Expensive bikes are going missing at an alarming rate in Whistler. Since the start of the bike season there have been anywhere from four to seven bikes reported stolen each week, sometimes creeping into the double digits. Last year was worse, with two thefts per day during a particularly brutal crime wave — but this year is far from over.
The situation is so bad that there's usually very little attention paid to the disappearance of a bike. Standard practice is to file a police report, make an insurance claim, pray the insurance company will come through, buy a new bike from a bike shop using the insurance money and forget about the old bike because it was probably chopped into parts within hours of being stolen.
The thieves are good at what they do and they know that theirs is a racket the authorities have trouble breaking.
Ingo Lou had enough after his fourth bike was stolen. The Vancouver resident decided he was going to make a difference in the world of bike theft.
"I think I was mad for all of 10 or 15 minutes and it just hit me, this can't go on," he says from his offices in Vancouver.
The filmmaker brainstormed a show called To Catch A Bike Thief. The premise is simple: create a bait bike, capture the theft on video, chase down the thief on video and publicly humiliate the thief.
"We kind of wanted to create a show, a web series, that would provide tools, technologies, solutions that cyclists and communities could use to protect themselves against bike theft," says Lou.
He put his idea in motion and with a team of helpers created a demo reel of sorts online at ToCatchaBikeThief.com. He says his group is close to a deal to partner with an Emmy Award winning production company interested in developing To Catch a Bike Thief for network television.
"They are fairly confident that we can get the show on OLN," says Lou.
Through his work on the series, Lou has concluded there are three kinds of bike thieves; opportunists, career thieves and organized criminals.
He says opportunists are the folks who find a bike that is easy to steal at a time when they could use a bike. He gives the example of a drunken bar hopper looking to get home as soon as possible after a night out.
"Career thieves are people who have tools and know the best locations and what is best to steal," says Lou.
The most dangerous group of thieves, according to Lou, is the group involved with organized crime.
"They have an employer who says we need a red Cervélo," says the bike theft prevention advocate. "It is a very targeted approach and they look for high-end bikes. You probably see a lot of that in Whistler."
July 4 to 10 was a particularly bad few days. A total of 15 bikes were reported stolen in Whistler during that time period. According to the Whistler RCMP, that number is higher than the average number of thefts in the resort during the summer months.
Amongst the 15 stolen bikes were two high-end downhill bikes that were locked to a bike rack at Spruce Grove. The thieves simply liberated the front wheels from the front shocks and left the two front wheels behind. Some of the other bikes stolen in the six-day period were left unlocked. Tools were used to break at least one lock and free one of the 15 bikes stolen in the six-day spree.
The RCMP is urging bike owners in Whistler to lock their bikes and police in the past have also urged bike owners to record their bike serial numbers. If a bike is recovered after being stolen it can easily be returned if the owner provides the matching serial numbers.
According to Lou and his team, a bike is stolen every 30 seconds in North America.
Lou's objective is to further explore the problem of bike theft, raise awareness and tip the scales of risk and reward in favour of bike owners.
"We have the support of the cycling community in Vancouver," says Lou.
The team that makes up To Catch A Bike Thief is currently raising money to finance the production of a series of 10 episodes. Lou says that doing a good job of producing a series of new shows requires more bait bikes, on-set food and coffee, camera and lens rentals, camera operators, sound recorders and insurance. According to Lou, it is very expensive to insure a video production that involves bike riders chasing thieves through the streets in the dark of night.
Meanwhile Whistler RCMP are also on the case. Bait bikes have been used here in the past, and may be used again in the resort this summer.
Police are also taking the step of warning people that bike thieves are always active in town, and to take every measure possible to secure their bikes.
One week, 90 per cent of bike thefts reported were for bikes that were left unlocked. Bike owners should always secure their bikes with good quality locks, even when kept inside their homes, and should take care to lock the frame — two high-end downhill bikes were taken this year by a thief who left the front wheels behind.
Bike owners should never leave their bikes unattended, and bring them inside whenever possible. Also, never assume a balcony is secure — bikes have gone missing from third floor balconies in the past. Bike thefts also regularly target vehicles, breaking windows to gain access or lifting bikes from the backs of trucks.
Bike owners should also record serial numbers and take photos of their bikes to aid in their identification if they are recovered.
— With files from Andrew Mitchell.