I've written in a previous column about the disproportionate pain that bike thefts cause. It's a loss that's difficult to quantify exactly; it's not just about the object itself and its monetary value, but the associated freedom and independence that a thief unwittingly - and uncaringly - takes away.
My family was recently robbed for the fourth time in as many years. The thief cut the lock and took our bike from a public bike rack under cover of darkness while my partner was working an evening shift nearby. Thankfully, though, this theft turned out quite differently because this time, unlike the others, there was a happy ending: we got our bike back.
One of our first actions following the theft was to put the word out on Craigslist and Facebook. A couple of days later, this led to a reported sighting. Less than a day after that, the bike was recovered.
The different outcome this time really speaks to the power of online networks and how rapidly they can be used to spread information. On Facebook alone, a photo of the missing bike had been shared multiple times and in less than an hour had reached more than 1,000 online friends, many who live in Vancouver. That's a huge number of eyes to have looking for one specific bike.
Along with leveraging the power of the Internet, here's my checklist (built up from far too much experience) of the critical steps you can take to prevent a theft, to minimize the impact if it does, and then what to do if it happens to you.
. Invest in a good lock. No lock is infallible but a quality U-lock, heavy duty chains and accordion locks are much harder to break than cable locks.
. Look for locks that come with anti-theft guarantees, which provide an extra measure of financial protection.
. Consider getting insurance if you don't have it and make sure bikes are covered. It only takes one loss to make it worthwhile.
. Choose a distinctive bike or spend some time making yours distinctive. The more it stands out, the better the chances of someone spotting it.
. To make your bike one-of-a-kind, add stickers, stencils or paint to key spots on the frame. These customized markers will make your bike distinctive and could prevent theft as well as aid in tracking it down if it is stolen.
. Make a note of any modifications you make to the mechanics and hardware to suit your riding preferences such as longer cranks, a new seat, handle bars, etc.
. Photograph your bike! Having a recent and current photo lets people know what they are looking for and can be easily shared online.
. Pick your parking spots. Well-lit, high-traffic areas are good. If there's no metal rack, make sure whatever you're locking your bike to is secure.
. Report the theft right away. While many bikes are never seen again, the police do manage to recover a few and you never know if yours will be one of them.
. Spread the word both online and off. Use your social networks, locally based sites like Craigslist, and put up posters in the vicinity of the theft.
. Make sure you have your bike's serial number written down. This made the recovery process much quicker and easier for us, as we were able to prove the bike was ours.
Finally, a huge thank you to everyone who shared our story and especially the Good Samaritan who took the time to report the initial sighting. Your efforts ensured that we recovered not only our bike, but our faith in human nature.
Kay Cahill is a cyclist and librarian who believes bikes are for life, not just for commuting. Read more at www.sidecut.ca or email email@example.com.