Winnipeg cycling advocates call for safe bike storage options during pandemic bike boom

Karina Cardona woke up Monday morning to find her bike was stolen, with a snipped cable lock and someone else’s bike tire left in its place.

The 39-year-old lives with a spinal cord injury, and biking is a form of freedom for her.  

“It’s like a sinking feeling. I think for me at this point, it’s almost like immediate tears,” she said.

Winnipeg police say most bike thefts happen during weekdays, between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m, with the highest rate happening on Mondays.

Cardona woke up Monday morning to find a cut bike lock and someone else’s tire where her own bike used to be. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Cardona says she has to lock her bike up outside because her injury makes it too risky to carry it up and down stairs.

“I tell myself that bicycles in Winnipeg have a life cycle and part of it is getting stolen because I’ve had so many stolen,” she said, noting this is the fourth time she’s had a bike taken.

Police say the frequency of bike theft peaked in 2017, with 2,980 bikes stolen, but has since dropped steadily to 2,100 reported stolen in 2020.

However, bikes have been in high demand since the pandemic began, and with more bicycles on our streets than ever before, police recognize there’s also more opportunities for theft.

“Stolen bikes peak in the summer months where ridership is high and therefore the opportunity is also high,” said  Const. Garnie Mcintyre with the WPS property crime unit in an email.

More safe storage needed: Bike Winnipeg

Mark Cohoe with Bike Winnipeg says more long-term safe bike storage options are needed in the city.

“[If] you’re biking to work, it probably means that five days a week your bike is locked up there, pretty much at guaranteed times, for eight hours a day. And that becomes really predictable,” Cohoe said.

He said bike racks on sidewalks are meant for short-term storage, like running in and out of a store or business. 

Mark Cohoe with Bike Winnipeg recommends using two locks – a cable and a U lock, and always securing both wheels and the frame to whatever you’re locking your bike to. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Cohoe says it’s not surprising bike theft has gone down over the course of the pandemic, because fewer people are going to work, but says that could soon change, given the number of bikes that have been sold over the last year.

“Bike sales did go up quite a bit. So there’s a fear that once we sort of bring ourselves back as we sort of rejoin normalcy, that we’ll see that bike theft spike back up again,” he said.

Bike Winnipeg is looking for volunteers who can help explore what other cities are doing to prevent thefts, and help lobby the City of Winnipeg to make bike safety part of its long-term pedestrian and cycling strategy.

WATCH | Bike Winnipeg’s Mark Cohoe demonstrates how to lock up your bike securely:

Bike Winnipeg’s Mark Cohoe demonstrates how to lock up your bike securely to reduce opportunities for thieves. 0:55

“We think it’s a good opportunity for the city to re-look at the strategies it has for bikes and in particular, the security of bikes and anti bike theft measures, to make sure that those bikes that people are getting onto are staying secure.”

While nothing is theft-proof, locks can buy you time and deter thieves Cohoe says. He recommends using two locks — a cable and a U lock — and always securing both wheels and the frame to whatever you’re locking your bike to.

Bike storage for renters, those with mobility issues

Cardona says she’d like to see more bike storage options available to renters as well. She said for those living in apartments, there’s often no place to store a bike safely, and if there is it may not be accessible to people like her.

“I’m more willing to let a bike go than I am to be carrying heavy objects up and down stairs,” she said.

Cardona said she’d like to see more bike lockers like the ones at Confusion Corner where bikes can be stored in a locked metal box.

Cardona would like to see more bike lockers, like the ones pictured here, so that people can safely leave their bikes when out riding. (Darin Morash/CBC)

Cardona recognizes that the issue of theft is also an issue with poverty and addiction, but says people can do their part by watching out for their neighbours.

“Just look out for each other. If you see a bike lying around, where it would unlikely be that somebody left it, take a photo. There’s Facebook groups, like a lost bicycles group for Winnipeg, there’s neighbourhood groups,” she said.

Police encourage all bike owners to register their bikes online with the city’s bike registry, as it’s the only way police will be able to reunite owners with their missing wheels.

Police say while the city recovers up to 1,000 bicycles each year,  less than 10 per cent are returned to their rightful owners because they are untraceable.

Bikes have been in high demand since the pandemic began. But with more bicycles on our streets than ever before, there’s also more opportunities for theft. 2:22