By Taylor Moyle
Photos by Tammy Thorne and Cayley James
Finding a cheap bike in Toronto is hard. I'm a student on a fixed budget, and biking is the easiest and one of the cheapest ways to get around downtown. After my bike was stolen (yet again) recently I decided to look into the second hand bike shops. It was a search that was much harder than anticipated. To my surprise the city is seriously lacking in brick and mortar shops that sell used bikes.
I went to investigate exactly why this was the case. Why are there hardly any bike shops that sell second hand bikes? And for the ones that do, I wanted to find out how they’re getting their bikes. What I found were rude shop owners, defensive store clerks, and others simply just not wanting to talk.
Uncle Jacob’s, a spot on Spadina just south of College, has a sign out front that reads: “A great place to shop for less.” According to my editor the shop is rumoured within the cycling community as a place that sells stolen bikes. The infamous bike thief Igor Kenk was the last known kingpin of bike theft in the west end. Bikes are still getting stolen in Toronto though. Where are they going?
There haven’t been too many instances of people finding their stolen bikes in shops like Uncle Jacob's, though. But, says Toronto Police Officer Jenniferjit Sandhu, “If a bike is located in a second hand bike shop and there is reasonable grounds to believe it is stolen, contact police immediately.” Police also suggest you register your bike with them. (We suggest locking your bike properly, take a photo of it, and and bring it inside overnight.)
When I entered Uncle Jacob’s there were two sections of bikes. The employee there told me that one side was used and the other was second hand. The shop attendant reassured me that all new bikes are built new from the box, after I questioned the rustiness.
Uncle Jacob's basement is jammed full of bikes.
I later approached the guys at Cyclemania on Bloor West to try to find out more information about second hand bikes - and see if I could 'ethically' source one for myself. I went to the shop at around 3 p.m. and was unable to go in as the door was locked. They unlocked the door, after returning from lunch (which looked like it may have been a trip to the LCBO) and I then met the employees.
One man, bundled up in a jacket and toque (since the place doesn’t appear to have heating) greeted me with a tallboy in his hand and asked what I wanted.
Another man came up from behind him with a short glass of brown liquid (I was thinking 'whisky') and asked me why I wanted to know about the second hand bikes at their shop.
“We steal them,” one man taunted.
“He’s obviously joking,” the toque-wearing employee added quickly.
I continued to try to ask about second hand bikes, asking if they or the owner would want to talk about it for an interview with this bike magazine. Since the owner wasn’t there at that time, I said I’d come back. As I was walking out one guy yelled: “I’ll save you the trip. Don’t come back. He doesn’t want to talk about it and neither do we.”
This was an ongoing problem with most of the shop owners I tried to talk to. No one wanted to talk about second hand bikes. Not even Public Butter, a really groovy vintage clothing and furniture shop that sells a few used bikes that they get from estate and barn sales outside of the GTA, where they get most of their other stuff.
Public Butter in Parkdale has a small selection of second hand bikes in disrepair (they do not have a mechanic on staff anymore.) Some of the inexpensive beauties are pictured above.
All of this sketchy behaviour was confusion because you know what? Selling second hand bikes is totally legal.
Second hand bikes at this junk shop in Kensington Market were selling for anywhere from $60 to $150 dollars.
One shop owner that was willing to speak to me was Uncle Jacob himself.
It wasn’t easy to get in contact with him. His real name is Jacob Feiv. I first spoke with Feiv when I called him and asked him for an interview over the phone. He was fine with it until I asked him the first question:
“Where do you get your second hand bikes?”
He told me he didn’t want to do this over the phone and would rather speak about it in person. And so, a few weeks later, I finally found myself outside of Uncle Jacob’s shop yet again.
I waited, as I had done before, wondering if Feiv would show up. Then, just after 11:00 a.m. I saw a hefty old man walking down the street towards me. He looked like one of my uncles.
In terms of where Feiv is getting second hand bikes he said he gets them from three or four people who he trusts and they supposedly get them from garage sales. Feiv also said over 70 per cent of his bikes are new.
This is difficult to believe though. Not just based on my experience in the store but also on what my colleague reported. After my conversation with "Uncle Jacob," at the request of our editor, another dandyhorse staffer swung by the shop to see if she could get into the basement where there was a fabled stash of stolen bikes. My colleague visited and the employee who was there at the time (who was definitely not Feiv) had no problem with her going into the basement.
As you can see from the photos is seems like much more than just 20 or 30 per cent of his bikes are second hand, especially with half the bikes on the top floor being sold as used.
Feiv had said he had gotten crates of bikes from Bicycles for Humanity. A company that, according to him was sending bikes to Africa, but since they weren’t mountain bikes Feiv was able to purchase them. But when my colleague spoke to the other employee he stuck to the line that they were from a few guys trawling yard sales. But definitely “NO STOLEN BIKES.”
It takes work to properly receive a second hand bike without breaking the law. From taking the serial number, manufacturer, make and personal details of the seller - it's a time consuming process for even the most organized retailer.
We called around to a couple of shops across the GTA that were known to be legitimate retailers to get their take on the situation.
"We stopped selling them about two years ago," said Mike from Cycle Solutions on Kingston Road in the east end, after one too many obviously stolen bikes came into the store. Their decision was prompted by having no legal recourse, and they felt it was the right thing to do for their community.
In the west end Newson's will do exchanges and also buying bikes off of people. Justin said that they always ask for photo ID, take down serial numbers and report it to the police if they have suspicions.
We're still not sure where to find a good karma second hand bike in Toronto, but one thing we know for sure: The stolen bike problem in Toronto is still happening even without Igor so don't forget to lock up properly and take your baby inside for the night.
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