Motorcycle Troubles – Arson, Vandalism and Theft

ninja burned

“Dear PoPville,

Two weeks ago around 3am Sunday morning somebody torched my Kawasaki Ninja 500 motorcycle, parked over by the old Italian embassy at 16th and Fuller. It was a 20+ year old beater I’d been repairing, covered with a tarp, so maybe someone was ticked off that they took a risk uncovering it only to find I had the tank, seat, and carb off that week.

Cops came out, CSI took some pics; they were pretty impressed because you don’t see a lot of motorcycle arson in DC, more just theft. The officer admitted there wasn’t really anything to be done about it, but gave me the case number for insurance. I had Comprehensive through Geico with a $500 deductible because most companies don’t want to ensure motorbikes in DC. Go figure.

Even with the deductible I still came out for around what I paid for it, the only problem is I still want to have a motorcycle, but not really inclined to just park it on the street again. In 18 months in DC I’ve had a Honda 250 Nighthawk stolen, the Ninja was knocked over twice while parked on the curb (not sure if vandals or just careless parkers) breaking off a lever here and a mirror there. And just a month before the arson someone stole the $30 cover off my motorcycle (for kicks? for $5 of crack?) so my current one was bike-cabled to the frame.

Anyone have a better idea of how to secure a motorbike in Columbia Heights? Is there any parking garage that rents space out that has a small section for bikes? Any way to find out who’s got spare garage space? Or should I just get the cheapest dual sport (street-legal dirtbike) I can and just chain it to a post or railing on the sidewalk or alley like the Vespas and mopeds do? It’s just frustrating that short of paying sky-high rent to move into a new yuppie fortress with underground parking, having a bike in DC requires a willingness to just shrug off vandalism and theft. Bikeshare still rocks though.”

27 Comment

  • Sickos.

  • I admire your persistence. American cities tend to be hostile to motorcycles and scooters. You’d think they’d encourage them. In Paris people park them on sidewalks.

    I was able to park mine in back of my apartment buildings when I rode in DC. Otherwise, you might try to team up with other riders in the neighborhood and park together. Safety in numbers. I see Garcia still has his shop on Park Rd:

    The only honest motorcycle mechanic I’ve known in over 30 years of riding. He might be of help.

    • brookland_rez

      I’ve ridden bicycles, scooters, and several motorcycles. The bicycle got no respect and people were downright hostile to me at times. Then I got a scooter. Still no respect.

      My first real motorcycle was a Ducati Monster. Chicks loved it but that was about it.

      I’m on my third Ninja ZX10r, and of all the two wheel machines I’ve had, I’ve gotten the most respect on the ZX10’s. Especially in NE. Everytime I ride past groups of kids, they all motion for me to do wheelies. I’ve even had grown adults in cars/suv’s at lights try to get me to wheelie. People wave me through 4 way stops all the time if there’s any question of who has the right of way.

      So in my experience of 60,000+ miles riding in this city, a fast bike like a ZX10r with a loud exhaust gets the most respect. Of course the most fun on a bike like a ZX10r is at a track or on mountain twisty roads, which I engage in regularly, but that’s another story.

  • You could try DCUSA
    Sorry – this sucks

    • That’s what I was thinking.

      • DCUSA completely prohibits motorcycles from the garage. Last time I tried to ride down there I was screamed at by two parking lot employees. Neither one was able to tell me why, but motorcycles are definitely not allowed in there.

        • brookland_rez

          I park mine on the sidewalk by the bicycle rack at the entrance to the garage and have never had an issue. I always see other bikes parked there as well.

          • brookland_rez

            After reading the other comments I realize andy2 was talking about renting space. I just park where I do if I need to get something at Target.

  • Absurd! My scoot cover was stolen literally the first night I was in Columbia Heights. Not sure why – it had holes in it and was worth all of $5 too. I think everyone in DC with some sort of bike has resigned themselves to the (overpriced) comprehensive coverage offered by Geico.
    My suggestion – put a note out on the neighborhood listserv and see if anyone might have some free garage space in the area, or put out a request on Craigslist.

  • Why would someone lite your bike on fire?!

    In all my years of riding I’ve never seen anything like that… Bikes usually catch on fire because of repair issues. It was stated that it was a “beater”.

    If the bike was lit on fire by a person, chances are that you made some kind of personal enemy that wanted revenge, rather than just someone randomly picking your bike and then lighting it on fire.

    Anyway, when I had a bike, I built a deck ram up to my house so that I could park the bike inside of my house. That seemed like the only real method of security in the city for something that mobile at the time. With a bike, keeping it out of sight is key in keeping it from getting stolen. Keep it in a back alley or off the street when it’s not being used, and that’s the main thing that will keep it yours.

    • “If the bike was lit on fire by a person, chances are that you made some kind of personal enemy that wanted revenge, rather than just someone randomly picking your bike and then lighting it on fire.”
      Or maybe it was some thug that had nothing better to do with his life…

    • brookland_rez

      I agree. I have a shed for mine. Everyone I know that’s had a bike stolen parked it on the street.

