Calgary police partner with online bike registry to curb thefts

The Calgary Police Service has partnered with Bike Index, an online bike registry that the city’s cycling community believes could help reunite stolen bikes with their owners. 

Only 12% of bikes reported stolen make it back to their owners, according to CPS

On average, 2,900 bikes are reported stolen every year in Calgary. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

The Calgary Police Service has partnered with Bike Index, an online bike registry that the city's cycling community believes could help reunite stolen bikes with their owners. 

Bike theft in Calgary spiked in 2015 and hasn't gone down since.

On average, 2,900 bikes are reported stolen every year. Police recover 50 per cent of those stolen bikes but only 12 per cent are reunited with owners.

Const. Brennan Vanderwater says he hopes this initiative will improve that rate.

"Personally, I would love to see it at least double up to 25 per cent return rate," he said.

How it works

Old school methods to keep track of bikes include taking down information, like the serial number, and grabbing a photo of the bike. But Vanderwater says that doesn't always happen and it makes it difficult to return bikes to their rightful owners. 

With Bike Index, registration can be done online. A profile includes all the information police and those buying used bikes need to determine who owns a bike — like the serial number. Users can even upload photos as well as contact information, which comes in handy if the bike ever goes missing. 

Part of the rollout includes 50,000 unique stickers. Each sticker has a QR code that links directly to the Bike Index page. 

The stickers aren't necessary for bike registration but help increase awareness, according to CPS. 

Officers involved in the project have also been laying the groundwork by handing out stickers on city pathways, and getting stores and bike repair shops to buy in, some even registering a new bike at the point of sale. 

Success in Edmonton

Vanderwater said other municipalities have created partnerships with the not-for-profit registry and seen results. Lethbridge just announced its partnership with Bike Index, and Edmonton has been partnered with the registry for a year.

"From my contacts there, they've returned over $200,000 with the bikes in that time period," Vanderwater said. "Edmonton was bragging about having 20,000 users sign up and within the first year. I would love to see us surpass that number."

Bike Calgary president Gary Millard says the Calgary Police Service's new approach will help not only reunite cyclists with their stolen property but also diminish the appeal of peddling stolen bikes on second-hand sites. 

For the program to work, Millard says, there needs to be buy-in from citizens, police and the bike retail community. 

"We think that we can help increase registration of bicycles online and have purchasers of used bikes check online registries to make sure they're not buying a stolen bike," Millard said. "If they can't sell them, there's no incentive to steal them." 

And Vanderwater says that's already happening. 

Last month, CPS laid the groundwork by going to bike repair shops and retailers across Calgary to start registering new bikes at the point of sale. They were able to register more than 1,400 in one month — 6,400 bikes are now registered in Calgary.

"Last month, we returned about $12,000 worth of stolen bikes to their rightful owners with the help of Bike Index," Vanderwater said.

"This month, I keep getting emails and stuff from other members who are excited that they've recovered a bike. That includes one of our own members who experienced the break and enter and had his bike stolen. He's got his bike back already."


Helen Pike


Helen Pike led CBC Calgary's mountain bureau in Canmore. She joined CBC Calgary as a multimedia reporter in 2018 after spending four years working as a print journalist with a focus on municipal issues and wildlife. You can find her on Twitter @helenipike.