August 8, 2014

"I was the demand part of the bike theft black market"

Most folks engaged in the effort to combat bike theft took action after having a bike stolen. That's certainly the case with me. For Detroit resident Seth Archambault, though, the impetus was different: unwitting possession of stolen property. 

Sitting at a coffee shop one afternoon, Archambault was approached by a stranger. "That's my stolen bike you're riding," the stranger said, indicating the red Yokota locked to a nearby meter. Archambault had bought the bicycle from a secondhand bike shop shortly after moving to Detroit from Philadelphia. He had been riding it for two months at the time of the coffee shop encounter.

It didn't come to blows there in the Urban Bean. The former owner told Archambault to keep the bike, taking blame for its theft (he hadn't locked it up) and saying that he was "happy that it ended up with somebody who was enjoying it." Thrilled as Archambault was to remain in possession of the bike, the exchange distressed him. He worried about his money—he'd paid for the bike, after all—financing the bike black market, incentivizing more bike theft.

"If you’re someone serious about being a positive part of the community—as I am," Archambault wrote in a blog post, "then you must take a serious look on the impact you are having on the community, and what you can do to change things."

Now, as he explained in a follow-up blog post, Archambault ultimately determined that no bike thief profited from his bike purchase, but that comforting revelation didn't stop him from trying to effect change.

Last week, on the one-year anniversary of his arrival in Detroit, Archambault launched Detroit Bike Blacklist, his attempt to facilitate reunions between stolen bikes and their rightful owners. The concept's a simple one, as Archambault tells it: "Bike stolen? Press a button, upload a photo, get an email if/when it’s found. That’s it."

Archambault has a "devious underlying plan," though, as he explains on the site's About page (and in this Detroit Free Press video). Archambault believes that bike theft is a symptom of an underlying problem, one we're not yet knowledgeable enough to solve.

"I want to understand bike theft, the systemic causes of it," Archambault writes, "and I want to gather that data and make it publicly accessible to inform a larger discussion."

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