakland. I did call in to update the police report with that information.

    I like the idea of putting all bikes for sale in one place. Then at least if you’re looking you only have to go to one spot to find your bike that was stolen.

    • Thanks for your input – it’s greatly appreciated! (And I’m glad you got your bike back.)

  • 1. To SFPD. 2. No. 3. N/A 4. Sadly never recovered. 5. Don’t know enough about Laney, so will defer to those more familiar.

  • hyllas

    1. 1 bike stolen in 2012 in SF and we did file a police report (SFPD) immediately. The bike was also registered with SFPD.

    2. Did not check Laney; didn’t know it was a good place to look at the time
    3. The bike was never recovered.
    4. N/A
    5. Concentrating bicycle sales is a good idea, as is patrolling to make sure shady sellers don’t move just outside the market. Checking the serial numbers of all bikes for sale at the time they appear at the flea market, to make sure that they’re being sold by their registered owner or at least aren’t stolen would be ENORMOUSLY helpful. My husband might have actually gotten his bike back if all bikes for sale were checked against stolen/registered bike records.

  • David Polka

    1. Bike stolen in N. Oakland several months ago, recovered the next day in my neighborhood (sheer luck). No report.
    2. No, but had my rear wheel stolen by a group of fixie kids from Richmond at Laney Flea 2 months before the above incident, was locked up right by the entrance on E 8th.
    3. N/A
    4. N/A
    5. Moving sales to a single area would be somewhat helpful, but limiting sales to approved/vetted sellers would be the most effective – it’s very obvious more expensive stolen bikes are parted out by sellers at the flea market, to limit their risk and maximize profit, and that most of them are dealing in shady goods in the first place. Also dummy bikes and increased police presence in the area would likely cut down on theft right outside the flea market, as I have heard my experience is not uncommon there…

  • Thanks for your comments – they’re much appreciated!

  • Erica_JS

    1) yes, filed a report with Berkeley police 2) looked at Ashby and Craigslist but not Laney 3) no 4) no

    My suggestions are 1) limit the number of bikes any one person can sell (that should cover the garage sale type sellers) 2) In addition to checking the serial number before bikes can be sold, it would be great to have someplace people could register the serial number of a bike they just bought with Bike Shepherd or another free registry on the spot. Get this idea of bikes being trackable into people’s minds.

  • Joe

    1) Yes, the day my bikes where stolen.
    2) Yes, the following Sunday.
    3) Yes, I found one of the three bikes I had stolen.
    4) I was able to recover my bike but I did not follow up with the police. The flea market manager said he would call the police and file a report using my report # but I don’t know if that happened or not.
    5) Ban the sales of bikes, only practical idea I can think of.

    Thanks for all your work in combating bike theft!

    • You’re welcome – and glad you were able to recover 1 bike. Thanks for the info!

  • Kevin

    No ( but it was a week later )
    If there was a way to keep track of the bikes that are sold in the market it would be very helpful.

    • Thanks, Kevin – and I agree that documentation for what’s sold would be very useful.

  • michael

    1. Yes, I filed a police report
    2. Yes, I tried looking for it at Laney College and the Oakland Coliseum markets
    3. I was not successful (only went the weekend immediately after theft). I was dejected to see so many clearly stolen bikes at the market. There were many with serial numbers scratched out, several high end carbon fiber bikes being sold for $500-600. There were 2 vendors that were in both locations (Laney & Oakland )
    4. N/A, but I did meet someone at the market who walked be around to each bike location and told me a story of recovering his bike at the Oakland market
    5. I like the idea of not allowing bikes over $1000 to be sold; group anyone selling more than 2 bikes to one location in the markets;

  • ak

    1) No.
    2) No. I no longer had a bike to get there.
    3) N/A.
    4) N/A.
    5) Try to ban used bicycle sellers from ALL flea markets because if they can’t sell at Laney, then they’ll just move to another flea market.

  • Shannon Tracey

    1. Yes. 2. No. 3. N/A. 4. N/A. 5. Require all bikes sold to be checked against and also police reports – like what ulrikada suggests below. I had a road bike stolen in 2011 and its replacement was then stolen in 2012 (both home burglaries) and I filed police reports, listed on, but was also told that high-value East Bay bikes head to Davis, CA or at least SF so I never checked Laney. I also like the comment about keeping bikes out of all flea markets – definitely don’t want to push stolen bikes further from home and make them even harder to recover!

    • Thanks, Shannon – this info will be useful! Also, stolen bikes make their way all over the Bay Area, unfortunately.

  • The Kracken

    The Ashby bart flea market is also a common place for east bay bikes to be sold- my friend had a bike stolen from the Temescal area and found it at Ashby the same day- since he didn’t have anything to prove the bike was his he had to buy it back from the seller.

    • Thanks for the info! The times I’ve been to Ashby I’d never seen bikes for sale, but I had heard of others seeing them there – so thanks for sharing your input.

  • Me

    1. No.
    2. No. But looked at Ashby as it was easier to check.
    3. No
    4. No
    5. Needs to be a comprehensive sweep across East Bay swap meets, as I’ve seen clearly hot bikes at Coliseum and Ashby as well. Bait bikes with transmitters?

    • Thanks for your comments; bait bikes are in use in SF and may be used in the East Bay in the future, too.

  • cuore

    bike stolen. very distinctive markings/design. Went to the Ashby Flea Market to look for it for a few weeks. FOUND MY BIKE!!! Told the security there, they had me wait in a certain area , they were “calling the police” and to wait for the police to arrive. When no one came I went back to where my bike was AND THE VENDOR HAD COMPLETELY PACKED AND LEFT. I am sure the security was in kahoots with the sellers and told them to pack up quick. Never saw my bike again…..

