Sunday, July 27, 2008

Liberation Day

Many people from outside of Toronto would be surprised at the lengths to which many Torontonians must go to protect their bicycles from theft. My faithful steed (which I can see from the window of my office), is secured with a U-lock that could survive a nuclear blast. And this is not all I use. To make sure the criminal element doesn't make off with my bike's unsecured rear tire, I employ a vinyl-coated steel cable.

There is good reason for this. Every year, up to 4,500 bikes are estimated stolen in Toronto alone, making bike theft a significant problem. I have personally had two freed from my ownership -- one about a month after I first moved to the city and didn't yet know that I needed slightly better than a Canadian Tire cable lock, and one from the side of a house I was renting. (From under a tarp, no less.)

In both cases, the bikes were ancient and essentially valueless, but this didn't save them from their fate. The theft of a bike, a machine with whom many riders share an almost spiritual connection, is emotionally traumatizing, to say the least. Not to mention financially burdensome.

So when news broke last week that a major bike-theft ring had been busted in the city, and the loot, about 3,000 bikes in all, would be put on display in two nearby warehouses (yes, you read that right -- 3,000 bikes), I decided to go see what I could see:

A good part of the stash is displayed in the larger of the two warehouses. There are so many bikes that police apparently had to hire students to label them all and place them in lines arranged alphabetically by make. Hopeful owners, like visitors to a morgue, trooped along throughout the maze, silently hoping to be reunited with an old friend.

The second warehouse is set up essentially the same, though somewhat smaller. As with my own lost bikes, I was struck by how many were completely rusted out and essentially worthless. But the thief still felt the need to steal them. This would seem to fit the dictionary definition of "compulsion."

As it turned out, neither of my missing rides was among the recovered bodies. But there were more than a few interesting scenes at the police claims desk. One attendee, clutching a single tire, desperately tried to convince an officer that it was his, to no avail. "How can you prove a tire is yours?" the officer asked repeatedly. In a happy ending, we saw one woman pushing away an almost brand-new Miele road bike, only slightly the worse for wear. She was positively beaming.

I bet she was off to buy a pretty solid lock.

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