Bike-ID is a fledgeling bike registration program that aims to cover the whole of Europe and later North America. And the best thing about it is that the database it’s built upon is open to queries from anyone, for free.
According to Bike-ID’s Kadi-Riin Leisalu, only two to five percent of stolen bikes are ever recovered. Part of this is that so many thefts go unreported, part is that if the cops do find a stolen bike, they have no idea who it belonged to, and part is the ease of filing off the bike’s frame number, rendering it anonymous.
Bike-ID, based in Berlin, Germany, is designed to combat all of these problems. It consists of a $22 marking kit and a database. The kit contains one big Bike-ID sticker, and 300 titanium micro tags. The sticker is applied just like a normal sticker, and is more of a deterrent—the micro tags are where the magic happens.
The micro-tags are each the size of a grain of sand, and they all have the same serial number as the main sticker. You mix the tags with the supplied glue, and paint it over the bike. Just like that, your frame is tagged with hundreds of tiny markers, each identifying the bike. That’s a lot harder to remove than a single frame number. The micro-tags can be read with a pocket microscope.
The second part is the database. Sign up and you can register a bike, and if your bike is stolen you can report that right there. Then, anyone can check the status of a marked bike by tapping in the security number. If you’re in one of Berlin’s flea markets, for example, and you suspect the bike you want to buy might be stolen, you can check it on the spot. Your registry entry also contains a picture of your bike which makes it easier for others to spot.
Bike-ID’s biggest advantage is its international coverage. "Some European countries like Germany, UK and Finland have their own bicycle registries, but registering a two-wheeler is not mandatory in European Union," Leisalu told Co.Exist. "The downside of registering a bicycle in a national registry only is that if it is sold or taken abroad after theft, it will never be returned to the right owner even if found, because the registries do not sync."
In the EU, where land borders between member countries are completely open, moving stolen bikes from, say, Germany to Poland, is an easy way to anonymize those bikes. And because cops can also access the Bike-ID database, if they bust a crack ring of evil bike thieves, they can easily return any tagged bikes to their owners. "With one proper working and syncing database," says Leisalu, "if a bicycle is found abroad, it can be traced back to its rightful owner."
Owners can administer their registration through a smartphone app, and this app also lets owners take advantage of another Bike-ID service, which is coming in 2016—fast and easy bike insurance. "The chances to remove identity from a bike will go down to zero," says Leisalu. This will let the company sell insurance via the app, something that will, he says, only take two minutes to purchase.
The efficacy of a service like Bike-ID relies on its popularity, but if the Berlin company can manage to make the marking scheme and the database the default across the EU, then it could provide a real deterrent to thieves, and may prove to be an important tool to slow trafficking in stolen bikes.