Local bike thieves beware: Chilliwack joins tech solution

Const. Rob Brunt (left) of the VPD demonstrates 529 Garage, a database-linked smartphone app aimed at preventing bike theft and recovering stolen bikes, at the Chilliwack Community Policing Office boardroom Monday morning - Greg Laychak - Times
Const. Rob Brunt (left) of the VPD demonstrates 529 Garage, a database-linked smartphone app aimed at preventing bike theft and recovering stolen bikes, at the Chilliwack Community Policing Office boardroom Monday morning
— image credit: Greg Laychak - Times

As much as anyone, Dan Douglas has seen the increase in local bike theft to what he calls “an intolerable level” today.

As the owner of a Chilliwack bike shop, his customers are fed up with that rise and the accompanying low rate of recovery. His staff are understandably nervous about servicing the bikes brought in that are obviously stolen.

“We have recovered dozens of stolen bikes and returned them to their owners,” Douglas writes in this week’s TImes letters page. “Still, if the owner does not keep the serial number, or does not report the theft, it's hard to do much for them.”

But there is new hope for present and future victims of bike theft.

Tech-world celebrity J Allard of Microsoft XBox fame and Vancouver Police Department’s Const. Rob Brunt came to the Chilliwack Community Policing Office boardroom Monday morning showing how 529 Garage, Allard’s latest brainchild, works.

“We’ve made it simple for cyclists to do their part with the free 529 Garage smartphone application,” Allard says. “It takes just five minutes to record all the key information about your bike and is the best thing you can do to help aid law enforcement in the event your bike goes missing.”

The project is an online bike registry and recovery website with a mobile phone app that is key to the accessibility of the system which is used to register and recover stolen bikes.

And Allard says he’s excited to add Chilliwack to the growing list of partner organizations in the province, hoping residents will join the network of more than 15,000 B.C. cyclists already registered.

“The . . . network gets stronger with every added user, and collectively we’re making it harder and less profitable to steal bikes in B.C.,” he says.

Local partners include members of the City of Chilliwack Public Safety Advisory, Chilliwack Community Policing, Chilliwack Restorative Justice, and the local cycling community.

That includes bike shops like Douglas’s, which Allard mentions are key to the whole system, acting as a hub where many bikes and owners pass through everyday.

“The Public Safety Advisory Committee has thoroughly reviewed opportunities to employ technology to reduce crime in Chilliwack,” says Coun. Jason Lum, who is also Chair of the committee. “By partnering with 529 Garage we are adding another important piece to the crime prevention puzzle.”

Allard and Brunt showed the ease with which bike shop attendants, owners and even spotters of stolen bikes can use the app to protect their two-wheeled property or help recover it in the event of a theft.

A quick “nearby” search on the app shows a pattern of pins throughout the Lower Mainland, increasing in density until they reach a crowded cluster obscuring Vancouver on the map altogether.

Most of the indicators are red, which—much to the dismay of their owners—represent stolen bikes. But the few blue ones sprinkled here and there symbolize spottings of missing bicycles.

The fact that there are 863 reports in this southwestern B.C. area contained in a single bike theft database is the silver lining in this otherwise bad news for cyclists.

A key ingredient to the system is a unique decal that is tamper-proof, identifies (without potential confusion) each bike, and acts like a warning to potential thieves.

The suggested retail price of those tags is $12.99, but Chilliwack residents will be able to get the stickers for free if they register their bikes at the official local launch of 529 Garage on Nov. 19 at the Public Safety Fair held in the old Target building from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

One of Allard’s ideas and reasons for the project was when his experience showed him “the bad guys are better organized.”

With the merging of now-common technology and a community that cares, that may soon be a thing of the past.



One bike goes missing every 30 seconds in North America

Bike theft costs $500,000 each year in North America

Fewer than five per cent of recovered bikes find their owners

Over 100,000 types of bikes searchable

More than 50 bike shops participate in the program

More than 15,000 bikes have been registered with 529 Garage



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