529 Garage: End bike theft

“Impossible! You can’t end bike theft!” 

That’s an antiquated way of thinking.

But now, there are new tools available that have been proven to reduce bike theft. Technology allows new solutions, and one of those solutions is “529 Garage“. With this universal bicycle registration database, bike owners, bike sellers, and police are all empowered to play a role in reducing bike theft and in reuniting bikes with their owners. Here’s everything you need to know about why 529 Garage works, and how you can participate…

What is 529 Garage?

529 Garage is a worldwide bike registration database. It is the most widely used bike registry in North America, with over 800,000 registered bikes as of 2018. Any bike owner can register their bike. By uploading a photo of your bike and its serial number to the database, it will be possible to reunite you with your bike if it ever gets stolen.  

Does it really work?

Yes! 529 Garage has already been rolled out in many cities and has a proven track record. Rates of bike theft are substantially reduced, and the likelihood that a stolen bike comes home increases dramatically. In Vancouver, bike thefts dropped by 30% in just 2 years. On Granville Island, when combined with other theft-deterrent measures, bike theft dropped by 70%. Over 2 years, Whistler has seen a 57% drop in rates of bike theft. Bikes are now routinely returned to owners in all cities that have an active 529 Garage system in place. The 529 Garage approach combines the same kinds of effective tactics that are used in pet microchipping, neighbourhood watch programs, vehicle VINs, and home security decals. 

What’s the point of the shield decal?

The shield is a tamper-resistant registration decal. It advertises that your bike has been registered. This acts as a theft deterrent, and helps raise community awareness of the program. Furthermore, the shield has a unique code that will allow community members to match a bike against theft alerts, and allows police to easily search your bike in the database without hunting for a serial number.

Do I have to get a shield decal?

No. The shield is completely optional. Your bike can still be searched in the database using the serial number you entered when you registered. You can always register your bike now, and add a shield decal later. There will be more opportunities to get a shield at future registration events offered by the 529 Garage Ottawa partners. 

Do the police care?

Absolutely! The Ottawa Police Service is a full partner in this initiative, and are putting financial and personnel resources behind the effort. It’s understandable that there is cynicism in the community about the effectiveness of law enforcement when it comes to stolen bikes. But, that isn’t because the police don’t care; it’s because, until now, there hasn’t been a single comprehesive way to register, report, and recover stolen bikes. While law enforcement recovers huge numbers of stolen bikes, only about 5% are ever reunited with their owners, since so few are registered. What’s more, only about one in five victims of bike theft go to the effort to making a police report. 529 Garage is a game-changing tool that will help Ottawa Police interect with the community and make efficient use of their resources when it comes to fighting bike theft. For more information on exactly how the Ottawa Police service will be using 529 Garage, visit their website.

How will this help police?

Bike theft is a low-risk, high-return criminal activity. The unregulated online marketplace allows thieves to sell bikes in other cities, and go undetected by police and victims while making a quick profit. 529 Garage, with a unified network of registered bikes searchable by law enforcement, finally allows police to fight back. BIke theft is often tied to other criminal activity, and police bear the cost of processing and storing this recovered property until selling it at auction. There are far-reaching social and financial benefits to disrupting the bike-theft marketplace.   

What does it cost?

There is no charge to anyone who wants to register their bike. This service is completely free. As an option, you can purchase a shield decal directly from 529 Garage or from a participating local bike shop. Purchasing a shield helps to enhance the protection of your bike, and also supports the costs of running the service. Furthermore, the partners have 600 shield decals to deploy at no charge at registration events that will be offered throughout the summer.

How can this be free? What’s the catch?

No catch. No spam. No ads. Costs are covered through the sale of shields to individuals, and through system access fees paid by law enforcement organizations. Although Garage 529 operates as a not-for-profit organization, there are costs to 529 Garage for developing and supporting the system, and costs associated with using the system. In Ottawa, the Ottawa Police Service, the Ottawa Safety Council, and Bike Ottawa are banding together to cover costs so that the system can be deployed at no charge to bike owners, including 600 shields for the kick-off events. The public benefit of fighting bike theft is huge, and we want to do all we can to encourage everyone to register. The more participation we get, the better 529 Garage will work.

What role do Ottawa bicycle shops and the used bike market play?

Bike shops are important partners in raising the proportion of bikes that are protected, contributing to the overall success of the program. By offering a 529 Garage registration at point of sale, shops can add value for their customers. Shops can also be on the lookout and inform police if a suspicious bike is brought in for service. What’s more, since illegitimate bike sales undercut legal retailers, by disrupting the black market, bike shops will help retain legitimate business. This ensures that they have a loyal customer base that will continue to support local bike shops, another community benefit. While no shields are available for purchase in person yet, the following shops have signed on to help raise awareness of the program:

  •  Mountain Equipment Co-op
  •  Joe Mamma Cycles
  •  Kunstadt Sports
  •  Cycle Salvation
  •  Phat Moose
  •  Bushtukah
  •  Cyclelogik
  •  Full Cycle
  •  Giant

Similarly, buyers and sellers of second-hand bikes can use the 529 Garage system as a way of verifying that a transaction is not supporting the theft economy. When selling your bike, it’s simple to transfer the registration to the new owner.

What is the alert system all about?

Sending an alert:

If your bike is stolen, you can choose to issue an alert to the entire community, to your personal social networks, or just to the police. Those in the community who subscribe to alerts will be able to watch for your bike. Issuing an alert broadcasts your bike profile, with photos you helpfully took when you registered. Police will know that your bike has been marked as stolen, and you’ll be directed to their online reporting site so that you can file a report.

Recieving an alert:

Receiving alerts is 100% optional. But if you’d like to be part of the neighbourhood watch, read on. Alerts are geo-targeted, so, if you choose to subscribe to alerts, you’ll only see those within a 15 km radius of your location. You can also choose how to recieve alerts, whether as a daily hot-sheet email, or in real time. If you think you’ve spotted the missing bike, you can send a notification to police.

Is my bike only protected in Ottawa? What about Gatineau? Or if I’m travelling? 

Your bike is protected anywhere it goes, although protection is enhanced in communities that have active awareness of the 529 Garage program. In Ontario, Ottawa is joining Guelph and Toronto as leaders in rolling out 529 Garage. It makes a lot of sense that our Gatineau neighbours will also join the program, and we know there’s interest across the river. In BC, where the program was founded, many communities, including Whistler, Vancouver, and Prince George have adopted the 529 Garage approach. 

Is my privacy protected?

Yes. The only personal information required is a valid email address. Users are in complete control of who they share their information with. All transactions are passed over secure encrypted connections, and data is hosted in secure data centers.

How long does registration take?

Registration takes about 5 minutes, and your bike will instantly be protected in the system.

Great! How/when/where do I register?

Get the 529 Garage app or visit the 529 Garage website and follow the simple instructions to register your bike. You can also come out to a registration event hosted by the Ottawa Project 529 Garage partners. Just bring your bike, we’ll take care of the rest. If your bike is already pre-registered, you can just ride on by and we’ll add the shield decal. Our launch event is occurring from 3-6 pm on Monday May 13 near the Corktown Bridge south of Lisgar field. Events will be happening throughout the summer, so watch our social media feeds for information about other opportunities.

Anything else I should know?

The more bikes that get registered, the better 529 Garage will work. So tell everyone. Encourage them to register their bikes. If they don’t live in Ottawa, tell them they need to inform their local police force of this very effective tool. Working together, we can #EndBikeTheft

529 garage cities
Cities across North America are rolling out 529 Garage, as indicated by this map of locations where shields can be purchased in person. (Image: 529 Garage)