News

App creator aims to halt bike theft

Const. Rob Brunt, of the Vancouver Police Department, left, and J. Allard, founder of 529 Garage, can pick and prod as hard as they want, but they can’t peel a warning sticker that can be affixed to frames of bicycles registered with the online anti-theft system, which was presented to local police, bike retailers and cycling groups Wednesday.  - CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin
Const. Rob Brunt, of the Vancouver Police Department, left, and J. Allard, founder of 529 Garage, can pick and prod as hard as they want, but they can’t peel a warning sticker that can be affixed to frames of bicycles registered with the online anti-theft system, which was presented to local police, bike retailers and cycling groups Wednesday.
— image credit: CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

One man is so angry someone stole his bike he’s vowed cut bike theft in North America by half within 10 years.

To do it he’s created 529 Garage, a free smartphone app that lets cyclists register bikes, complete with bike descriptions, photos and serial numbers, for free, so they can instantly alert cycling communities and police in multiple municipalities if their bikes are stolen.

The system made its Vancouver Island debut at a presentation to Nanaimo RCMP, bike store operators and cycling groups Wednesday.

J Allard, formerly with Microsoft and inventor of the Xbox, had a custom Santa Cruz mountain bike and other belongings stolen – including restaurant receipts that lead to identity theft – from a truck in a secure parking garage in Seattle in 2013.

“It was about two weeks after I left Microsoft and I had some time on my hands and I was going to go get that guy,” Allard said.

He shared photos and details about his bike with the Seattle police and cycling community. Thirty days later he got a tip his bike was for sale on eBay. Allard tracked down the seller who, it turned out, lived in a $1.8-million home purchased with proceeds from selling stolen goods online. Further research revealed the sheer magnitude of bike theft across Canada and the U.S.

“This is about a $500 million (annually) problem in North America,” Allard said. “Do you know how many companies, school startups and high tech, are getting tens of millions of dollars invested to create a $500 million industry?”

Allard developed his system, which operates in B.C., Washington State and Oregon, and brought bike shops, manufacturers, law enforcement, cyclists and municipalities together to help register bikes. In 2015 he partnered with Vancouver Police Department and within six months, 8,500 Vancouver cyclists registered bikes and dozens of stolen bikes have been returned to owners. Allard recovers some operational costs by offering optional 529 Garage theft-deterrent stickers for $13 each that, pasted to a bike’s frame, are nearly impossible to peel off. The company also sells kits for registering multiple bikes, locks and other products and has special pricing programs for retailers.

Kevin Beerman, manager of Pacific Rim Bicycles, who attended the meeting, as did representatives from Arrowsmith Mountain Cycles and Hub City Cycles, said he thinks the registration is a good idea, but major bike retailers need to get behind it.

“I definitely think it is a good start, though,” Beerman said.

The Nanaimo RCMP are now helping to promote the program.

“We support project 529,” said Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman. “We recognize it’s not the be-all to end-all, but it’s a step that we have to take to combat bike theft in our community.”

To register bikes, please visit the 529 Garage website at https://project529.com, which also offers extensive information on and products specializing in bike security.

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