Stolen bike recovered through covert ‘bike strike’

Heather’s story is not one many Toronto cyclists may be used to hearing.  Although it begins with what is for many an all too common experience – having one’s bike stolen – the tale finishes with a scene that wouldn’t seem out of place in a James Bond film or Tom Clancy novel.  Complete with an improvised set-up at the appropriately named ‘Castle Frank’ subway station, a team of undercover cops, nervous yet supportive friends and a tinted ‘old-school’ SUV, Heather’s story is nothing short of spectacular.

It begins on the Friday night of the long weekend in May, while Heather was having a drink with friends at a bar in Kensington.  “I had a feeling and I don’t normally have that feeling,” recalled Heather, who was anxious over her bike which she had parked outside to a post-and-ring.  “It’s a nice enough bike that I don’t normally take it out at night,” she explains, making it all the worse when, to her shock, she emerged from the bar only to find both her bike and lock nowhere to be found.

Hearing about her loss the following day, a friend jokingly searched Kijiji for a similar bike to Heather’s.  He found one selling for $750 and light-heartedly sent her the link via Facebook.  Remarkably, her friend had actually stumbled upon Heather’s stolen bike, identifiable not only by its make and colour, but by its loosened front brakes mentioned in the description – an adjustment Heather always makes to avoid going head over her heels in case she has to stop suddenly.

In disbelief, she called the number provided and arranged to meet with her potential bike thief for Tuesday.  Following the phone call, she filed a stolen bike report to a cop who, as Heather describes, was completely uninterested in her story and just wanted to take down her info and be done with it.

After giving the cop her purchasing order for the bike, its serial number and description, he referred her to the OPP whose jurisdiction includes online fraud.  The number led to a dead end, however, since not only was the office closed for the long weekend, but the line turned out to be for cases related to child pornography.

Understandably frustrated at the cop’s apparent disinterest, she consulted with some friends and decided to just try confronting the potential thief on Tuesday with an offer of $100 along with several friends and photos to prove that it was indeed her bike.
Tuesday afternoon rolled around and sure enough, she got a call from her bike thief confirming their meeting that evening at six o’clock outside Castle Frank Station.  She quickly texted several friends to meet at Castle Frank and went on Facebook to print off some photos of her riding her bike.

By coincidence, the friend who had originally found the link to her stolen bike happened to be on Facebook chat, so upon seeing Heather online, he asked for an update on her stolen bike search.  Upon hearing that she was “about to go get my bike back gangster style,” her friend freaked, telling her about how there was an active bike mafia in Toronto and that her plan was a terrible idea.

Getting increasingly nervous, Heather decided to try the cops one more time.  It was now almost 5:45 and the clock was ticking.  After giving the police her information and being put on hold twice, she finally met with a voice on the other end of the line: “Heather, is this Heather?  We are going to get this bike back for you, do you trust us?”

She did, and after telling the cop her story he gave her these instructions: “You’re going to take the subway to Castle Frank Station; you’re going to go up the escalators; you’re going to go out the front doors; on your right hand side is Bloor Street; wait there.  Two unidentified police officers are going to approach you.  Do you understand?”

She did, and headed off to Castle Frank to the cheers of her coworkers, all of who were well aware of her coming rendezvous.  Just before Heather entered the subway, she remembered to text her friends – who were all converging on Castle Frank from all over the city – the new plan: “Pretend u don’t know me. Cops involved.”

Heather arrived at Castle Frank, went up the escalator, out the doors and to the right.  Looking around, she noticed a man conspicuously reading a newspaper nearby who turned out to be her boss.  He flashed a quick smile at her before quickly burying himself back in his paper.  On a grassy patch to her left lay a “hippie” – another friend of Heather’s friends, she realized – who acted lost in thought, staring at the leaves hanging overhead.  Continuing to survey the spot, Heather noticed a couple sitting across the street wearing big sunglasses despite it not being a very sunny day. Upon closer inspecting, she saw that they were her friends, pretending to make-out while keeping an eye on her.