  • That’s messed up. I’ve had so many issues with vandalism and attempted theft with my Stella scooter. Fortunately, it’s a total beater otherwise I’d be livid with all the paint scratches, dents, and jammed ignitions they’ve ruined.

    If I ever buy a new scooter or upgrade to a motorcycle, I am getting a garage space. That would be my advice to you. I bet you can get something for $50/month or less.

  • Your BEST bet is to have a personal garage space
    i wouldnt do larger shared ones because those are notorious for having bikes stolen in them. bear in mind we are talking about a 4-500 pound vehicle that can be lifted into the back of a minivan easily

    it doesnt sound like bringing it inside is an option so i would either look for a storage unit that is close or try to find a neighbor with extra garage space that they will give you access to for a small fee or even free

    otherwise you are kinda asking for it if you keep it out on the street

    like someone else said as well, be as discreet as possible with it.

  • Hey, look at the bright side. The disclock is still there!

  • rent a space from someone. though I think the going rate for gated parking (not a garage) is probably $100-150 a month in columbia heights, and a garage is probably closer to $150-200.

  • You simply can’t have nice things in this city. Note that the word “nice” in this sentence is a relative term. If you have nothing, even a “beater” is better than nothing.

  • Is the Car arson guy back? Remember two and three summers ago all around 16th st and Columbia Heights the guy that was lighting cars on fire every week?

    I remember the one in front of the Oaklawn by Oak St on 16th. He lit some mopeds on fire, the cops came and left and within minutes he came back and lit two cars on fire. That was one of many that would follow. They never caught anyone.

  • Well, that’s terrible. Sorry. I’ve had an old 91 Nighthawk 750 for years– it’s parked on the street every night. I once had some kids try to steal it by forcing a screwdriver in the lock column, and had it knocked over a couple of times by careless drivers, but that’s the worst of it. I guess I’ve been lucky.

  • That is a sad sight. That is freakin’ ridiculous you can’t even keep a motorcycle parked on your street for 18 months without getting it stolen, messed with, or completely destroyed. There are some angry stupid people in this town who have nothing better to do than harrass other people and destroy their property. I hope you catch the idiots who did this. I would buy another motorcycle and don’t let assholes stop you from enjoying it. You might want to try craigslist classified for parking as I am seeing a couple posts on there for $100 parking spots on peoples’ patios.

  • Ugh. We still have some ways to go in this town.

    I park in DCUSA and its $150 a month for a car. While the folks that work there are generally friendly, I think they’re also mostly incompetent, so good luck trying to get a discount rate for a bike. On the other hand, maybe you could rent a sliver of space from a neighbor who has a garage or private parking spot?

  • It’s not worth owning a bike here. Two of my bikes have been hit and run, and totaled by Geico, in the 3 and a half years I’ve lived here (which also means my policy price doubled, twice). I’ve also had a dirty, worthless motorcycle cover stolen.

  • Not sure what side of Columbia Heights you’re on, but I rent a parking space in the Park Place apartment building near the Petworth metro for $175. Not sure what they’d charge for a bike.

  • State Farm insures no problem

  • brookland_rez

    That’s so sad. As a rider myself I would be devastated to come out and find my bike like that.

  • Owner of the bike checking in here to answer a few things:
    – The first bike was stolen out of Shaw neighborhood, and the Ninja was knocked over once there, so I’ve had similar luck in both neighborhoods.
    – I’m over by the Italian embassy, so DCUSA would be the closest thing (the big garage in Adams Morgan had a very hostile reaction when I asked if they rented space to motorcycles), but if DCUSA doesn’t do motorcycles that one’s out.
    – It’s particularly annoying because motorcycles are a really convenient compromise between a bicycle and a car in a city like DC, but they fall in a horrible sweet-spot between being harder to store than a bicycle but easier to steal than a car. I do see quite a few Vespas chained to poles in my area, and a number of bikes nicer than mine, many without covers, so I don’t know if those folks are just rolling the dice, resigned to eventual damage/loss, or what.
    – So far as motive, there’s nobody around here that has any particular grudge. One neighbor suggested it might be over parking, but I always park way up in the smallest corners or right at the sign, plus arson seems a really impractical way to make a point vice just keying or tipping it over.
    – Extremely unlikely this was accidental: I had to take the tank off and battery out to remove the carb, so there’s no source of spark nor much flammable fluid in the whole bike. Also by the pattern of the burn you can see pretty clearly that the tarp was pulled back before it started burning. The front part of the bike is perfectly fine except for one handlebar (presumably the tarp draped over it as it was pulled back) while the burn went all over the back. It looks pretty clearly like someone pulled the tarp halfway back before it hit the bike cable and wouldn’t pull further, and then lit the tarp. You’d think a pure vandal or a careless flicked cigarette butt would end up with the tarp burning while fully covering the bike. Someone pulled the cover back, saw it as an ancient cheapie with the engine in pieces, and got ticked off.

  • Wow, this is really rotten. Sorry about your bike. I’ve never owned one in DC, but had mine tipped over when I lived in other states. That always sucked because something small would get messed up. But this is a total loss – are you sure there’s not some neighborhood jerk who’s got it in for you because you ride a bike?

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