What Happens to Chicago's Abandoned Bikes?

I was locking my bike up to one of the city's bike racks near the train the other day.  I've locked my bike to this particular bike rack a number of times and have always noticed an old Red Schwinn that appeared to be abandoned.  This bike has been locked up at the the same location for over two years, and it has always interfered with other bikers (like myself) being able to lock their own bike to the rack. Today was different though, the red Schwinn was missing a lot of parts.  More than I remembered in the past, it was down to the bare frame, no wheels, seat, pedals, nothing.  This time, instead of accepting defeat, I locked my bike on top of the dilapidated frame laying on the ground.  A commuter waiting for the bus notice my actions and struck up a conversation.

"How long do you think that bike's been there?", he asked.  "I've been locking my bike here for over two years and I've seen it ever since then", I responded.  "Wow, I wonder why there's so many bikes like this around the city"...

Abandoned Bike : DNAINFO.COM

Abandoned Bike : DNAINFO.COM

I was equally intrigued.  Just look around Chicago.  As you're commuting across the city or walking home, you'll see more abandoned bikes than you can count.  We proceeded to ask each other about all the abandoned bikes around town, speculating their demise. 

What's their story?  Why has this red Schwinn been locked to the same rack for over two years? Did someone forget about it?  Did someone ride to the train station, hop on the train and just never come back?  If so, why not?  Was this poor bike's owner even alive?  Did they just not want the bike anymore?  Were they drunk?

So I got home and I googled "abandoned bikes".  Coincidentally, this was the first result.  It turns out this stranger and I aren't the only two thinking about these orphan bikes.  I wanted to learn more, so I kept digging.  

Chicago Municipal Code

In accordance with Section 9-52-071 of the Chicago Municipal Code, the city removed 359 abandoned bikes in 2014 according to dnainfo.com.  Section 9-52-071 states:

It shall be unlawful for any person to abandon any bicycle on any public way within the city. A bicycle shall be deemed abandoned if it:

  1. is in such a state of disrepair as to be incapable of being operated in its present condition, or
  2. has not been moved or used in more than seven days and bears physical indicia of having been deserted.

Reporting Abandoned Bikes

Abandoned bikes are eye sores and they limit available bike parking.  Report an abandoned bike here.  The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) will tag bikes that appear to be abandoned.  After seven days of being tagged, if the bikes are not claimed, they will be removed.  Often times, the bikes are claimed

Where Do They Go?

Once an abandoned bike is removed, it's held for at least one month before being donated to Working Bikes, a non-profit organization that repairs bikes and sells them at a low cost.  These funds then cover shipping costs for bikes and bike parts to developing countries.  

The mysterious nature of abandoned bikes is intriguing.  I can only speculate possible stories of abandonment.  But it's nice to know that these bikes are going to a good cause.