Mess Media




Bike thefts 'really big problem'

More than 50,000 have been reported stolen since 1997 -- 4,600 last year alone


Toronto Sun, July 13, 2008

Six ways to safeguard your wheels

It's 3 a.m. on a Sunday and Steven MacLeod is done his shift at the Big Bop, a Queen and Bathurst Sts. dive that caters mainly to the punk crowd.

He expects to find his bike nearby on the street where he left it locked up.

Thieves, however, would have other plans.

"The only thing left was the U-lock on the ground with a two-by-four," MacLeod says. "They actually used a two-by-four to wrench the U-lock off my bike."

Despite the late hour, the intersection is still teeming with a motley mix of Goth and punk kids, well-dressed clubbers, and the usual cast of drunken characters camped out on the steps of the old bank building on the northwest corner.

MacLeod, a 37-year-old doorman/sound guy, can't believe his $400 bike was ripped off in full view of the busy intersection on a Saturday night.

"Unfortunately, we live in a city where people turn a blind eye to bike theft. It's pathetic," McLeod says.

It's a frustrating scene all too familiar for the tens of thousands of cyclists who have had their bikes stolen in Toronto over the past 10 years.

"I would say bike theft in Toronto is a really big problem," says Dave Hoyle, a mechanic at the Community Bicycle Network on Queen St. W. "I think that's fairly obvious to everyone. I don't think I'm going out on a limb by saying that, because there's just so many people who have had their bikes stolen.

"It just happens all the time."

According to Toronto Police, more than 50,000 bikes have been reported stolen in the city since 1997. Last year alone, 4,585 bicycles were reported stolen in Toronto.


But everyone, including police, cycling advocates and average cyclists on the street, believe those numbers are nowhere near accurate because most people don't bother to report their stolen bike.

"The percentage of stolen bikes that are reported to police is not even close to the actual number of bike thefts," says Staff-Sgt. Laurie Jackson of the Community Response Unit of 14 Division, the west-end division that saw the most reported stolen bikes in the city last year, with 589.

Jackson is so blunt because she -- along with pretty much the entire Toronto Police Service -- wants to see more cyclists registering their bikes on the Toronto Police Bike Registry Database, which has so far logged 50,000 bikes.

Sean Wheldrake, the city's bicycle promotions coordinator, estimates the real number is closer to about 12,000 stolen bikes a year.

But Wheldrake also adds that while the number is cause for concern, it's relatively low compared to the number of cyclists in the city.

"Here in Toronto we have 2.6 million people and probably a million cyclists, yet we're having 10,000 or 12,000 bikes stolen a year, so I wouldn't call it a big problem," Wheldrake says, adding that the oft-repeated mantra that Toronto is the bike-theft capital of North America simply isn't true.

According to bike-lock maker Kryptonite, Toronto isn't even in the Top 10 worst cities for bike theft, a list that includes Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York in the Top 3.

"It's totally unfounded," Wheldrake says. "Bike theft is directly related to property theft, so there's obviously a lot of U.S. cities that have a lot more (bicycle) theft than we do."

But still, nobody with even a passing interest in cycling denies that bicycle theft is a pervasive problem here.

So just where do all the stolen bikes go?

Igor Kenk stands amid the mountain of hundreds of bicycles piled up in the backyard behind his Queen St. W. store.

If you listen to the word on the street, this is where stolen bikes go to die.

"Clearly I'm the most infamous loser in this city as far as bike theft goes," says a sarcastic Kenk, who squirts oil from a dirty plastic squeeze bottle on to some of the bikes. A shred of tissue paper that doubles as a bandage is stuck to a bloody cut on his blackened, greasy forearm.

Kenk, 49, owns Bicycle Clinic -- though there's no sign on the store -- at 927 Queen St. W. For years, the Slovenian bike mechanic has been a fixture on the sidewalk outside his shop across from Trinity Bellwoods Park, with his long stringy hair, hip pack, and the tools he uses to fix up or "recycle" old bikes.

"I am devoted to bikes. Bikes are the best machine, the best invention ever," says Kenk, who opened up his first store in 1992 at 986 Queen St. W. before moving to his current address in 1995 after buying the building for $85,000.

Recently, he's been offered as much as $600,000 for the property, a price tag he's turned down.

"What am I going to do with all that money? Stick it up my a--?"

Judo-trained and admittedly "out there," Kenk knows full well that since the early 1990s he's been suspected of being the go-to guy for thieves hoping to unload stolen bikes for $50 a pop.

In fact, mention bike theft to anybody who has any interest in cycling, whether it be bike shop staffers, cycling advocates, city licensing officials, the cops who arrest the thieves, or even just the average-Joe cyclist, and Kenk's name is mentioned -- without fail.

"I'm a thief, I'm the darkest nightmare in the western hemisphere," says Kenk, again sarcastically, poking fun at his own dubious reputation.

The truth is -- and Kenk acknowledges this -- some of the bikes piled up in his backyard and in his store are most likely stolen. Some, not all. The same thing would be true for every pawn shop in the city, he says.

But according to both Kenk and Richard Mucha, the city's manager of licensing, Kenk is operating legally and doing everything by the book.

Kenk keeps the city-issued registry book -- second-hand shop owners must fill it in every time somebody sells them a used item -- near the door of his shop when he's working, and says he always asks for two pieces of ID from would-be sellers. Any information about the bike, including its serial number and physical description, is logged, along with the seller's information. The information is relayed to police frequently, Kenk says.

"Bikes that have been floating around the market end up here, and end up in the (registry) book," Kenk says. "They (the police) get the ledgers, they get what they want."

And still, the thieves roll up on bikes to his shop. It's a Monday night and a clean-cut young man wearing a baseball cap pulls up on a mountain bike.

"This guy got pinched already, so I'm not going to buy from him," Kenk says quietly to a reporter before walking over to inspect the bike.

Within moments, the man is riding off down Queen St. W., perhaps to another pawn shop.

"He got pinched so now he can't (sell to me). It's a piece of sh--," Kenk says about the bike the apparent thief was trying to flog. "I don't like these new wave, disposable $99 bikes."

Back outside, Kenk mentions that the occasional angry theft victim will come by the store hoping to find their bike, including a raging man who attacked him recently and was rewarded with a punch in the head for his aggressiveness.

Theft victims will occasionally find their bikes at Kenk's shop, and he said if they can prove he has their bike, he'll give it back to them.

Kenk agrees the current system may be too lax and despite the fact stolen bikes find their way to his store, he says bike theft needs to be addressed somehow.

"Nobody's willing to work on the issue. They just know that I'm the 'bandit' and that's that. I don't give a sh--," Kenk says. "My job is to put (the stolen bike) in police hands, and I challenge anybody that's barking -- I challenge them. Let's go to work, I agree, it's a mess. It's a mess, all this sh-- floating around."