Losing Your Bicycle

AuthorChristopher Waters
losing your bicycle » 113
chapter 5
Losing Your Bicycle
For people of my vintage, the comedic troupe the 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 incom-
plete, 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
Many people have reason to repeat McCulloch’s rant, probably
using more colourful language, as bicycle theft is depressingly com-
monplace.2 Nearly 4,000 bikes were reported stolen in Toronto
alone in 2020.3 In Vancouver, which has the highest bike theft rate
per capita in the country, more than 2,000 bikes were reported
stolen that same year.4
In this chapter, I discuss the problem of the disappearing bike,
examining academic research on the phenomena. Some basic prin-
ciples about property law will be introduced, and then I’ll look at
several dierent scenarios in which your bike goes missing, and the
legal questions that arise in each situation. While most of this focus
is on bike theft, I will also consider other circumstances in which
your bike can disappear.
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this chapter’s takeaways
Bike theft is commonplace, and recovery rates are low. Still, there are
steps you should take to improve the 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
» If you lock up your bike on someone else’s property with permis-
sion, that is usually a licence that lets you lock up the bike 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 locked
room that 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 nd them.
» You do have a power of “citizen’s 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 conrm that you have
this coverage, and also decide if it is worth making a claim.
» If you’re the person who buys a stolen bike from the thief who stole
it, you do not have ownership rights any better than those of the
thief in most provinces 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 railway or airline loses your bike, be aware they have probably
limited their liability 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.

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