Montreal

Once victim of bike theft, Montreal man aims to help others through online community

Rodrigo Gonzalez was convinced that the white and blue Specialized Secteur bike model for sale was his. So, he set up a meeting in a public area.

Facebook community shares safety tips, helps victims of bike theft track down their stolen bikes

Rodrigo Gonzalez is a moderator of a stolen bike group on Facebook which aims to help people with safety tips and advice to keep their bikes secure. (CBC)

Two years ago, Rodrigo Gonzalez stepped out his front door, only to discover that his $1,000 bicycle had disappeared.

A thief had broken the padlock which secured the bike frame to his balcony.

Gonzalez, a tech support operator for a Montreal startup, filed a report with Montreal police. Later, he saw an ad for a familiar-looking bike on the resale site Kijiji.

"I knew it was my bike," he told CBC News.

Gonzalez was convinced that the white-and-blue Specialized Secteur posted for sale was his. So he set up a meeting in a public area.

Gonzalez gave the man who arrived a choice: wait for the police to arrive or walk away from the bike. The guy chose to walk away.

Gonzalez is now a moderator of the Facebook group Vélo Volé Montréal, or Stolen Bike Montreal, which has about 6,200 members.

It's a place where users share stories, information and tips on preventing bike theft.

Montrealer Rodrigo Gonzalez set up this Facebook page to help people track down their stolen bikes and protect them from theft. (Vélo Volé/Facebook)

Gonzalez says he sees up to five posts about stolen bikes every day. The reason: many people don't know how to lock their bikes securely.

He suggests cyclists invest in a U-lock and double down with a cable.

The cable should pass through the wheels and be locked to the U-lock.

The U-lock should secure the bike frame to a solid object, itself firmly secured to the ground, like a bike rack or pole.

It's important to make sure your bike is locked up with a heavy duty chain or U-lock, said Gonzalez. Montreal police receive 1,800 reports of stolen bikes each year. (CBC)

Engraving a serial number is another way to proving ownership of a bike in case it's found.

Last year, 1,800 bike thefts were reported to Montreal police.

Montreal police Insp. André Durocher said the police service treats the theft of bikes, which are mostly valued at less than $5,000, just like any other stolen object. That means it can take a while for a stolen object to be retrieved.

"You can't just walk into a police station and say, 'My bike is there' and expect the police officer to run out of the station," Durocher said.

He said that the number of bicycle thefts reported has increased slightly, but he attributes this to an increase in the number of cyclists in Montreal.

Durocher said people should file police reports, even if their bike isn't a pricey model. He says filing reports can help police spot patterns in criminal activity, which can lead to the discovery of a bike theft ring.

He admits, however, that only a very small fraction of bikes are reunited with their owners.

After Gonzalez originally recovered his bike, he went back to the police station. He gave them a description of the man who was selling his bike online, as well as the phone number he'd used.

Gonzalez said he felt that police weren't too interested in investigating further and wished they'd taken the issue more seriously.

Meanwhile, Durocher warned against taking the same path that Gonzalez took in confronting the bike thief directly.

"Is your life worth risking for a bike?" Durocher said, adding that such an interaction could have ended very differently.

With files from CBC's Arian Zarrinkoub

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