Inside the last-chance warehouse for Vancouver’s stolen bikes

Click to play video: 'VPD promotes online registry to reunited stolen bikes with owners'
VPD promotes online registry to reunited stolen bikes with owners
Despite bicycle thefts being down over the past few years, Vancouver police still have more than 400 bikes in their warehouse, most of which will never be reunited with their owners. As Kristen Robinson reports, a simple online registry, that already exists, could prevent that. – Feb 29, 2024

It’s known as the end of the road for stolen bicycles in Vancouver.

In an inconspicuous East Vancouver warehouse, about 400 bikes hang from Canada’s largest “mobile bike rack,” a conveyer-belt-like contraption that often serves as their last stop before auction.

“This is like a dry-cleaning service for stolen bikes,” Vancouver police Sgt. Steve Addison said of the storage system.

Click to play video: 'A look inside the Vancouver police’s stolen bike warehouse'
A look inside the Vancouver police’s stolen bike warehouse

Bikes end up in the warehouse if police recover them but aren’t easily able to reconnect them with their owner because they haven’t been reported stolen or their serial number hasn’t been registered.

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Staff at the VPD’s Property Office will then try detective work to reunite them with their owners.

“We have them on the racks here, the racks move around, and our property custodians they will work when they come in to try and identify the owners, working back often with serial numbers, connecting with bike stores,” Addison said.

“The next step is they are going to go to auction and they’re going to get sold at auction, unfortunately.”

Click to play video: 'Police investigating violent Vancouver e-bike theft caught on camera'
Police investigating violent Vancouver e-bike theft caught on camera

While the size of the two-wheeled drove may seem large, police say reported bike theft in the city has actually decreased significantly in recent years.

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In 2015 the department logged more than 4,000 stolen bicycles, a number that fell about 60 per cent in 2022.

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Addison said much of the progress has come through public education about safely locking and storing bikes — including advice never to leave them outside, on a deck, or in a parking garage.

Laura Jane, executive director of HUB Cycling, said one major thing Vancouverites can do to protect their bikes is to register with Project 529, an online database that stores ownership details.

“It’s an online registration system, it’s free,” she said.

“You just take a few photos of your bike and record the serial number, and then if your bike is stolen you have a much higher chance of having it returned.”

While the number of reported bike thefts is down, one Vancouver bike shop owner says the problem remains extensive.

“They do not have enough room, even with that conveyer belt,” Paul Dragan of Reckless Bikes told Global News.

“I bet that 85 per cent of those bikes are not recoverable by the owner because they don’t have proper identification of the bike or it has never been reported.”

Click to play video: 'New theft trend: Brazen suspect seen carrying bike and rack in Vancouver'
New theft trend: Brazen suspect seen carrying bike and rack in Vancouver

Dragan said the growing popularity of electric bikes has also changed the game.

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Two decades ago, a $2,000 road or mountain bike would have been considered at the high end, but the advent of e-bikes has meant bikes worth twice or even five times as much are on the road.

“If I was going to go steal a bike and there’s three of them I’m going to steal the most expensive one I can find,” he said.

Back at the property office, Addison said that while police work as hard as they can to reunite bikes with their owners, there is only so much they can do.

He said it’s up to cyclists to take the steps necessary to help officers ensure a happy ending.

“Obviously if someone records the serial number, if they report it to police as soon as their bike is stolen when we come across it it is very easy to return that bike to the rightful owner,” he said.

“Unfortunately a lot of people still aren’t doing that.”

Click to play video: 'Metro Vancouver cops leading the way in fighting bike theft'
Metro Vancouver cops leading the way in fighting bike theft

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