Bike bandits get gumption

Whitehorse bike thieves are developing more expensive tastes and going to greater lengths to steal pricey rides. Store owners and RCMP agree this summer has seen a spate of stolen high-end bikes.

Whitehorse bike thieves are developing more expensive tastes and going to greater lengths to steal pricey rides.

Store owners and RCMP agree this summer has seen a spate of stolen high-end bikes. And thieves have grown more brazen.

Rather than simply picking off unlocked bikes, bike bandits have snipped cables in daylight downtown or made off with entire car-mounted bike racks at night.

It’s a big hit for victims, who may pay upwards of $6,000 for a high-end, dual-suspension mountain bike.

“It’s worst than normal,” said Devon McDiarmid, president of the Contagious Mountain Bike Club and an employee at Icycle Sport. “A little while ago, it was almost a rash, almost every day someone was coming in reporting a stolen bike to us.”

What’s happening to these bikes remains unclear. It’s unlikely they can be easily sold in the territory, with its tight-knit community of cycling enthusiasts and store owners.

That makes Dean Eyre, owner of Cadence Cycle, wonder if an enterprising crook is filling a trailer with high-end bikes.

Police have observed an increase in high-end bikes being stolen – including at least one expensive bike stolen from an officer. But they have no knowledge of any organized bike-theft ring, said Cpl. Rick Aird.

The rise in bike thefts serves as a reminder for riders to, above all, lock up. McDiarmid often cringes while walking downtown after spotting an expensive bike left unlocked outside a store. Many bikes are stolen this way, with their owners deciding there’s no need to lock up because they would only be a minute.

To wit: at the RCMP headquarters is a shed full of stolen bikes that have been recovered, but not yet claimed. More than a few have locks dangling off their frames. Their owners, evidently, made the mistake of not using them.

Notwithstanding the latest bout of brazen thefts, most bike thieves tend to be opportunistic. That’s why Eyre offers this advice to customers: “You want to be locked up better than the bike next to you.”

For starters, this means avoiding gaffes such as only locking the front wheel, which can usually be disconnected in a matter of seconds.

It also helps to know your bike’s serial number, in case it’s stolen. Better yet, scratch a unique code on to a discreet place on the frame – Eyre suggests using your driver’s licence number, which police can later look up if the bike is recovered.

Even placing a simple sticker on a bike can help recover it if stolen, said McDiarmid.

But a determined thief can break any lock. That’s why it’s advisable to keep bikes inside overnight.

Yukon visitors don’t always have that option. Many hotels don’t let customers bring their bikes inside. “So the tourists are forced to leave their bikes outside their vehicles,” said McDiarmid. “And that’s just prime pickings.”

Occasionally someone will enter Eyre’s store with a stolen bicycle, to sell or have repaired. Usually they are easy to spot. In one case this summer, “I knew because I sold it,” he said.

Other times, Eyre encounters bikes built from stolen components. “You see bikes you know are built from five different bikes. They’re always a mess,” he said. Eyre refuses to service these.

Citizens on Patrol president Wayne Balcaen has also observed the uptick in pricey bikes being nicked. But his group has also observed an overall decline in the annual number of bike thefts over the past decade.

Ten years ago, his group obtained nearly 250 stolen bikes. Last year, they collected 63. This year they’ve so far collected about 40 bikes.

Each autumn, Citizens on Patrol typically holds an auction to sell off bikes that haven’t been claimed yet. But last summer there were too few bikes to hold an auction and earn a profit.

So they donated about 15 bikes to youth in Pelly Crossing and stored the rest for an auction to be held in the autumn of 2011.

Since last May, Whitehorse has bought two batches of lockers, capable of holding a total of 25 bikes, for $40,000. That works out to $1,600 per unit.

The lockers are touted as a safer alternative to locking up at bike racks. What’s stored inside is out of sight, to avoid tempting thieves. They also shelter bikes from rain and snow, and allow users to store other items, like groceries while shopping.

A survey of bike lockers at four downtown locations Tuesday morning found half the units in use.

Lewis Rifkind, a Whitehorse environmentalist, has been a vocal supporter of the lockers. “But to be honest, I’ve never actually used one,” he said.

Why? Because Rifkind follows a fairly tight circuit from his downtown condo to work, with forays to coffee shops and grocery stores. None of his stops correspond with the locker locations. He, for one, wishes there was one at Qwanlin Mall.

The lockers have also found other uses than as bike repositories. At least one unit has been used by a homeless man to store plastic bottles. But, Rifkind notes, at least the locker was used to support another green cause. “It’s nice,” he said.

The lockers may seem expensive, but, to put things in perspective, they collectively cost less than a single parking space, said Rifkind. “If it encourages a couple more people to cycle, that’s great.”

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