A bike stolen in Manitoba resurfaced in B.C. It’s more common than you think

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When a bike was stolen from Merril Pauls’s Winnipeg garage in October of 2020, he reported it stolen to police, in the hopes that someday it would somehow be retrieved. He just didn’t think it would resurface three provinces over.

Bike thefts in Vancouver have plunged 40 per cent since 2015, though the city still has the highest number of thefts per capita compared to other major Canadian cities. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

When a bike was snatched from Merril Pauls’s Winnipeg garage in October of 2020, he reported it stolen to police in the hopes that someday it would be retrieved.

He didn’t think it would resurface three provinces over.

Nearly ten months after the bike, which belonged to Pauls’s son, disappeared into the night, he received a call from RCMP saying it had — finally — been found. The only catch? The call was coming from the detachment in Surrey, B.C.

“It’s just interesting to speculate how and why it got that far across the country,” said Pauls.

“Is this some kind of organized pipeline where all these bikes are thrown into a big truck? Could it have gone from one person to the next? Could it have gone to other places along the way?”

RCMP told Pauls the bike came into their possession after they apprehended a person who had been riding it. While the person was in custody, they plugged the bike’s serial number into their database and found that it had been reported missing months before in Winnipeg. 

Bikes moved within hours

Surrey RCMP said in a statement to CBC News that cases like this one are rare, and that most bikes that are stolen in one area tend to be re-sold relatively quickly in the same geographic location.

But Const. Rob Brunt, the Vancouver Police Department’s bike detective — and the only bike detective in Canada — said he’s seen an escalation in cases where bikes are quickly moved to another city, sometimes within hours of being stolen.

A man holds a small bicycle while riding down a street in Vancouver in the summer of 2020. Police say stolen bikes are often quickly traded for illicit drugs. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“We’re seeing bicycles from across Canada move and move quickly. We’ll see a bike stolen from Kamloops or Kelowna end up in Vancouver in 12 or 24 hours,” he said, noting the force is still working to determine how organized these thefts are, and why bikes are being moved between cities.

“My educated guess is that a bike stolen in Kelowna and moved to Vancouver, when it comes to Vancouver the seller doesn’t have to worry so much about the owner seeing their bike for sale. So it makes them more invisible to getting caught.”

Brunt said demand for bikes skyrocketed during the pandemic, with more and more people looking for a safe way of getting around and exercising. He said that sky-high demand, and known links to the drug trade, could explain why bikes are being moved into urban centres to be sold.

“Anywhere there’s drug trades, which is all cities, there’s the ability to steal a bicycle and trade it straight across for the drug of your choice. And they get pennies on the dollar, so your $6,000 bike maybe got them maybe $200 worth of cocaine, or maybe even $50.”

Vancouver Police show off 148 stolen bikes valued at more than $100,000 recovered from multiple storage units in 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Online registry tracks bike-theft data

Brunt said cases of cross-Canada bike thievery are still rare, estimating that around three per cent of stolen bikes are moved to another city. The data comes from Project 529, an online registry and app that allows bike owners to register their bike, and then search through the database if their bike is stolen.

Launched in Vancouver and now available in Canadian cities like Ottawa, Winnipeg and Calgary, the registry has upwards of two million bikes. And Brunt said thanks to the registry, bike thefts in Vancouver are down 40 per cent since 2015. In some other Canadian cities, he said, bike thefts have gone up 200 per cent since the start of the pandemic.

Pauls described the newly recovered bike as a “generic, middle of the pack” mountain bike he had purchased for his son at a sporting goods store a few months before it was stolen, and said ultimately he decided to give the bike to friends living in B.C., rather than deal with the logistics and cost of shipping it back across the country.

“We did some basic math and realized it wouldn’t be worth it. Basically, some criminal organization moved our bike from us to our friends in B.C. for us, I guess, would be the good way to look at it,” he said.

Brunt said oftentimes, the value of a bike to its owner far exceeds its monetary value, and a bike theft can be devastating to an owner who depends on it.

“A $300 low-end bicycle could be somebody’s only transportation to work, only transportation to school,” he said.

Brunt recommends that cyclists register their bikes with Project 529, purchase a good lock, and always lock up their bikes, even when stored indoors — your best chance to avoid your bike going on an impromptu road trip without you. 

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