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Citizens Fight Booming Bike Thefts

Mike Pavlik helps recover stolen bikes around Minneapolis. Once, pretending to be a potential buyer, he dressed up in khakis and a sports coat and met a seller. Pavlik took note of the make, model and markings, confirming it was the bike he was seeking. He asked to take it for a test ride. The seller wanted some collateral. "Do I look like the kind of guy that steals bikes, dude?” Pavlik recalls asking the man. He pedaled off. An hour later, the seller texted him, “I guess you’re not coming back?” Pavlik is part of an army of amateur sleuths who find stolen bikes and return them to their owners. As bike theft becomes more profitable, grassroots efforts to thwart thieves are nationwide, says the Wall Street Journal. Pavlik, 51, works part-time at Trader Joe’s when he’s not gumshoeing for Twin Cities Stolen Bikes, which has a Facebook page with 11,000 members. The volunteer group reunites owners with their wheels, often by tracking stolen bikes for sale on Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, Craigslist or eBay and confronting alleged thieves.

Similar efforts exist in Portland, Ore., San Francisco, and Burlington, Vt. In New Orleans, Stolen Bikes Nola has nearly 6,000 Facebook followers and an online “success gallery.” Bike theft is big business, particularly with the arrival of costlier e-bikes. Close to two million bikes are stolen each year in North America, costing cyclists nearly $1 billion, compared with $500 million 10 years ago, says bike registry Project 529. “It’s been bananas lately,” says Bryan Hance, who helps run Bike Index, where cyclists can register their bikes online free and report them stolen. More than 16,000 stolen bikes were reported last year, versus 11,000 in 2019. Hance says the thefts aren’t high priority for police, creating space for volunteers. Police say they take bike theft seriously, though manpower to tackle it is lacking. “Unfortunately in big cities and small towns across the country we’re facing staff retention issues,” says Bill Johnson of the National Association of Police Organizations. “So it tends to get pushed to the back of the line.”


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