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2006 09 26
Missing: My Bike!
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A week ago my bike was stolen. Not from a public place: not from in front of the grocery store or the post office, not from one of Toronto's newly vulnerable ring posts, not even from Kensington Market. It was stolen from our garage.

Our bike thief gained entry by forcing a window, electing for some reason to bypass the unlocked garage door. This mode of entry was a fortunate error, because in gaining entry the thief knocked over a large box of empty beer bottles stored under the window, sending them tumbling and crashing across the floor, and decided to exit quickly, stealing only my bike and leaving several others untouched.

We've learned some valuable lessons. The first one is that locking (or not locking) your doors may have little to do with your risk of being broken into. The second is that sloth will sometimes protect your more valuable possessions from being stolen. A third lesson might be that when bike thieves succeed, they do so out of persistence rather than smarts. We learned this a couple of years ago when bike thieves spent half an hour breaking concrete at our building in Kensington Market in an unsuccessful effort to steal a bike that could have been taken simply by lifting a broken weld on a wrought-iron railing.

I'm not sure what the thief found so appealing about my bike, a four-year old, purple, smallish, entry-level women's Jamis Explorer with faulty brakes, sticky bearings, and a badly corroded gear system. I'm guessing he -- or she -- wanted to get away with something, however modest. I don't know whether our thief rode or drove off: the former would suggest an individual's desperate opportunism; the latter would imply an organized foray into our Junction neighbourhood.

According to an August Toronto Star article ("Now you see it, now you don't"), bike theft is rampant in Toronto: Star writer Betsy Powell reports that 3,971 stolen bikes were reported to the Police in 2005, and notes further that many additional hundreds or thousands are never reported at all. When I reported my own bike stolen, the Officer I spoke confirmed that thousands of bikes are stolen every year, and pointed out an additional problem: Toronto Police recover thousands of bikes each year and are unable to return them to owners because they cannot be identified by their serial number. He suggested that having recorded my own serial number made my bike 'tenfold' times more likely to be returned. I'm not holding my breath: even if it is recovered, I'm not sure it will be in a condition suitable for repair. However, the Toronto Police Service offers a free Bike Registration program where you submit your bike's description and serial number with the police and that way, if it is stolen, they will already have your description and serial number on file and will be able to return your bike if they recover it. Along a similar vein, the excellent BikingToronto blog reports that the Cycling Cog maintains a Lost and Found forum where cyclists may report or look for their lost or stolen bikes. I'll be posting mine there today.

It is widely known that the new standard for bike security is using two locks, preferably a cable and a u-lock. The folks at Bikes on Wheels in Kensington Market told me that while a hardened key lock is usually better than a cheap combination lock, organized bike thieves carry bolt cutters and can slice through even a thick cable (and sometimes a u-lock) in seconds. The view I have heard increasingly is that locks will not stop bike thieves but may slow them down enough to serve as a deterrent to all but the most persistent.

And so, what's a dedicated biker to do in this city? The advice to ride cheaper and less attractive bikes only goes so far. My husband's junker bike was stolen twice (he found it the first time, concealed in nearby bushes, but the second time it disappeared permanently despite being locked to a ring-post at Old City Hall). And my stolen bike would not sell for $25 at a garage sale: it would cost more to repair than it's worth. Our solution, increasingly, is to rely on salvaged bikes. If the initial investment is low, then its seemingly inevitable theft becomes less costly in terms of replacement. We've become pretty good at spotting repair-worthy bikes in the garbage and at garage sales, and have also become half-decent mechanics at the same time.

As a result, I'm now riding a much better bike than the one stolen from our garage. The new one is a two-time cast-off, passed on by family friends and more recently refitted for me by Peter. It rides much more easily, even though it's now equipped with two locks (in use even in our now solidly-locked garage).

But I miss my little old purple bike. Peter bought it for me shortly after we met so we could cruise the city together, and we have done so long enough to know the city almost as we know each other. Despite its mechanical challenges, my bike fit me like an extra limb. Its frame resonated with the weight of my travels. Riding it, I would routinely achieve something akin to escape velocity, a point when worldly concerns fell away and I became feral and free.

In a few weeks I'll become fully comfortable on the new bike and will remember to look for its unfamiliar shape among the sea of bikes locked to posts along the city's streets. It too will become an extension of my flesh, and I'll roar through the city's streets again, biting at the wind. But it will be a long time before I stop staring at every passing bike, looking for my lost purple chariot.
[email this story] Posted by Amy Lavender Harris on 09/26 at 10:46 AM

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