When a bike goes missing, an owner's first reaction is to call the police. But in urban areas, police typically can't offer much help chasing down bikes. Now the Bike Index, a Chicago-based registry with national ambitions, is trying to make reporting theft on their site part of the standard anti-theft protocol for bike owners around the country. The goal is to discourage bike theft by providing a more comprehensive way to track down bikes through a national platform.
"Most cities do have some sort of police-based registry," explains Bike Index co-founder Set Herr, "But the problem is that they're not connected with any other city and bike thieves move bikes [to other cities or states] to sell them a lot of the time." What's more, police-managed registries usually don't open up their data to the public--a less than ideal situation since it's often private citizens finding stolen bikes, not the police.
While working at a bike shop, Herr says he would often encourage customers to register their bikes with Chicago's registry--which involves a trip to the police station--but he knew that, more often than not, they wouldn't do anything because of the inconvenience factor. The Bike Index lets cyclists add their bike right from the shop where they buy it. All that's involved is creating an account and entering the serial number, the make, the color, and other optional information.
"There's a search bar at the top of every page and you can type in a serial number there or type in anything that you want to look at all the bikes," Herr explains. Owners of stolen bikes can add in their phone number to make it easier for whoever recovers it to contact them. (Herr adds that "that information is only visible to people that are signed in, and you can actually restrict who gets to see your phone number" if privacy is a concern.)
Currently, the site is limited to users in Chicago, but the Bike Index team is eager to expand to 10 more cities, including San Francisco, New York, and Austin. That growth depends on the success of a Kickstarter looking to raise $50,000 to pay for full-time web development. “We're giving our supporters a chance to show the world that they care about bike theft and want to work toward a solution,” Herr says.
[Image: Flickr user Chris Blakeley]