British Columbia

UBC engineering team recovers stolen project bike

A custom electric bike stolen from a UBC engineering design team last week has been recovered, with the help of Vancouver police officers.

Custom electric bike was taken from campus, and recovered with the help of police

ThunderBikes team members Valentine Roland Ssebuyungo (left) and Bhargav Thoom pose with their project bike, MK3, after police helped them recover it in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on Sunday. (Bhargav Thoom)

A bicycle theft is always hard to take — but for a University of British Columbia engineering design team that had carefully pieced together its custom electric bike to compete in a race this summer, it was devastating blow.

A thief swiped the ThunderBikes team's incomplete project from outside Place Vanier Residence last week. But on Sunday, with the help of Vancouver police officers, ThunderBikes was able to recover the precious bike.

According to team captain Bhargav Thoom, a CBC News reader who had seen a story about the stolen bike noticed it posted for sale on Craigslist and got in touch with the team.

Thoom said with that tip, he and another team member quickly got to work.

"We contacted the seller just saying that we're interested in buying the bike. We set up a meet as soon as possible," he said, adding that the rendezvous point was at the intersection of Carrall and Hastings streets on the Downtown Eastside.

Then Thoom contacted police. He said four VPD officers arrived — two in uniform and two undercover to pose as the buyers.

A Craigslist posting shows the ThunderBikes design project, MK3, for sale for $1,000. Information given, for example the brake type, wheel and frame size, is inaccurate. (Craigslist screen grab)

Thoom and two teammates waited nearby, but didn't see how the transaction went, or whether an arrest was made. All he knows is the officers soon emerged with the electric mountain bike, returning it to its rightful owners.

According to VPD Const. Jason Doucette, no arrest was made, but one "person of interest" had been identified.

"[Thoom] had some really strong leads, so we had some officers that were available for safety purposes. We want to make sure we could help out where we could, and this one worked out really well," said Doucette.

"Unfortunately we get a lot of unique stories on how these bikes come into other people's possessions," he said. "It can be very tough to prove knowledge that the person that was in possession of the stolen bike knew."

Doucette said, ideally, someone who notices their stolen bike for sale on Craigslist get in touch with police before scheduling a meeting with the seller.

He added that people ought to register their bikes with a service like the 529 Garage app.

Once recovered, the bike was exactly how it looked the last time Thoom had seen it locked up outside his residence, but he said the front forks had been removed during the theft and they had been hastily put back on without being tightened.

According to Thoom, it still wasn't clear on Monday whether that had permanently damaged the bike's frame.

He said the hardest part of the effort was actually getting the bike back across town to the UBC campus in the snow.

Thoom said the whole experience was pretty stressful, but he remained hopeful for a successful outcome throughout.

"I was balancing a whole bunch of phone calls with the RCMP and the [Vancouver] police department and also from the team asking for details on what was going on," he said, adding that he passed the time by shopping for a Valentine's Day gift.

Asked if he had a specific date he was shopping for, Thoom answered: "We'll see."

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Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker


Rafferty Baker

Video journalist

Rafferty Baker is a Video journalist with CBC News, based in Vancouver, as well as a writer and producer of the CBC podcast series, Pressure Cooker. You can find his stories on CBC Radio, television, and online at


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