Online registry helps find stolen bikes
The idea began several years ago when Doug McKenzie and his wife, Deanna went to San Francisco to watch a Grand Prix cycling race. They drove to Sausalito with their bikes, then rode over the Golden Gate Bridge into the city for a fun day of watching the professional cyclists tear through the streets of San Francisco.
McKenzie is co-founder and lead guitarist for the local dance band Pulsators, an avid cyclist and a part-time bike mechanic. He parked his wife’s Trek road bike near the race route and chained it to his “pieced together” cross bike.
“It’s purposely ugly,” says McKenzie, a Santa Rosa resident who fixes bikes three days a week at Spoke Folk Cyclery in Healdsburg. “I put it together from all sorts of mismatched parts. It’s just not the kind of bike anybody would want to steal.”
So when he locked the bikes, he made sure his was the visible one. When the couple returned after the race, his bike was still there, but the chain had been cut and his wife’s beautiful Trek was gone.
“She was stuck. She had to go back on foot and take the ferry back, while I rode to the car,” he said. “It ruined a great day.”
Deanna never got her bike back, but the incident got him thinking that there had to be a better way to help people find stolen bikes. Some are broken down into parts that are sold or reused, and those are almost impossible to recover. But many thieves try to sell or trade stolen bikes via the Internet or at bike or pawn shops. He knew how hard it is to determine whether a bike being sold or traded is stolen.
While some companies charge people to register their bikes in case they get stolen, McKenzie wanted to set up something that anybody could use. So he created an online stolen bike registry and put it up on the Internet. For free, cyclists can add their stolen bicycles to a searchable database or check to see if that great deal on Craigslist is somebody else’s missing ride.
The registry has quietly been building a following over the past few years. Recently, he listed the site on Spoke Folk’s Facebook page in an effort to get the word out. The service is simple and free. All a bike-theft victim has to do is go online, fill in the make, model and other information about the stolen bike and, if desired, link to a photo.
“I think it’s really important to involve bike shops,” McKenzie says. “It will make it easier to identify when a stolen bike comes in.”
He isn’t sure yet how many people have retrieved their bikes using his site, which he maintains himself, but he has gotten listings from all over the country and as far as the U.K. A few people have even listed their stolen motorcycles.
As for keeping your bike safe, McKenzie says the most important thing to do is to record and save its serial number.
“There’s no way you’ll ever see it again if you don’t have the serial number,” he says. Owners can engrave their driver’s license number somewhere on the frame or hide their identifying info inside one of the tubes. “And get yourself a good lock.”
It’s hard to keep your bike totally safe, he says, so if you’re the unfortunate victim of a bike theft, be sure to call the police and file a report. Even then, it’s important to get the word out online and keep checking with bike shops. His own experience proves it can work.
When McKenzie’s expensive bike was stolen from his home, he kept checking until he saw that someone was trying to sell it on an auction website. He called the police and they sent out a detective. He got that bike back, but he is still haunted by the one that got away.
“It’s the worst feeling ever,” he says. “If this thing can help people, it will be worth it.”