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[溫哥華本地新聞] More bikes stolen in Vancouver than cars

More bikes stolen in Vancouver than cars

City police struggle to stem the tide of one of the few crimes that is getting worse
The bike racks outside the Vancouver Public Library on Georgia Street are very well used, so Belinda Li thought it was a pretty safe place to lock up her Kona Dew Drop while she attended a brief afternoon meeting inside.
When she came out less than an hour later, her $800 bike was gone and her Kryptonite-brand U-lock was on the ground.
Police recommend U-locks, because they can’t be as easily defeated with bolt cutters as a cable lock. But Li’s lock had been sliced right through with what she assumes was a power tool, perhaps an angle grinder.
Li remains amazed that, in the middle of the afternoon on June 11, 2012, at a busy bike rack, someone could steal her bike with a power tool and not be stopped.
“There was someone passing that area probably every minute or two,” she said. “It was definitely someone who was able to do it quickly and relatively inconspicuously because it’s a pretty high-traffic area.”

An analysis of Vancouver police crime data by The Vancouver Sun confirms what Li found: That when it comes to bike theft, there may not be safety in numbers.
The library, in fact, is one of the worst places in the City of Vancouver for bike thefts, with 79 bikes stolen from the 300-block of West Georgia between 2008 and 2012. The only area worse is Granville Island, where roughly 250 bikes have been stolen over the same period.
The city’s other bike-theft hot spots also tend to correspond with the places where the most cyclists lock up most: City hall (68 thefts), the YMCA on Burrard Street (59), Science World (45) and Mountain Equipment Co-op on West Broadway (41).
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It’s difficult to determine whether the risk of parking your bike in such spots is higher than elsewhere in the city, or if they simply have so many thefts because there are so many bikes there.
But Vancouver police spokesman Const. Brian Montague believes that bike thieves — who may be on the lookout for a particular bike, or a particular lock they know how to defeat — are attracted to the places with the biggest selection of targets.
“If I’m a bike thief, I’m going to go somewhere where I know there’s a large concentration of bikes,” he said.
In a city where crime has been steadily dropping for the past few years, bike theft is notable as one of the few crimes that is going up.

Since 2008, auto thefts in Vancouver have dropped in half (due largely to engine immobilizers), robberies are down by a third and break-and-enters are down a quarter. In contrast, during that same period, bike thefts increased 50 per cent, from 1,179 in 2008 to 1,821 in 2012.

“We’ve been able to decrease other property crimes but [bike theft] is one we’ve had a real challenge with,” said Montague.

Indeed, in 2010, Vancouver had more bikes stolen than cars, a trend that has continued every year since.

The most obvious explanation for the increase in bike thefts is that more people are biking as the number of dedicated bike lanes in the city increases.

A report that went to Vancouver city council last June estimated, based on TransLink trip diary data, that the number of trips by bike in the city increased more than 40 per cent between 2008 and 2011.

Yet bikes also seem particularly vulnerable to theft.

That same TransLink trip diary data suggests there are roughly 20 times more cars on the road in Vancouver than bikes, which means that, if you bike to work instead of drive, the chances your ride will get stolen are about 30 times higher.

“I have lots of friends who cycle commute and we’ve all generally established that, on average, you would get a bike stolen once every two years if you’re a regular cycle commuter,” said Li.

Li has had a bike stolen three times: In Richmond in 2004, outside MEC in 2006 and then outside the library in 2012.

Montague said one of the things that makes bikes so vulnerable is very few people record their bicycle’s serial number, which is usually located beneath the crankshaft. That means, once stolen, bikes become almost impossible to trace — and extremely easy to sell.

If a bike theft victim is able to provide a serial number, police enter it on the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) system, which any police force in the country can search if they recover a suspected stolen bike. People buying used bikes can also search serial numbers on CPIC’s public website at cpic-cipc.ca to see if it’s stolen.

Unfortunately, said Montague, “I would say the majority of people wouldn’t have a clue what their serial number is.”

That means police are often unable to prove bikes are stolen even when they strongly suspect that they are.

“We’ll go into someone’s apartment on a search warrant looking for stolen property or drugs and we’ll often find a warehouse for bicycles,” he said. “And out of 10 or 20 or 30 bicycles ... only one or two have been reported stolen with the serial number.”

The other factor driving bike thefts, said Montague, is how expensive some bikes have become.

“We’re not riding around on the old $50 Norcos that I used to ride when I was a kid,” he said. “People are commuting on bikes that are worth $2,000, $3,000, $4,000 sometimes.”

On July 27, 2012, more than a month after her bike was stolen at the library, Li had a going-away barbecue at Kitsilano Beach in preparation for her departure to Malawi to volunteer on a water sanitation project.

As the party got underway, a new friend of hers, Eric Moutal, rode up to the beach in a mahogany Kona Dew Drop just like the one Li used to have.

