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Hot Wheels: Don't let yours be a target

On the Road Cover Story

cars.com On the Road Weekly Publication

1:20 PM EST, January 18, 2012

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By Jim Gorzelany

CTW Features

While motorcycle thefts are on the decline – they’re down 24 percent since their highest level in 2007 – 49,791 were reported stolen during 2010 in the U.S. according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau in Des Plaines, Ill. That amounts to one theft about every 9.4 minutes.

Just as it was the most-popular brand among car thieves, Hondas topped the list of most stolen motorcycles in 2010, with 12,260 units taken. Rounding out the top five most-targeted makes were Yamaha at 9,853, Suzuki at 7,869, Kawasaki at 5,470 andHarley-Davidsonat 3,301. Combined, these brands accounted for 77.8 percent of all motorcycle thefts in the U.S. during 2010.

What’s more, the NICB’s data indicates that where a rider lives affects the likelihood of whether their bike will be a target. Not surprisingly, warm-weather states – in which motorcycles tend to be mobile on a year-round basis – top the list. The state reporting the most motorcycle thefts was California (5,662), followed by Texas at 4,394, Florida at 4,148, North Carolina at 2,649 and Indiana at 1,925.

Following that logic, the NICB found that the greatest number of motorcycle thefts occurred during the summer months, specifically July (5,714), August (5,380) and June (5,217). The fewest thefts were recorded during February (2,403), December (2,763) and January (2,961) when bikes tend to see limited use in many parts of the country.

Stolen motorcycles are typically sold as is to unscrupulous or unsuspecting buyers, with the costliest and flashiest rides often headed to other countries where they’re in demand as luxury items. As is the case with cars, many popular models are quickly stripped down at “chop shops” with the disassembled parts headed for resale. According to the NICB, the high profit potential for stolen parts and the fact that criminals can easily alter, reuse and camouflage motorcycle parts and frames makes recovering many common bikes in pristine condition a rarity. NICB data indicates that only about 30 percent of all stolen motorcycles are eventually recovered and returned to their owners, compared to 57 percent of pilfered automobiles.

So how do you prevent your ride from being stolen? The first – and most obvious step – is to lock the ignition and take the key when parked. According to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation most thefts occur when the ignition is shut off, but not locked. Always park in a well-lit or secured area and never store the title in the motorcycle’s storage compartment. The MSF further advises riders should uniquely mark and then photograph their bikes; if stolen, law enforcement officers can use the snapshots to help trace a motorcycle back to its owner.

The NICB suggests bikers make their rides less appealing to thieves in the first place, especially since the most accomplished crooks can make off with even a locked ride in 30 seconds or less. The key here is to add multiple layers of protection. Use security devices like disc locks, cable locks, or U-locks and be sure to secure the motorcycle to an immobile object (such as a light pole) so it can’t simply be lifted and loaded onto a truck. If traveling with other riders, lock motorcycles together when not in use.

Even better, have an audible alarm installed or other anti-theft device that automatically kills the ignition or starter so it can’t be driven away. Owners of the most expensive models should also consider having a Lojack-type recovery system installed to help increase the chances of getting the bike back if it’s driven away.