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E-bike designer leading the charge against bike theft: Hybrid Bikes

A Nelson bike retailer has come up with a new approach to combat e-bike thefts which have become “rampant” in parts of the country.

In Auckland, bike advocates say the expensive machines have become the target of organised crime, and have urged owners to beef up their security.

Nelson’s Hybrid Bikes managing director Frank Witowski is tackling the issue from another angle – and is calling on retailers and wholesalers to stop supplying e-bike chargers online to customers without proof of ownership.

“That’s what’s missing – if you steal a bike [the charger] is the bit you haven’t got.”
For the past two years Witowski has been designing and assembling e-bikes out of his garage in Marsden Valley and selling them around the country.
He had been receiving calls about twice a week from people requesting replacement chargers for his bikes.

“They are asking very dodgy questions and when I say to them that they can get one, but need to provide proof of ownership, they never call back again.

”It’s not an every five minute thing – but if you’re getting those calls eight times a month it is a bit of a worry.”

Witowski said he suspected many of these calls were from thieves who had stolen bikes and were looking to sell them on – but needed the particular charger for his brand of bike.
In response, Witowski said his business would be removing chargers from their online shop, and would also be asking for proof of ownership via receipt of purchase before they sent a charger out.

He said more awareness needed to be raised among e-bike owners and potential buyers that more and more e-bikes were being stolen and sold on to unwitting customers.

“Those of us in the industry, including bike shops, can make it a lot harder for thieves to get the chargers they need to keep the e-bikes going.

“This is the crucial part thieves will be looking for when selling the e-bike on.”

About 30 per cent of Witowski’s bikes were sold to customers in Auckland, where he believed the problem was the worst.

“When they ring up, the first question the Auckland crowd ask is how they can make sure their bike doesn’t get stolen.”

Bike Auckland chair Barb Cuthbert said over the past year bicycle theft – in particular e-bikes – had become rampant in Auckland.

Cuthbert said with increasing demand and decreased supply due to Covid-19 border restrictions, expensive e-bikes had become an irresistible target for thieves.

“It’s completely raging. We’ve got huge public demand, diminished supply, and the gap is being filled by what we see as organised crime – it’s a real issue.”

Cuthbert said she received regular emails from cyclists in the city who had the misfortune of their bike being stolen, and had no doubt much of the theft was sophisticated and well-organised.

She said one of the biggest issues was that people continued to have faith in cable locks for their bikes, which could be cut with the right tools in just a few seconds.

“When I go down to the Devonport Wharf where they have about 100 bike stands, a good half of those bikes will be locked with just a cable lock.”

Cuthbert said while there were a combination of solutions to the problem, Witowksi’s approach could make a real difference.

“Not making chargers available is absolutely crucial … I think it’s a factor that will definitely help.”

For cyclists, she said getting a decent lock and recording your bike’s serial number were two basic precautions every cyclist could take.

Auckland City Central Area Commander Inspector Gary Davey said police were aware of an increase in theft reports involving bikes and e-bikes in Auckland City.

“Anecdotally we have noticed a slight increase in reporting thefts of e-bikes in the central city area over recent months.

“Police are making enquiries into a number of these reports.”

Davey said in many cases stolen bikes were appearing for sale online, and asked potential buyers to be cautious and use verified outlets to purchase items.

“If the sale price appears too good to be true, it probably is.”

Source: Stuff, Tim Newman 05:00, Feb 22 2021

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