Bike thefts 'really big problem'
More than 50,000 have been
reported stolen since 1997 -- 4,600 last year alone
By BRETT CLARKSON, SUN MEDIA
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
He expects to find his bike nearby on the street where he left it
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
"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
"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.
NOT EVEN CLOSE
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,
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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."