    • Yikes, that’s terrible! As I’m hearing more about Ashby, we’ll definitely have to put that back on our radar. When did this happen?

  • Ingrid

    My bike was stolen just over a year ago and I tried filing an on-line police report with the OPD. Filled out the entire form, there was no place to enter a serial number. About a week later I got an email that said to fill it out again and include serial number. (didn’t say where) I did it again and put it in the comments. 3 weeks later got an email that my report could not be processed. Gave up.

    • Thanks for the info, Ingrid – I’ll be sure to follow up with OPD about this and see if this is still an issue!

  • Heather

    Just had my bike stolen today outside the Exploratorium in SF…hot pink road bike, custom made. 🙁 Am fairly devastated. Seems I should comb these flea markets? Are they everyday, just weekends??? Any advice would be welcome.

    • Hi Heather, I’m so sorry you had your bike stolen! Check the flea markets but also go to my Facebook page ( and you’ll see the URL for the Google group I manage. You can post there and check the intro page for tips. Good luck!

  • mccormac98

    Had my Trek mountain bike stolen out of Lafayette BART station on Monday. I scoured Craigslist and Ebay for the entire west coast all week. I read online about how Laney is a good bet. Went there yesterday and found my bike in under 10 minutes. Told two Oakland police officers who were walking the grounds. The police recovered it for me. They were great. The bike was next to a vendor stall. The vendor said that the bike belonged to “someone else” who wasn’t there. The vendor was kicked out of the flea market and a bunch of bike wheels and parts were recovered by the police. I saw a lot of bikes throughout the flea market and couldn’t help but think that most were stolen.

    I read somewhere that you should hit this flea market in the first couple of weeks after your bike was stolen. Great advice!

    • So glad you found your bike! They’re supposed to be cracking down on bike sales at the flea market — but I guess they’ve been slacking. Glad OPD was there to help!

  • From what I’ve read it’s a good idea to check out the Laney flea market. Does anyone know what time most of the vendors show up? My bike was stolen and since it was a pretty expensive bike, I figure I should get there before 8 or it might be sold…but I also don’t want to show up too early.

    • I’d go early; it seems like most vendors have what they’re selling at the start.

  • Chelsea Hodge

    1) Yes When you had a bicycle stolen, did you file a police report?
    2) Yes Did you try looking for it at the Laney College flea market?
    3) No Were you successful?
    4) N/a Did you follow up with the police afterwards if you were able to recover a bicycle?
    5) Require vendors to show proof of ownership for bikes in order to sell them and/or require police to run seriel #s and descriptions of all bikes on and

  • Mary-Ann

    Last year my house was robbed during our family vacation they took both strollers value was$ 3,500 a bugaboo and orbit 2 santa cruz bikes and a cannondale also our small electronics and they even took our tv with all of the wires and the wall mount we filled a police report we one day stopped at the laney flea market and found BOTH STROLLERS, TV AND 1 BIKE we asked the seller prices and my husband called the police while i kept trying to bargain once they showed up turned out HIS WIFE WAS OUR NANNY and she planned the whole thing …


    I have had two bicycles stolen from me in the ten years I have lived in Oakland
    1. When you had a bicycle stolen, did you file a police report?
    A. In 2010 I was riding my bicycle down Shattuck in March around 11 pm. At 58th st Two men ran out into the street and pushed me off my bike, and one of them started to run the other rode off with it. I caught up with them and an altercation occurred and I got beat up pretty badly. Neighbors called the police and before I went to the hospital the police took a description of my bicycle
    B. Bicycle was stolen out of my yard, it was locked to a small tree, and the tree was cut down to take my bike, I didn’t report it stolen but I had photos of it
    2. Did you try looking for it at the Laney College flea market A.Yes B. Yes
    3. Were you successful?
    A yes
    B yes
    4. Did you follow up with the police afterwards if you were able to recover a bicycle?
    A. yes, I confronted the vendor and they wouldn’t give me my bicycle back so My friends had the police come over and after that the vendor cooperated
    B. no, I saw my bicycle and confronted the vendor. I showed them photos of the bike and he still wouldn’t give me my bike ( it’s a 1964 English bike with all original parts except the handle bars so it’s very unique) when he didn’t cooperate I stood there telling everyone who walked by that the vendor sold stolen bikes, which wasn’t good for business. After about 20 minutes he sold me back my bike for 30 dollars
    5. Do you have any suggestions for improvements in regards to bicycle sales at the flea market?
    A no
    B no

  • Berkeley Native

    I’ve had a few bikes stolen in Berkeley and in Emeryville in the last ten years. Once at University and Fifth Streets in Berkeley, I parked it, turned around and walked about five paces away from it to talk to my friend and within three minutes it was gone. I called the BPD and immediately a patrol car showed up, took the vital info, and sped off to search. He didn’t find it. Hats off to BPD for their quick response, though. Another time I parked around Fairview and California Streets in Berkeley in front of my friend’s house and went inside. I didn’t lock it because it was so very, very piled up with laundry, I didn’t think anyone would even try. When I came back out just a few minutes later to find it gone, I started searching the area myself and asking people on the street. One guy tried to steer me in the wrong direction. What a jerk! So I soon saw two guys in a back yard going through my clothes. I went straight back there and took my bike and laundry right out of their theiving hands. I probably should’ve called the police but didn’t have a phone at the time. I’ve had some decent aluminum bikes with front suspension and some crummy old piles of cro-moly; thieves will steal anything. Note to all: if you start looking for your bike within maybe 10 to 15 minutes of its being gone, there’s a good chance you might find it. Theives are generally lazy, careless, and assume they’re getting away with it. I’ve never checked the flea markets.