Courts & Crime

Bike thieves pass up Harleys, go for crotch rockets instead

Michael Hiatt never drove his 2009 black Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle very fast, opting instead for leisurely rides on back roads. Only once did he drive it on a highway.

Now his $8,000 dream machine, which had only 400 miles on its odometer, could be speeding in illegal races or starring in an Internet stunt video.

Thieves took the Overland Park, Kan., man's motorcycle in June, part of a recent rash of sports bike thefts in the area.In Overland Park over the last five months, thieves took 29 bikes, compared with 19 thefts in all of 2009.

In Lenexa, police report a dozen sports bikes stolen since April 15. Seven bikes have disappeared in Kansas City, in the past three weeks.

With a nationwide recovery rate of only 30 percent for the sleek machines known as "crotch rockets," the owners probably will never see their bikes again.

These thieves don't want Harleys. They go for the crotch rockets — powerful, aerodynamic machines known for their hunched-over seating position. Stunt riders like them because they are light and easy to perform tricks.

Capable of reaching a speed of 165 mph, the bikes that cost anywhere from $8,000 to more than $12,000 new are coveted for several reasons. Hiatt's bike could be anywhere in the world, shipped whole or in parts. In London, stolen sports bike engines sometimes power small custom-built cars.

Some thieves first steal a minivan and rip out the seats, making room for their intended target.

The van-bike theft combo, long used in some other areas, has arrived in Johnson County in force. The vans — generally older models and easy to steal — are later found abandoned.

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