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Locks no deterrent for determined bike thieves, police survey finds

Determined bicycle thieves are using portable power tools to break even the best quality locks, Ottawa police say. (Corepics VOF/Shutterstock - image credit)
Determined bicycle thieves are using portable power tools to break even the best quality locks, Ottawa police say. (Corepics VOF/Shutterstock - image credit)

An informal survey of recent bicycle theft victims by Ottawa police suggests bike thieves in the city are largely undeterred by locks, even top-quality ones.

The voluntary survey was conducted over the last couple years and includes responses from 60 victims from across the city, police said Wednesday.

They have the means, the abilities and the tools to break through most locks. - Const. Ryan Cuthbert, OPS

Of those, 43 (71.7 per cent) said their bike was locked when it was stolen. More than 28 per cent said their bike was stolen while they were "out and about," while more than 13 per cent said their bike was stolen from a garage and nearly seven per cent said the thieves broke into a shed or condo locker.

(Asked where their bike was stolen from, about half of the respondents answered "other," indicating a variety of locations including a friend's residence or a parked vehicle.)

Of those who said their bike was locked when it was stolen, nearly one-third said they spent up to $50 on a bike lock and 35 per cent said they spent between $50 and $75. The remaining one-third (33.4 per cent) told police their lock cost more than $75.

Thieves using power tools

According to Const. Ryan Cuthbert, who helped conduct the survey, knowledgeable bike thieves will take the time they need to break through just about anything.

"The bike thieves in Ottawa have been persistent and relentless. They have the means, the abilities and the tools to break through most locks," Cuthbert told CBC in an email.

Using a cheap lock or no lock will "make it easy" for thieves, Cuthbert said, but even sturdy locks can be breached with the right tools and enough time. (A top-of-the-line Kryptonite U-lock can cost as much as $240.)

"The more expensive sturdy locks require more time and power tools like a grinder to get through. The thieves are definitely using power tools to break the locks because they are aware of the value of high-end bikes and their components."

Nor are "secure" bike lockers in condo buildings safe from thieves, Cuthbert warned.

Ottawa police officers load suspected stolen bikes into a van after executing a search warrant at a property on St. Laurent Boulevard earlier this month. Police said more than 40 bicycles were recovered.
Ottawa police officers load suspected stolen bikes into a van after executing a search warrant at a property on St. Laurent Boulevard earlier this month. Police said more than 40 bicycles were recovered.

Ottawa police officers load suspected stolen bikes into a van after executing a search warrant at a property on St. Laurent Boulevard earlier this month. Police said more than 40 bicycles were recovered. (Ottawa Police Service/Facebook)

Bike theft considered 'a major issue' 

Among the survey's other findings:

  • The majority of respondents valued their stolen bikes at somewhere between $500 and $1,000, while some were worth $1,500 or more.

  • More than two-thirds of respondents (68.3 per cent) used their bikes primarily for leisure, while 65 per cent commute to school or work on two wheels and 38.3 per cent cycle for fitness.

  • One-third used their bikes daily, while 35 per cent reported using their bikes twice a week. The rest were somewhere in between.

  • The vast majority (98.3 per cent) now believes bike theft has become a major issue in Ottawa.

  • A slightly smaller majority (86.7%) believes Ottawa police need to allocate more resources to combat bike theft.

Cuthbert's D Platoon team in the ByWard Market recovered 56 stolen bikes in a crackdown last year. Last week, the Ottawa Police Service announced its south district neighbourhood resource team had recovered more than 40 stolen bicycles after executing a search warrant at a property on St. Laurent Boulevard.

Some of those were linked to break-ins that had occurred in the city's Elmvale/Riverview, Hawthorne Meadows and Playfair Park neighbourhoods.

Ottawa police encourage anyone who has had a bike stolen to report the theft. Owners are also encouraged to register their bikes with 529 Garage.