On a snowy night in January, Sonia Bergmann locked up her Raleigh mountain bike with a cable outside Flipper's Casino. She normally uses a U-lock to protect her $500-plus ride, but figured she'd be fine since she was only stopping for one drink. Turns out, she wasn't.
"I left my bike out for literally 40 minutes and it disappeared," Bergmann says. "Then I started reading all these articles about bike theft in America and talking to all these people around town, and everyone had the same story."
That's when Bergmann decided to do something about bike theft in Missoula. She and other concerned citizens have created the Missoula Bike Hounds, a group dedicated to sniffing out and thwarting bike thieves.
The group employs several approaches to combating bike theft, including promotion of the city's bike registry, increasing awareness of proper locks and identifying problem areas. Last Saturday, the Bike Hounds hosted its first fundraiser at Free Cycles and invited attendees to mark on a map where they've had a bike stolen. Bergmann says by the end of the night, the map showed the highest theft along Higgins Avenue downtown, Orange Street and Reserve Street. She hopes to present the map to Mayor John Engen as part of a call for the city to do more to prevent bike thefts.
Roughly four or five bikes are reported stolen each month to the Missoula Police Department, says public information officer Travis Welsh. Residents can register their bike with the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board to help police return a stolen bike to its owner, but not many take advantage of the registry. Ben Weiss, manager of the city's Bicycle & Pedestrian Program, says they find about 250 bikes a year, but only about 10 are ever returned.
To help raise awareness of the issue, the Bike Hounds use an email list and administer a Facebook page with about 225 active members. When they receive a message about a stolen bike, they provide information to the victim on how to respond, starting with filing a police report, and alert members to be on the lookout.
"That way everyone's getting information, everyone knows a bicycle was stolen this week, which bicycle, and if there's a picture we send it out too," Bergmann says.
The Hounds are also active in promoting general bicycle transportation around Missoula. Proceeds from Saturday's fundraiser, which featured live music from seven bands, will go toward informational flyers and U-locks for raffles. The group is also looking to partner with a local business to build an employee bike shed.
"We're all about stopping bike theft, and that's all good in itself, but another spoke of it is we are really trying to envision more sustainable ways to get around," says Bike Hound member Jakob Wyder. "We would really like bike usage, infrastructure and culture to grow and be more prevalent, common and easy."