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Cities give abandoned bikes a second life

Long-deserted bicycles are getting auctioned, scrapped, and donated in urban centers all over the country

We’ve all seen them: rusty and forlorn bicycle cadavers chained to bike racks or street signs for months on end, often with a missing wheel or two. Clearly abandoned, the eyesores are often left to rot, clogging racks and cluttering sidewalks. But not in every city.

Every year, thousands of deserted bicycles are reported and impounded by city workers. What happens next is up to the city.

New York City has appropriated more than 1,300 bikes since 2010. After tagging suspected abandoned bikes, their owners have 7 days to retrieve them before sanitation workers cut the chain. The city recycles metal bikes, delivering them to a processing plant. The rest are sent to a landfill.

In Denver, the police will auction off abandoned bikes—typically 40 to 50 every month. Especially damaged bikes might be sold in lots of 5-7. The money goes into Denver’s general fund.

Police officers in Indianapolis send confiscated bikes to a nonprofit that teaches young people bike repair, problem-solving, and leadership. Kids who complete the program get to walk away with a free bike, helmet, and lock.

Chicago and Witchita also donate their reclaimed bikes to nonprofit organizations that refurbish them and give them out to those in need.