Taking in the scene, her phone rang.  “Private number,” the screen read.  Answering it, she heard a deep voice say “Heather, this is District 14.  We’re in a bit of a bind here.  Traffic is really heavy; we’re going to be a little late.  How are you holding up?” Reassuring the cop that she was doing fine, Heather was told to wait and that, whatever she did, don’t contact the bike thief.

All of a sudden, her bike appeared, ridden by a man Heather could only assume was the guy looking to meet her.  “He rides up right next to me,” she recalls, “my bike is within arms length. I could touch it if I wanted to.”  Looking around, the man on her bike waited to see if anyone would respond, knowing a woman of Heather’s age might be watching from nearby.  Heather looked away, giving him no response.  After a minute or two of waiting, the man biked across the street where he circled slowly, watching the street.

Moments later, a hefty and heavily tattooed man wearing a raggedy old outfit approached her: “Hi there Heather, how’re you doing there?” It was a cop, Heather soon found out, and after telling him that her bike was across the street, he told her to wait there and hopped into an old-looking SUV with tinted windows and disappeared across the street.

After several minutes of waiting, her phone rang again.  It was the same cop, this time asking her to cross Bloor and go and sit on the very bench where her sunglasses-wearing friends were pretending to be making out. Sitting down next to them as if they were strangers, the cop then told her to hop into another tinted SUV parked on the street.  The next thing she knew, the SUV took off around the corner, as her friends looked on in shock.

The SUV, it turns out, was full of more undercover cops who told her they were going to park the car and go to meet the bike thief who was already chatting to the first group of cops.  They left Heather in the parked SUV and disappeared around the corner.

A paddy-wagon drove by soon after and the next thing Heather knew, the cops had re-emerged from around the corner and were walking by towards her.  Casually rolling alongside on of them was her bike.  The thief had been arrested, she was told, and that – other than her still missing helmet – her bike was in perfect condition.  As Heather returned to Castle Frank reunited with her lost bike, her friends threw off their acts and came to congratulate her.

Speaking about her experience, Heather remarked afterwards how her attitude towards the police has changed.  “Now every time I bike past a cop car, I say hi to them as my friends because I never thought they were fans of cyclists.”  The cops also told her that they would be continuing to conduct more ‘bike strikes’ in the hopes that such strong responses to bike thefts will discourage larger operations like those of Igor Kenk.

Photo from David Topping


  1. Spectacular story. It’s always great to see some lowlife that you never think will get caught actually getting their just desserts. Good on the cops for this one.

    I’m going to throw my former roomate’s story of bike-recovery out there, even if it’s not as spectacular.

    His bike was stolen from the not-very-secure garage in the back of the house. Report was filed to the cops, no action was taken, etc. Then a few days later he spots the bike sitting outside a dingy mullet-bar in the neighbourhood and gives me a call. I tell him to call the cops, but they pretty much blew him off, so he calls me back and says that he’s just going to steal it back. A few minutes later I see him riding towards the house triumphant. Scary thing to do, but still pretty awesome.

  2. Great storey – now if all police could respond the same way, there would be no market for stolen bicycles and therefore fewer thefts.

  3. Before the cops were involved, having the friends there was a good idea; once the cops were involved, one of them could have screwed it up. Glad to hear the upshot was positive.

    The moral is you can’t leave a good bike outside anywhere in the city, and a bad bike only in daylight, on a busy street, with two locks, and only if you are prepared to lose it.

  4. Now if they would just crack down on the hundreds of stolen bikes being fenced out of the Ontario Food Terminal on Park Lawn, we’d really have something.

  5. Wonderful how everything worked out.

    Liked how all her friends and co-workers helped and supported her.

    Although her first experience with the police was disappointing, it was great how they helped in the end.

  6. jamesmallon: that may a bit of a stretch there… 🙂

  7. I recently had my apartment broken into. I had my laptop and professional photography equipment stolen. I had tracking software on my laptop. I CAN WHO IS USING MY LAPTOP!

