02 December 2017

How "Bicycle Friendly" Is It, Really?

Toronto is often rated as one of the world's most livable cities, although many cyclists will challenge its 2015 designation as a "bicycle-friendly" community from Share The Road

One thing that makes the city inhospitable is the same thing that casts a shadow over cycling in other places:  theft. According to a recent report, only one percent of the bikes stolen in Toronto are ever recovered.

I would suspect that New York and other cities have similarly minuscule recovery rates.  I also imagine that, like the people mentioned in a story I encountered, cyclists who get their bikes back are more likely to have done so through their own efforts than with any help from the police.

In August, someone broke into the locker if Joshua Henderson's condo on the Bay Street Corridor and took his BMC racing bike.  He soon located it in a Kijiji listing:  He knew the bike was his and the person who listed it was the thief because the photos in the listing were taken in the locker.  

Joshua Henderson's bike on Kijiji

So, Henderson set up a meeting and asked the police to accompany him.  An officer told him to postpone the meeting, and he did.  But when he couldn't contact the investigator the following day, he decided to go on his own.  He filmed the encounter, including the part where the thief fled when Henderson announced that the bike is his and the police were on the way.  

In a way, this story has a not-unhappy ending:  Henderson gave police the video and details of the transaction, both of which they credit for helping them catch the thief, who was wanted in other breaking-and-entering cases. Even after all of that, Henderson says he still feels "anxious" riding his bike.

On the other hand, Corrine Dimnik and her husband are anxious about getting new bikes.  Their Cannondale racing bikes were taken from their condo's underground parking garage in May.  Like Henderson, they saw their bikes listed on Kijiji.

Corrine Dimnik's bike on Kijiji

Dimnik says she contacted the seller and scheduled a meeting in front of two uniformed police officers who were taking her statement.  But the officers told her she'd have to reschedule the meeting until plainclothes officers were available.  

About the same time the Dimniks lost their bikes, another was taken from a neighboring townhouse. The neighbor's bike was posted on Kijiji by the same seller but the neighbor was dealing with a different division and got her bike back.  Dimnik told the officer who took her statement about her neighbor's experience but he didn't know anything about it.  

By that time, Dimnik says, the seller wouldn't answer calls about her and her husband's bikes.  They haven't replaced their bikes and, she says, they're not sure that they will. 

I've known a few people who were similarly disillusioned about losing their bikes--and the lack of help they received.  One didn't take up cycling again even after moving to a rural area where bike theft is almost non-existent.

I am sure that there are many, too many, more stories like theirs in the Big Apple, as well as in Hog Town and other major cities--even the ones deemed "livable" and "bike friendly".


  1. A european friend told me that if you have a bike stolen in Amsterdam it is easy to get another. Go to a junction where a group of bikes get stopped and shout "Hey that's my bike!", A number of bikes will be abandoned and their riders will have fled .

  2. Hey Justine, it's Robin from Haven Cycles! I remembered your blog and had to check it out—glad I did, because this post is so relevant to something that happened later in the shop today. Around closing time a new client brought his bike in to get a small adjustment. A friend of the shop was hanging out and recognized the bike that had just come in the door as one that had been stolen from a friend and fellow messenger over a year ago. A quick phone call and some stickers on the frame confirmed it: this was definitely the missing bike. Jon told the customer (not unkindly but firmly) that the bike was stolen property, that we knew the owner, and that we would be repossessing it. The client said his friend had sold him the bike, and Jon reiterated that he wasn't calling him a thief but that the bike wouldn't be leaving the shop with him. The client walked out cursing the "friend" who had sold it to him! It was a little rough—I really don't think the guy who was riding it was the one who stole it, although he didn't seem too surprised to be hearing all of this. Of course, the original owner was very surprised and quite happy to get it back! And even better, no police necessary. Ha! Great meeting you today. Ride on!

    1. Years ago, we had a similar experience. One of our past-time mechs had lost his bike to a thief. A week or so later, a customer walked in with a bike that had been crudely re-painted (by brush, IIRC) asking us how much it was worth. (Our mech had bought his bike at our shop; it was a unusual marque and we were the only shop selling it.) Our lead mech seized the bike, the customer fled, and bike and rightful owner were happily reunited.

    2. Mike: I'm glad your mech reunited the bike with its rightful owner. If I were living in your area, that would be reason alone for me to patronize your shop!

  3. Coline--Back in the day, it was common knowledge that if your bike was stolen in NYC, you might find it if you high-tailed it to St. Mark's Place around Second Avenue. There, someone might be trying to sell your fixie for a fix. That's exactly what happened to me once and, yes, I got my bike back simply by getting in the guy's face and telling him that the bike was mine. (I could do that in those days!)

    Robin--I am so happy to have met you and Jon. Congratulations on re-uniting the bike with its rightful owner. I know it must have been scary for at least a moment, so I have all the more respect for you.

  4. Robin and Mike: Perhaps you'll be interested to read about how I once stopped a bike thief: https://midlifecycling.blogspot.com/2011/09/bike-thieves-and-squeegee-men.html