Losing Your Bicycle

AuthorCraig Forcese; Nicole LaViolette
Chapter 5
Losing Your Bicycle
For persons of our vintage, the comedic troupe Kids in the Hall’s 1991 skit
on bicycle theft remains a classic. Characterized as an “open letter to the
guy who stole his bike wheel,” comedian Bruce McCulloch speaks from
stage under his suspended, and now incomplete, bicycle: “Well, why did
you do it? Are you some sort of jerk or something? It’s my front wheel!
What did you think, that I’d — drive home and not notice it was stolen? . . .
What would you do with just my front wheel anyway? What good would just
one wheel be? You human loser! Well, why didn’t you buy your own wheel
if you wanted one so badly. That’s what I did.”1
The comedy skit captures well how we all feel when confronted with
the theft of a bicycle or bicycle part. If you search Google for “bicycle theft”
and “statistics” for Canada, you will quickly discover that many people have
reason to repeat McCulloch’s rant, probably using more colourful language.
Bicycle theft is depressingly commonplace — a 2012 Montreal study con-
cluded that over 50 percent of the study’s survey participants “were sub-
jected to a bicycle theft in their life time as active cyclists.” 2 Nicole and her
partner had a brand new mountain bike stolen within twenty-four hours of
its purchase, and to get at it, thieves had to smash the windows of a locked
car. Moreover, she has had just about every possible part stolen from her
not-so fancy commuter bike over the last few decades: wheels, seats, lights,
bar extensions (but they always leave the bell that she would gladly give up).
In this chapter, we discuss the problem of the disappearing bike, examin-
ing brief‌ly current academic research on the phenomena. We will introduce
 » every cyclist’s guide to canadian law
this chapter’s takeaways
» Bike theft is commonplace, and recovery rates are low. There are steps you
should take, nevertheless, to improve your prospects of keeping your bike
(or getting it back).
» If you leave your bike with someone else, they probably owe you a duty of
care, but not necessarily much of a duty.
» If you lock up your bike on someone else’s property without permission,
that is trespass, and your bike could end up being removed.
» If you lock your bike up on someone else’s property with permission, that
is usually a licence that lets you lock the bike up, but does not impose any
duties on the occupier. That said, occupier liability law could impose a duty
of care on the occupier to take reasonable precautions with your bicycle.
» If someone else takes possession of your bike, say in a lock room they
control, they owe you duties to take care of that bike, subject to whatever
waivers of liability you enter into with them.
» If your bike is stolen, the thief is a criminal and also can be sued in tort . . .
if you can f‌ind them.
» You do have a power of “citizens arrest” if you catch the thief in the act,
or soon after, but this is a limited right available when police intervention
is implausible, you use only reasonable force to detain, and you call the
police right away.
» Your bike may be insured, but you need to conf‌irm that you have this
coverage, and also decide if it is worth making a claim.
» If you’re the jerk who buys a stolen bike from the jerk who stole it, you do
not have ownership rights any better than those of the thief, in most prov-
inces and territories.
» If you pay a deposit on that new bike, and the bike store closes, you’re just
another creditor, but you may have remedies through your credit card plan.
» If the airline loses your bike, be aware they have probably limited their lia-
bility in their contract of carriage. If you haven’t paid an extra fee to lift this
limitation, you will need to be attentive to whatever private loss insurance
you might have.
you to some basic principles about property law, and then present a number
of different scenarios in which your bike goes missing, and the legal ques-
tions that arise in each situation. Most of this focus is on bike theft. We
also consider, however, other circumstances in which your bike disappears.

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