    The cops aren’t doing anything about it.

    I am going to go get it.

  8. Great…so when are they going to find my bike that was stolen out of my garage (oddly enough right behind castelfrank station)?

  9. I love reading stories like this.

    There was a time when the money raised from Toronto bike auctions was given back to the community.
    Things have been changed. Now I learned that the cops get this money for their own needs.
    They sell the bikes on ebay and craigslist and this money is for officers that want to travel for seminars or to attend funerals, that kind of work-related things.
    There is kind of a disincentive for them to return the bicycles or other items to the public.

  10. Amazing story! Glad the police became involved given the “bike mafia” aspect.

  11. Any property that is picked up by the police when someone is getting arrested, regardless of the crime will NOT be returned unless you can prove ownership, even f the charges are dropped due to shoddy police work.

    My husband was deemed to be an associate of someone police were after just because he rented a coach house on that persons property.
    When they burst into the house and didn’t find anything, in anger the then burst into my husband’s coach house although he wasn’t in any way involved.
    Not finding anything with him either, expect a few bikes, Ipods, Tools, DVD players ( he’s a tech freak) they determined that it must all be stolen for who keeps receipts to things like that?
    I certainly don’t.
    In fact they took my Blackberry he was using, which had my SIM card in it, my contacts, dates etc and still determined it too must be stolen.
    That I could have proven by going to the Rogers store where I bought it and tracking it through the serial number but they refused to listen.

    The charges were eventually thrown out of court for he never should have been charged to begin with but afterwards we were still unable to get anything back at all, other, than 2 tools that were broken.
    That’s all they would give him back.

    They kept everything.
    Essentially stole it all from my husband, including my Blackberry phone.

    So I have very little respect for the police and consider some of them worse than the criminals they arrest. Specifically drug and/or vice cops.

    I am glad to hear they likely sold our things to finance their trips to various locations.

  12. Did you gather any info from Heather about how to get through to the police? Given that she had trouble at first getting their help, is there a specific route or number or anything we should know about?

  13. The only reason that the cops finally “helped out” in the end after totally dissing her the first two times around is that she had already done all of the actual homework, and they got big boners by playing f’n G.I. Joe.

  14. Sweet. I’m one of the relatively few who actually recovered a bike from Igor’s (alleged) pile* of stolen bikes. It had at least one intermediate owner over the 2 years between theft and recovery, according to stickers and alterations to the frame (Igor is also alleged to have had ‘clients’ followed and their bikes re-stolen!).
    The involvement of the police service in this story is very encouraging, as were some of my interaction with those working at the *Strachan garages last year.
    I’d just like to offer my thumbs up to those officers who appreciate that bike theft is like any other crime, as well as cheer for Heather’s turn of fortunes.
    Good coming from bad situations is always a win – you learn a lot of valuable things about people, including yourself.
    Fun story, too!

  15. It’s great that her bike was found… but she needs to learn to do a proper “panic stop” with fully functioning brakes. Loosening the front brake is moronic and dangerous – you’re giving up most of your stopping power for no good reason.

  16. This is such an awesome story!! You can’t get any better than that!

    Kudos to Heather and to the police for taking a serious stance on this type of theft. What I want to know, is what’s up with the Toronto Bike Mafia!? Someone needs to do a story on them!

    Along the bike theft lines, if you’re interested in becoming part of the solution of bike recovery, please take a look at and These are my personal campaign against bike theft. The intent is to create a large enough community of riders who care about each others’ gear enough to keep an eye out if the owner puts out a KarmaAlert on the site. Ideally, we’ll be recovering bikes and putting these individuals out of business!

    Thanks and great job Heather!

  17. Congratulations. There are more of us like you out there. I have had 3 bikes stolen in the city and reading this story makes me feel that things are finally rolling back in our favour. The CITIZENS of this great city.

    Enjoy riding the bike.


