Security Flaw: Google ‘Free Bikes’ Stolen by the Hundreds Each Week

Google’s campus bike program has a significant theft problem – so the Silicon Valley behemoth is cracking down.

Google 'Free Bikes' Stolen by the Hundreds Each Week
Photo credit: Travis Wise

Stroll through Mountain Valley, Calif., and you’ll probably notice some funky-looking bikes out and about. Red baskets, yellow frames, and green-and-blue wheels are telltale signs you’re looking at a “GBike.”

And if you do see one, there’s a good chance it’s stolen. That[s according to a Wall Street Journal report claiming the complimentary campus bikes for Google employees go missing at a rate of up to 250 per week.

According to the report, Google has generally written off the pedal-pilferers. But the uptick in theft has the Silicon Valley behemoth adding GPS trackers, hiring a bike recovery team, and – for the first time – considering locks.

Stolen Google Bikes

gbike google bike
Photo credit: Roman Boed

Google’s enormous Mountain View campus plays home to about 1,100 of the multi-colored GBikes. That’s because the company’s sprawling left-coast headquarters comprises more than 3.5 million square feet of office space alone.

Needless to say, the bikes are tantamount to a necessity for the 20,000 employees stationed there. But the brand has so far resisted security, opting instead for convenience and a “Don’t Be Evil” culture (after its famous former motto).

But despite posted instructions explaining how and where the bikes should be used, the colorful cruisers continually wander off campus. Employees report bringing them home for the night, while locals say it’s not uncommon to find the bikes left in their yard. In fact, two of the Gbikes found their way atop the roof of a local pub.

In light of the ongoing malfeasance, Google hired a retrieval team that scours the streets around Mountain View and pick up wayward sets of wheels.

Plus, Google last year began installing GPS trackers in its bikes. Since then, the company discovered missing Gbikes traveled as far away as Fairbanks, Alaska, and on down to Mexico.

In all, Google estimates it successfully recovers about two-thirds of the bikes. While it doesn’t put a dollar estimate on replacing lost bikes, similar cruisers retail between $100–400.

Hopefully, Google can update its bike security as well as its browser security.

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Adam Ruggiero is an all-sport activity junkie - from biking, running, and (not enough) surfing, to ball sports, camping, and cattle farming. If it's outside, it's worth doing. Adam graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA in journalism. Likes: unique beer, dogs, stories. Like nots: neckties, escalators, manicured lawns.
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