Monday, 26 May 2014


A stolen bike could take weeks or months to retrieve, if it comes back at all. But Christian Garnette had his back in just a day.

Rather than reporting the theft to police last Tuesday after the 23-year-old Toronto man realized his bike was stolen, he turned to complete strangers on the Internet to help find it.

He posted a picture of his bicycle on the Facebook group of a local fixed gear shop around 3:30 a.m., asking if anyone had seen it since it went missing near the corner of Parliament Street and King Street East. All that remained was the front wheel and lock of the bright white bike.

“I had a feeling I would actually get it back because my bike stands out a lot and it’s kind of hard to disguise,” Mr. Garnette said.

Just 10 hours later, someone commented on his post with a photo of the bike six blocks away at Parliament Street and Gerrard Street East, locked and with a new front wheel.

I had a feeling I would actually get it back because my bike stands out a lot and it’s kind of hard to disguise

The stranger and his friend guarded the bike until two men arrived, claiming to have purchased the bike themselves. After a brief dispute, they were told Mr. Garnette, the rightful owner, was on his way, and conceded the bike as well as the replacement tire, for good measure.

“It was a different experience,” Mr. Garnette said. “I already lost two bikes. I even have a video of a guy stealing one of my bikes because my sister used to live in a condo and I ended up getting the footage from the concierge, but yet that was still not enough for the police to get my bike back. It feels like a Facebook group is easier.”

More than 3,400 bicycles in Toronto were reported stolen in 2012, according to Toronto Police Services. This was roughly 300 more than the previous year.

Jared Kolb, executive director of Cycle Toronto, said the increase in thefts is proportional to the growing number of cyclists in the city.

“There are more people riding than ever before and it is a concern,” Mr. Kolb said. “It’s one of these things where you can buy a really fantastic iron-proof lock, but a thief with unlimited amount of time will be able to get into any lock. It’s best to remove your bicycle from that risk by storing it inside or storing in a [proper bike rack].”

Toronto police spokesman David Hopkinson said many thefts are the result of people not locking their bikes properly to both the front wheel and frame, or sometimes at all.

He said the trend of bike thefts should decrease as people become more aware of prevention resources. This includes a free online Toronto police registry, where people can record their bike’s serial number, located on its lower bracket, which can be used to recover it should it go missing.

Still, many choose not to report their bicycles to police due to a general apathy, Mr. Hopkinson said. This makes it much more difficult for police to retrieve unregistered bikes.

“If there are no leads, then it’s difficult for us to follow them,” he said. “With a car, there’s leads to follow. License plates are everywhere. Bicycles don’t have license plates. There’s something like 23 serial numbers all over the car so even if you ripped the cars apart and you piece it off, we can still identify parts of that car.”
The relatively small size of bicycles also makes them easier to not only steal — but also hide permanently.

But Mr. Kolb said people aren’t necessarily seeing results from police when their bikes are stolen.

“One issue is that the average price of a bicycle in terms of all the competing priorities of the Toronto police are relative,” he said. “For many people, their bicycle is their primary mode of transportation so it’s a crucial part of how they sustain their livelihood.”

Monday marks Toronto’s 25th Bike to Work Day, which encourages people to try cycling as their daily commute mode.

Kelly Patrick, a 46-year-old who moved to Toronto in January from Ottawa, decided she would cycle to work for the first time Wednesday, locking her bike just outside her office building along Front Street East. When she left to go home for the day, it was gone.

If somebody stole your bottle of water, would you call the police? No you wouldn’t because it’s not worth it

Ms. Patrick said she walked to a nearby police station to report the theft, but that the constable at the front desk was unhelpful.

“He took nothing, no data, no stats whatsoever from me, other than he told me to go online,” she said. “I don’t think they take it seriously.”

In a survey conducted by Cycle Toronto, 168 of 303 respondents said their bikes had been stolen, but just 22% had registered them with Toronto police. Less than half reported the theft to police, and of these, 88% didn’t think it was worth it to report it.

Mr. Hopkinson said this was unsurprising.

“If somebody stole your bottle of water, would you call the police? No you wouldn’t because it’s not worth it,” he said. “It’s not worth a lot of money, they don’t believe they’re going to get their bike returned to them, so they think all it is is a hassle to make this report.”

But Ms. Patrick said her six-year-old bike meant more to her.

“It’s something that you own and something you rely on,” she said. “It’s still personal property and maybe that’s the debate you have to weigh. What is the value of having police get into stolen bikes and how else can you tackle this issue?”