  18. I only wish I had been as lucky with my 3 stolen bicks.

  19. Last summer my boss’s bike was stolen from his porch. He reported it to the police, and several days later got a call that they had recovered it. The police even delivered the bike to him at our office.

    Personally, for security, I am a big fan of using two locks – a hefty NYC U-lock plus a non-U-Lock (i.e. cable lock). I’ve had many bikes stolen, but never using this method.

  20. I’m bothered by the number of police in on this action. A few undercover cops on corners, and an SUV full of cops?

    There’s an obvious problem if we want this treatment extended to every bike theft/recovery. We’d need thousands more police. TPS is already a major expense for the city, and is growing briskly.

    I’d be more satisfied if this meant a major theft ring had been broken up, or an in-your-face example had been made to other would-be bike thieves, but advertising on Kijiji shortly after the theft sounds pretty amateurish to me, and the first I heard of this was on Spacing’s TO blog. How many bike thieves read Spacing?

  21. What a great story! So glad to hear the bike thief gets nailed! Good luck to the police in this effort…and if they want to tell Ottawa police how to do similar, that’d be great!


  22. God you´re living in a perfect world… Poor me. Take a look at “la prueba de la bicicleta” (Youtube)

  23. jamesmallon: What about the secure bike parking facility at Union station?

  24. I believe cops are very busy with other crimes. They have to do long reports for eeevery case they have to solve. I have a bike stolen from me also but…Once I went to a police station to report an assault and the cops were filing my interview but I could see how they were rushing it because they had to work all night doing some other reports, as I understood from what they spoke to eachother. There is a limit on how much they can do.

  25. My buddy caught someone rigging ATM’s (vietnamese organised crime gang). He got a full look at the scumbag and managed to grab the scumbag’s knapsack full of fake card-slots and other ATM fraud equip. My buddy called the cops immediately. It took them 4 DAYS to follow up with him. Too busy handing out parking tickets and noise-violations I guess. Glad this story worked out, but I’m afraid Heather’s initial experience with the police is the norm instead of the exception.

  26. Hey, thanks for wasting hundreds of dollars of tax payer money just to get your bike back. Next time, get it insured and leave us out of it.

  27. Good for Heather. She got lucky. I had 3 bikes stolen (from 5$ garage sale bike to 500$ one), 2 wheels, 2 seats, and even wires to odometer (just the wires). So much for having antibike theft task force.

  28. Hey Andrew, stick it. She pays her taxes just like you and has a right to police protection just like you. Moreover, all it takes for the bad guys to win is for the good guys to sit on their thumbs.

    Insurance ain’t the point … taking the profit out of crime is.

  29. Awesome story! My husband’s iPhone was stolen, and we met with a similarly cool response from the local police as Heather did with her bike. Unfortunately, we never got to the point of confronting the thief, despite a very similar scenario of his posting the item for sale locally. I do wish police would act more quickly in these situations, but I’m so glad this worked out well!

  30. Oh Heather, I wish I could have been one of your friends pretending not to kniow you on that day. Good work everyone, cops and friends alike. These kinds of stories are all to uncommon; the world needs more inspirational feedback like this! I feel great right now. Thanks

  31. great story. i once had my bike stolen, and found it on someone’s front porch about a mile from my house. my dad and i used bowl cutters to remove the lock they had on it and took back what was rightfully mine!

  32. Andrew — would you propose we leave the taxpayer out of car theft and burglary, too? Maybe the thief in question would’ve moved on to a smash-and-grab on your car, or stolen your TV or garden gnome (neither of which is probably locked to an immovable object, shame on you) from your house, next.

  33. “jamesmallon: What about the secure bike parking facility at Union station?”

    Dunno, it’s not anywhere near where I need to ride. Your point?

  34. Wow, that was a great story. It reminds me a lot of the stories involving people tracking down their laptops or electronic items using GPS or other means. What’s awesome is that this bike had none of that, but social networking ended up giving Heather a lead on her bike!

    – Victoria De Zen

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