Anti-bike theft group touts mandatory registration to curb crime

Making bike registration mandatory at the point of purchase could help recovery efforts, an anti-bike theft advocate says, but a city councillor says people just need to use the voluntary registration system.

Winnipeg Bike Watch member sees growing cynicism, frustration among cyclists

Making bike registration mandatory at the point of purchase could help recovery efforts, but one city councillor says people need to use the voluntary registration system. (Shutterstock)

A Winnipeg anti-bike theft advocate wants the city to introduce a bylaw requiring bike sellers to register bikes at the point of sale, making them easier to track and harder for thieves to sell.

Jaylene Johnson said her husband recovered his prized bike after a thief cut through his lock and stole it while he attended class at Université de Saint-Boniface.

They paid $100 to someone selling the bike, only to have it stolen again from their garage while they were away last year.

That experience motivated Johnson to join Winnipeg Bike Watch, a group of volunteers who keep their eyes out on the road and online, looking for stolen bikes.

"I've been watching increasing cynicism amongst Winnipeggers, frustrations with some of our systems. You know, people asking a lot of questions. Why are bike thieves so bold?" she said.

Johnson said cyclists are frustrated that bikes keep getting stolen, even when securely locked.

She acknowledges that the more sophisticated thieves know to file off serial numbers, making it difficult to prove the bike is yours. 

According to numbers released by the Winnipeg Police Service, there were 828 bike thefts in 2010, compared to 1,200 in 2016. 

As of May 31, some 267 bikes have been reported stolen so far this year.

Promote voluntary registration system: Gerbasi

One idea Johnson's group has considered is to make bike registration mandatory at the point of purchase.

Johnson reached out to Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, who connected her with members of the Winnipeg Police Service.

Gerbasi said she understands why cyclists are upset.

"People are very attached to their bikes and it's your property and it's a violation," she said.

She acknowledged there are limits to what law enforcement can do to prevent thefts and recover stolen bikes, but encouraged people to use the voluntary registration process already in place.

"It seems to me we have a registration process that is a pretty good process if people would do it. So maybe it's more of a matter of promoting that registration process and maybe bike shops could promote it when they're selling bikes," she said.

Gerbasi said any change in the law making bike registration mandatory would likely need to be made by the provincial government.

Community-led initiatives important

She said employers, property owners and municipalities can help by providing secure bike storage facilities. She said the city's active transportation strategy calls for creating such facilities in downtown Winnipeg.

Johnson said her group is focusing on gathering stories from cyclists about their experiences with bike theft, particularly people who took precautions by registering their bikes and locking them up, yet still had their bike stolen.

"If we can say 'Hey look, there are many people here whose bikes are locked and the locks are getting cut through,' that gives us a little bit of leverage."

Gerbasi said community-led crime prevention efforts like Winnipeg Bike Watch are an important part of reducing bike thefts.

"That's an essential part of crime prevention in a lot of different issues is the community keeping an eye out, sharing communication, joining networks like social media networks and sharing information and learning from each other about how to protect their property and what to watch out for."

With files from Nelly Gonzalez