Most cyclists have at least one story about a stolen bike — if not several.
It’s not a new problem, but bike theft has reached epidemic proportions in recent years, with local police departments across North America and Europe reporting huge increases during the pandemic. Despite the longstanding awareness of this problem, there have been few novel ideas about how to curb bike thefts and protect consumers.
Enter Garage 529, an international bike registry bringing together law enforcement, local governments, bike shops, and bike owners to make a dent in this growing criminal enterprise.
At its core, Garage 529 is a bike registry service. In 2019, the company reached 1 million registered bikes, making it the first to reach that milestone and the biggest registry in the world. The home page of Garage 529’s website includes a scrolling news ticker with a long list of bikes recently returned to owners thanks to the company’s registry and growing network of partners.
Ambitious Plans for a Bike Registry
For the founders of Garage 529, it’s just the beginning of an ambitious plan to change how bike theft is handled by both consumers and law enforcement. The company hopes to hit 5 million registered bikes by 2022 and has expanded into Eastern Canada.
“Our program brings cyclists, law enforcement, schools and agencies together to attack the bike theft problem from the ground up,” J. Allard, who founded Garage 529 in Portland in 2013, said in 2019. “We’re putting real pressure on criminal activity and, most importantly, getting lots of stolen bikes back to their owners.”
Not only was Allard a former Microsoft employee, but he also helped create the original X-Box. So, when Allard experienced the helplessness of bike theft in 2013, he knew he had the skills to build an online registry to help others.
Early on, Allard joined forces with Const. Rob Brunt, a Vancouver police officer that became Canada’s only full-time detective dedicated only to bike thefts. An excellent profile of Brunt by Maclean’s explains his dedication to fighting this growing crime, and his shock upon seeing the hundreds of bikes held in the Vancouver Police Department — few of them ever returned to the original owners. Today, Vancouver is considered one of the world’s leaders in fighting bike theft.
“As the first city to adopt Project 529, we’re extremely proud to be part of a global team of law enforcement and cyclists who are taking steps to reduce bike theft,” said Brunt, who has become a liaison officer between Project 529 and the Vancouver Police Department. “The program has shown huge success in Vancouver and it’s rewarding to see it spreading across North America.”
Garage 529 has also amassed an impressive body of research into bike theft. The many stats provided by the company’s infographic above reveal the scope of bike theft, its chilling effect on the cycling community — and how little has been done to tackle the problem in a meaningful way.
Registering your bike with Garage 529 is completely free (only requires an email, Facebook, Twitter, or Google account), and improves the chances of getting it back if it’s stolen. Cyclists can visit Project529.com or download the 529 Garage application.
Project 529 acquired the National Bike Registry in 2017. The other major national bike registration service in the U.S. and Canada is BikeIndex.org, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that to date has recovered over 4,800 bikes. (Project 529 does not publish its bike recovery data.)