A 1994 study of bicycle theft on college campuses in the US found that a four-year college student has a 53% chance of having his or her bike stolen. The study was conducted by Integrated Cycle Systems, a manufacturer of bike locks and lock enhancements.
The study found that most bicycle thefts go unreported, which is confirmed by government statistics. "National estimates state that only one-third of stolen bikes are reported, so the actual figures are possibly three times higher than what is reported here."
This is unfortunate, as there is a significant chance of having your bike returned if you report the theft to the police, and especially if you register your bike. Some 20% of bikes are recovered by the police, but of these only 48% are returned to their owners.
According to the study, bike theft increased by 59.6% from 1989 to 1993. In the 92-93 school year, 11 bikes out of 100 on campuses were stolen. The survey summary notes:
"Given the increasing incidence of theft, a four year student cyclist has a 17.75% chance of losing their bicycle. By taking the possible unreported thefts into account, a four year student bicyclist faces a 53% (1 in 2) chance of losing their bike to theft."
"It is apparent that all regions and all size campuses are subject to cable & chain cutting as well as unsecured opportunity thefts. Also, U-lock failure is growing in every region. Pipe bending of the locking mechanism and the use of pipes and car jacks to snap the shackle of the U-lock have been reported."
Most university campuses have registration programs, so that if your bike is recovered it will be returned to you. They are easy and free.
If you must leave your bike on campus overnight, many schools have a locked bicycle compound. At MIT, you can buy a card key from Campus Police for $5 to use lockers underneath one of the buildings.
You can virtually eliminate the risk of having your bike stolen by keeping it properly locked at all times, even in your dorm or when popping into the library. On one campus, only 2% of the bikes stolen were locked with a U lock -- and many U locks are of inferior quality.
Read about what makes a safe lock, and learn to use your lock securely.