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Volunteers play key role in Bike Index's recovery efforts

Published February 18, 2022

CHICAGO (BRAIN) — When a smash-and-grab or individual theft occurs with its registered bikes, Bike Index recommends first filing a police report, but co-founder Bryan Hance and Executive Director Craig Dalton said relying exclusively on law enforcement for recovery often isn't enough.

That's where the Bike Index Ambassadors can help. These volunteers — often a part of local Facebook groups, bike shops, or other cycling organizations — donate time to help find stolen bikes. Bike Index connects them all through a Slack communication channel.

"We have law enforcement there and cycle shop owners, and others," Hance said. "They tend to be cyclists and industry people. There are people who open up Bike Index on one tab (on their computer) and Facebook Marketplace or (online marketplace) OfferUp on the other tab, and it just takes 5 minutes. Boom, boom, boom to make those matches. The spiel is to try to contact your cops first. You probably won't get anywhere with that, but check the boxes. We know from our own interactions you'll get the runaround, but at least when you do these further steps, you can say you at least tried."

Hance said the ambassadors sometimes go a step further and actually make contact with the thief through various measures that he did not want to disclose. "And the people who do it best, they picked the wrong calling. They should've been in the CIA. They're able to 'read' these people and aim right at their biggest fear in the world and then get them to give up a bike without a fight."

He said one, a Seattle retiree "with a penchant for chasing down stolen bikes," recovered 60 bikes last year. "Seattle has what a lot of these other cities have: a hardcore dedicated group of people who are coordinating behind the scenes, in the dark, out of public eye, typically on Facebook or through other mechanisms to find bad ads, and collect info on the bad guys, and make bike recoveries."

Hance said in a perfect world there wouldn't be a volunteer need. "It would be, 'Oh, you're in this one city, call this cop. In that particular city, I email this guy all the time. Hey, do you want to go chase this one?'

'I've been reassigned to a new department.'"

An ambassador-led recovery for a Pacific Northwest retailer stands out to Hance. OfferUp had a post featuring new bikes in boxes, which in fact were stolen. After more pictures of the boxes were emailed to the ambassador posing as potential buyer, one included lot numbers and a bar code.

"They were able to go to that retailer and say, 'Let me guess. You guys are missing these.'

'Yeah, we had a truck get robbed.'

'Well, here's your guy.'

Hance added, "That one didn't (get publicity), but that does occur."

If you are a retailer or manufacturer, Bike Index is looking to connect with you.

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