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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Bike serial number registration aids in recovery

By Carina Andrews

Bicycles can be an easy and lucrative target for thieves looking to make a quick buck, and they are often difficult for their rightful owners to recover when their serial numbers aren’t registered.

Skylar Hinkley, a former Western student who works at Kulshan Cycles, is an avid bicyclist.

“I have lived in Bellingham for 10 years, and the rate of bike theft has increased tremendously since then,” Hinkley said. “On a regular basis, I’d say at least once a month, I have someone coming in to my store [looking for their lost bike]. And my store is only one of 12 in town.”

Returning stolen bikes to their owners can be difficult, especially when there is no record that relates the serial number of the bike to the owner. Services such as Project 529 and Bike Index are trying to change that.

Hinkley said another reason it is difficult to catch bike thieves because the value of bicycles doesn’t result in felony or grand theft charges. However, the issue of bike theft doesn’t end with catching the thieves.

Both Project 529 and Bike Index are online resources that allow users to register their bike’s serial number to their account. Bellingham uses Project 529 and its database to return recovered bicycles to owners.

According to statistics provided by the Bellingham Police Department in a Facebook post, 73 percent of bike thefts are reported without a serial number and only 26 percent of all reported bike thefts result in bike recovery.

Project 529 is a for-profit organization that, along with registration, helps users connect and help each other.

“I think Project 529 is a good idea because not only is it registering your bike but it is also creating a network to have more eyes looking for bikes that have gone missing,” Hinkley said. “So not only are the police tuned into it, but it is also using other members of 529 to recover stolen bikes.”

“What I learned is that you should register all your bikes no matter how much they cost.”


However, co-founder of Bike Index Bryan Hance believes that Project 529 isn’t the best fit for Bellingham and that is why Bellingham is in the process of switching over to Bike Index.

Lost bicycle without a serial number. // Photo by Nic Ulmer

Hance said that Bike Index has been implemented in more bike and pawn shops than Project 529.

Bike Index is a nonprofit organization, opposed to Project 529.

Both Project 529 and Bike Index provide Bellingham police with a database to link bikes to their owners.

Charles Davis, a current Western student, had his $700 bike stolen from his Fairhaven dorm last year. Davis had not registered his bike and it was never recovered.

“What I learned is that you should register all your bikes no matter how much they cost,” Davis said.

Davis said that he thinks the Bellingham Police Department is doing the best job it can in returning bikes to their owners, but that without registration, there isn’t much it can do.

Along with registering your bike, Hinkley suggests bike owners take more measures to keep their bikes safe.

“Be serious about security. Buy a U-lock, buy a lock that is really going to prevent thieves from wanting to steal your bike,” Hinkley said.

During Hinkley’s 10 years in Bellingham, he said he has never had his bike stolen, which he attributes to where and how he locks it up.

“I always lock my bike up in a lit area in front of a shop that’s open. Something that’s in a high-traffic zone and with a lock that really has a high level of security,” Hinkley said. “I think [bike theft] is really preventable and it starts with bike owners.”


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