High-tech tracker deters bike thefts

Gord Hobbis of Cap
Gord Hobbis of Cap's Cycles with one of the Chip-A-Bike sticker kits that are affixed to a bike's frame as a theft deterrant. The tracking system was developed by Stewart Pennington of New Westminster after he had a new Norco mountain bike stolen.

Stewart Pennington knows how easy it is to lose a bike to theft.

So the New Westminster resident and self-confessed tech tinkerer is trying to do something about it.

After Pennington had a new Norco mountain bike stolen while he was working on a home renovation contract in Crescent Beach, he developed Chip-A-Bike, an identification system that uses a tiny radio frequency chip hidden somewhere in a bicycle's frame and stickers embedded with a unique QR code affixed to the frame to allow a cyclist instant access to all their bike's specifications, including a photo. That information can then be relayed to the police department, bike shops and even the owner's insurance company to alert them to the theft and possibly help them retrieve their stolen steed.

"It works as a good deterrent, people don't know whether the bike is being tracked," said Pennington. "If people see the sticker, they'll take another bike."

Pennington said there's currently about 11,000 bikes from all over the world registered on the Chip-A-Bike website and local police departments have expressed interest in tying the bike data of registered users into their databases of registered vehicles to make it easier for them to identify stolen bikes and get them back to their rightful owners.

A cyclist's loss can sometimes be Gord Hobbis' gain, when they come into his Cap's bike shop in Sapperton to buy a new ride to replace the one that was stolen.

But when his staff are kept busy all day tracking down receipts of past purchases after a thief cleaned out a number of storage lockers at a condo complex, as recently occurred, he sees first-hand the toll bike theft can exact.

"A lot of times bikes aren't stolen, they're given away," said Hobbis, referring to the lack of attention cyclists pay to properly securing their bike, storing it in a safe place and getting it sufficiently insured. "Don't leave your bike anywhere you wouldn't leave your two-year-old child."

Hobbis recently started offering Chip-A-Bike at his shop, and on May 10 he'll have a Chip-A-Bike ID station set up at the Rotary Ultimate Frisbee tournament at Mercer Stadium. All proceeds for the $10 ID kit, that includes a set of stickers along with access to the secure website where users can record all the data about their bike, as well as a photo, go to KidSport New West.

Pennington said he's working on technology that will allow cyclists to track their stolen bikes live using GPS and WiFi, as well as a mobile app that alerts users if a stolen bike happens to ride by.

"For years the mentality has been if the bike is gone, we'll sell you a new one," said Pennington. "When you get a car, you don't leave the dealership unless you have insurance."

And getting a theft deterrence system for a bike is a form of insurance, said Pennington.

The Rotary Ultimate Frisbee tournament from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., May 10, at Mercer Stadium



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