Vancouver resident Tim Bramwell has lost half a dozen different bicycles to thieves over the years, so when his most recent bike was stolen from an underground parking garage last month, he assumed it would not be found.

Still, Bramwell reported the theft to the Vancouver Police Department, which receives more than 2,000 similar calls about stolen bikes each year. The VPD says only about 5 per cent of those are ever returned to their owners. 

"They suggested that I contact the 529 Project," said Bramwell.

Project 529 Garage is a website and phone app that allows cyclists to register their bikes online. An alert is sent out to other users in the area when a bike is reported as stolen and the database helps locate the rightful owner when it is found.

Two weeks after Bramwell registered with 529 Garage, he received an email saying that a passerby had located his missing bike locked to a fence in the Downtown Eastside. Within hours, Bramwell was reunited with his bicycle.

In the past year, 529 Garage says it has helped return approximately 150 stolen bicycles to their rightful owners. 

Locating owners of stolen bikes

One of the biggest challenges with bike theft is finding the owner when the stolen property is found, said a VPD spokesperson.

Thousands of suspected stolen bikes are recovered each year by the police but there is often no way to track who originally owned them.

Recovered bike

Ross Creasy spotted the stolen bike locked to a fence in the Downtown Eastside and, within hours, owner Tim Bramwell was reunited with his bicycle. (Tim Bramwell)

The company's founder, J Allard, says 529 Garage is the missing link between the cycling community and the police.

"It's a community policing platform and it allows the community to be engaged," said Allard. "It's a bit like a digital blockwatch."

Ross Creasy, who spotted Bramwell's stolen bike and tipped him off to where it was, said he never thought he'd use 529 Garage to help find someone else's bike.

"When I registered, I was more worried about what would happen if my bike was stolen," Creasy said. "But I think it's a great way to encourage the cycling community to help each other and to get more eyes out there."

Expansion

Right now, 529 Garage has 20,000 registered users. Allard explained that the more cyclists are registered, the easier it is to find stolen bikes.

"Next year, I'd really like to make a push to register as many new bikes as possible," said Allard. "We want to make this system available to all agencies, cycling businesses and schools across B.C."

By next spring, 529 Garage will be available in 20 municipalities across the province.