If you’re an avid cyclist living in Kingston, chances are you’ve had your bike or bike parts stolen, particularly if you live or work downtown.
In fact, bike theft is so common now, Graeme Healey, owner of Frontenac Cycle Sport, no longer even stocks cable or chain bike locks in his store.
“I don’t sell cable locks anymore. I used to sell a lot of cable locks because they used to be kind of considered good enough for most cases, but now it’s just… No, you can’t have a cable lock, because that’s exactly what thieves are looking for,” Healey said, noting that, in the close to 16 years he’s worked at Frontenac Cycle Sport, there has been a significant increase over the amount of bike theft in the past five years.
Healey said the only option for locking up a bike in Kingston these days is a U-lock… but even then, thieves can take parts off of bikes, or alter whatever a bike might be locked to in order to gain access. Bike thieves have been known to loosen poles in the ground, cut into bike racks so they can be bent and bikes can be removed, and even remove bolt from concrete to get at a locked up bike.
“Bike theft is so rampant… And it’s definitely a problem that’s gotten worse,” Healey said with a sigh. He speaks about bike theft almost as though he’s bored of it, but there is also pain and annoyance in his voice.
“I’d say someone comes in and reports something stolen two to three times a day,” he said.
“We’re open six days a week, so that 12-ish incidents of theft a week. And sometimes it’s more. Sometimes I’ll have six in a morning, whether it’s a wheel or a seat or a complete bike or whatever.”
Healey said he and his employees know that bike theft is underreported in Kingston, and that they know why: reporting a $60 bike seat and post stolen is very hardly, if ever, going to get that seat returned. But if people don’t report bike thefts or the theft of bike parts, the police and the politicians that can try to help combat the issue don’t have any facts or figures to go off of.
That’s why Healey and his team decided to launch a survey for those who’ve fallen victim to bike theft to fill out.
“If my shop is seeing this many people who’ve experienced some sort of bike theft, I know other shops must be seeing it as well,” he said.
“Something needs to be done, and the only thing I can think of is to get the statistic to show City Councillors and to show the police to say ‘look, this is a big problem.’”
Healey and his co-workers created a public survey using Google docs to begin documenting the crimes. The plan is to take the data they collect to City Council and Kingston Police in the hopes of moving forward towards some sort of solution. They launched the survey on Wednesday, Aug. 15, and, in less than a month, have over 135 responses. From stolen tires, seats, and accessories, to complete bikes somehow disappearing despite the owners’ best efforts, it all adds up, Healey explained.
“I mean, if you look behind me right here, this is a gentleman who had his bike stripped. The cost of replacing all those parts is approximately the same as buying a new bike, maybe a little bit less,” he said.
“If the whole front wheel gets stolen on a bike with a disk brake, the rotor is $25, the tire is $25, the tube is $10, and the wheel is $70 to $85… So you know, right there, that’s close to a quarter of the cost of this bike. In one quick steal.”
For those that come in to Frontenac Cycle Sport with a theft-related issue, Healey is offering 15 per cent off of any work or replacement parts if the customer will fill out the survey. He also does his best to keep costs to a minimum for those who’ve had their bikes stripped. But that’s not going to solve the problem, which is one that’s a lot bigger than most people think, Healey expressed.
“If you follow who’s stealing the bikes, it’s a large majority drug addicts. And I think it’s a large majority drug addicts because I think they’re preyed upon by smarter, more organized criminals that know that these guys are expendable people who will just get arrested and come back out 24 hours later and go and do it again. So they always have this steady supply of workers,” he said, adding that he is certain bikes are being taken out of town in mass quantities.
“If the police really wanted to solve a drug issue, a bike theft ring would be a good place to start.”
Additionally, the bikes that get stolen and/or stripped end up being used piece by piece to build “Frankenstein bikes” which not only aren’t worth half the price of the parts that go into them, but they could also be dangerous, Healey noted.
And what makes the matter further frustrating for Healey, his fellow cycling enthusiasts, and his clients is how detrimental bike theft is for those who want to use cycling as their primary mode of transportation. Healey said that, while he completely understands that police have a lot of pressing matters to deal with, it would be a step in the right direction to have at least member of the local force dedicated to documenting and tracking bike thefts – especially in a city that seems to pride itself on being ‘sustainable’ and promoting ‘active transportation.’
“For example, the guy whose bike I’m working on right now, he’s is no stranger to stuff getting stolen. He’s a great guy and he’s got a number of of kids, and they all bike around the city and,” Healey said.
“If you were to ask his family ‘what’s the number one obstacle to biking?’ bike theft would probably be their biggest thing, because they ride in the bike lanes, the follow the rules, they do all the things that they should do as cyclists, but then they’re still preyed upon at a much higher rate than a motorist would ever be preyed upon.”