New app to help recover stolen bikes functions like Amber Alert

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Anyone who rides a bike knows they have to protect it. By some estimates, a bike is stolen every thirty seconds in the United States. Few of them are ever recovered.

"You feel violated," said Jason Scott. "But more importantly, I think there's a visceral attachment that people have with their bicycles."

Scott has had two of his bikes stolen in his lifetime. The first theft happened when he was just 12 years old.

"That was devastating," he recalled.

Devastation and disappointment have turned into determination and action. Scott is co-founder of Project 529, a Portland startup company that makes software for cyclists. Scott and his colleagues want more people to get on bikes more often. They also want to enhance the overall cycling experience. To them, hopping on a bike is one big way to get the most enjoyment out of life. That explains the '529' in their company name. It's pronounced 'five two nine' and it means something.

"Five to nine is the opposite of your nine to five," said Scott.

Scott and his colleagues felt too many folks, including themselves, were focusing too much on those 9 to 5 office hours.

"We were living to work and we wanted to work to live."

The company name reflects the aspiration to focus on the most important hours of the day.

If biking brought Scott and his colleagues so much life enjoyment, then the stubborn problem of bike theft was an obvious first issue to tackle. They created the '529 Garage.' It's a mobile app that can function like an Amber Alert for stolen bikes. Users will register their bikes, complete with photos and descriptions, and hope they never get stolen. But if someone does become a victim they can immediately send out an alert to all other users of the app in the same area.

"Instantaneously, an alert is sent out to everyone that has the app within ten miles," explained Scott.

Suddently, there are many sets of eyes on the lookout for that particular bike. If someone spots it, they can send a notification back.

"I take a picture of that bike," explained Scott. "It goes back to you. It also will eventually go back to local law enforcement. Our goal is to get your bike back to you as quickly as possible. If there are 5,000 or 10,000 people nearby, all keeping an eye out for your bike, it will facilitate that recovery."

As part of the '529 Garage,' cyclists can also place the '529 Shield' on their bikes. It's a tamper-proof sticker with a special serial number. It serves as a unique identifier but the hope is that it will eventually become a theft deterrant.

"As we build the 529 brand, if a thief sees the '529 Shield' on your bike, we hope it will convince them to find gainful employment or at least go steal something else," said Scott.

Cyclists can download the '529 Garage' app and register their bikes immediately. The recovery portion of the app is still being worked on but should be functional by mid-June.

More information can be found at the 'Project 529' website.

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