To curb stolen bikes, London police join 529 Garage registry

London police have partnered with a smartphone app and online registry aimed at helping local cyclists recover their  stolen bikes.

Smartphone/online app sends out an alert if a member's bike is stolen

London police have partnered with Garage 529, an online/smartphone app that allows users to register their bikes and issue an alert should it get stolen. (Laura Osman/CBC)

London police have partnered with a smartphone app and online registry aimed at helping local cyclists recover their  stolen bikes.

Touted as North America's largest bike registry, London cyclists can now register a description and six photos of their bike on the 529 Garage app or website for free. In the event that a member's bike is stolen, a push alert with information about the bike goes out to local bike users and to the London police service.

Police say they will compare the information in the alert with information they have about found or recovered bikes.  

In this way, the app works like a crowd-sourcing tool, instantly letting everyone know to be on the lookout for a specific bike and making it more difficult for a thief to sell.

The 529 Garage platform is not unique to London. It was launched in 2015 in Portland, Ore., and now has more than 1.5 million registered bikes across North America. 

It was created by J Allard, a tech wizard who played a key role in developing the Xbox gaming console.

Any information users upload resides with 529 Garage, not the London police. 

London police Deputy Chief Stuart Betts presented a report about the partnership to the London Police Services Board on Thursday.

He said stolen bikes should still be reported to police "however they can help to increase the eyes in the community by pushing an alert out through the 529 Garage app."

Betts said the push notifications about stolen bikes are issued "like an Amber Alert" to app users who are inside a specific geographic area. 

The 529 garage app and website also includes a "found bicycles" tab where anyone missing a bike can see information about bikes that have been recovered. 

"It's a victim assistance tool," said Betts. "We hope to be able to use this to reunite bicycle owners with their bicycles in a more timely fashion."

Users of the app can also get a tamper-proof shield which attaches to the bike frame. Betts said these act as a "visual deterrent" to potential thieves.

"That shield comes with a unique serial number that allows any user of the app to query that database and determine if that bike is stolen," he said.

Users can register their bikes now. London police had planned a public launch event to announce the partnership, but that became impossible with the COVID-19 outbreak.  

Betts said London police were originally encouraged to partner with 529 Garage by local cycling advocate Shelly Carr.

More information about 529 Garage is posted here on the London Police Service website.