“I looked at it and said: ‘Wait a minute, that looks like my bike,” Li recalls.

At first, Li just assumed it was a different bike of the same type. After all, the wheels and bike seat weren’t quite the same as hers.

But then she noticed some things that were the same, like a specific spot along the top of her frame where she had scratched her bike and tried to cover it up with nail polish.

Moutal and Li flipped the bike over and she checked the serial number: It was her bike, just with some of the components switched out.

“At that point, we didn’t know what to do,” said Moutal. “Do I give her back the bike?”

Li had already bought another bike by then and was leaving the country in a few weeks anyways. Keep it, she told Eric.

“I was glad to see my bike again intact, that was cool,” said Li. “We now call this our bike, our stolen bike. It’s brought us together.”


How Li’s bike ended up in Moutal’s possession provides some insight into just how efficient and deviously tricky Vancouver’s bike thieves can be.

Moutal had been scanning Craigslist for several days looking for a new bike when on June 12, 2012 — just one day after Li’s bike was stolen — he saw a new ad, with photo, for a used 2009 Kona Dew Drop selling for $380.

As it happened, he and Li weren’t yet close friends, so he didn’t know her bike had been stolen.

“If I had had her as a Facebook friend at that time I would have seen her post that the bike was stolen,” said Moutal. “It didn’t happen that way.”

Emails Moutal shared with The Sun show that the ad’s author — who identified himself as “Mike” and provided a last name — got back to him within the hour and urged Moutal to verify the bike was not stolen.

The seller provided Moutal with the bike’s serial number and a link to the CPIC database, carefully explaining how he should “scroll down to the stolen bicycle database link, click on it and follow the search directions entering the serial number.”

Moutal did just that and — assured the bike wasn’t stolen — arranged to meet Mike outside his apartment in the 900-block of Nelson the following afternoon. When he got to the building, Moutal called Mike on his cellphone and a man came down with the bike.

Moutal said the guy, who was in his 30s, seemed perfectly normal. “You wouldn’t think twice if you saw him walk into an office,” he said. “He didn’t seem suspicious. Very calm.”

Moutal took the bike for a quick test drive and then, as a final check, flipped the bike over to make sure the serial number was the same one Mike had given him over email. Then he paid him $380 in cash and left with his new bike.

A month later, as Moutal explained to Li how he had come into possession of her bike, it was the serial number part of the story that was the most puzzling. After all, Li did know her bike’s serial number and had provided it to police.

It took awhile before the two of them finally figured it out: The serial number Mike gave Moutal via email was F901K411. The serial number on Li’s bike: F901K4111. “The one he gave me on email was one digit off of the actual one,” said Moutal, something he didn’t notice when he quickly glanced at the number again before buying it.

Montague said police are doing their best to fight bike theft.

If someone notices their stolen bike for sale online, he said, police will do their best to help them get it back.

“We get quite a few calls where the owner says, ‘I found my stolen bike for sale on the Internet,’” he said. “We’ll pose as potential buyers. We have officers in plainclothes who are able to do that. We’ve been quite successful in retrieving several bikes that way.”

Police don’t recommend people try to arrange such meetings on their own, as Kayla Smith famously did last August — racing off with her own bike after arranging to meet the seller in a McDonald’s parking lot.

Vancouver police also have a bait bike program, modelled on its successful bait car program, in which some bikes are outfitted with location trackers.

“In other cases, it’s just a matter of putting a bike out and having officers watch it,” said Montague. “Unfortunately, we don’t have to watch for very long.”

The crime data provided to The Sun by the VPD shows, not surprisingly, a strong seasonal pattern to bike thefts, with about five times more bikes stolen in July and August than December and January.

Noon and 6 p.m. are the peak times for bike thefts, though VPD says this may be simply because, regardless of when bikes are stolen, people are most likely to discover them gone at lunch and after work.

The data analyzed by The Sun only includes bikes stolen in the City of Vancouver. Thefts in the suburbs or at the University of B.C., which has its own RCMP detachment, are not included.

A couple months after Li’s going away party, Moutal was at his home in Mount Pleasant when he heard a knock at the door.

“My neighbour says: ‘I’m not sure if you know this but your garage door is wide open,’” recalled Moutal, who was in the habit of leaving Li’s 2009 Kona Dew Drop unlocked in the garage.

The garage door, which didn’t always close properly, had accidentally been left open, apparently tempting a passing thief.

“I ran out there and my bike was gone,” stolen for the second time in six months, said Moutal.


Eric Moutal outside his garage in the back alley where he stores his current bike. Eric inadvertently bought a bike stolen from one of his friends that was advertised on Craigslist.

The Kryptonite lock that was sawed off Belinda Li’s bike.

Belinda Li with her Kona Dew Drop bike before it was stolen.