Crime offers smartphone solution to Denver's bike-theft problem

You know that awful feeling when you approach the spot where you parked your bike only to find that some or all of it has been stolen? Well, a new smartphone app -- whose makers are now looking to tap into the Denver market -- is designed to give victims of bike theft a glimmer of hope at a time when they may otherwise feel completely helpless.

And if the app is really successful, it could actually help cyclists reunite with their beloved bikes.

That's right -- one solution to Denver's increasing bike theft problem may lie in the power of iPhones and and that handy-dandy thing called social media.

As we reported earlier this month, more and more bikes are getting stolen in Denver, which may have something to do with the fact that a lot more folks are choosing to hop on their bikes instead of drive to work.

From the first day of 2012 to May 23, 421 bikes were reported stolen -- a major increase from the same time period last year, when 272 bikes were reported stolen.

These alarming stats caught the attention of Senan Gorman, founder of GetOutt Technologies, a company based in Connecticut and founded in 2009. His company is in the process of rolling out a new smartphone app designed to help folks recover stolen bikes and other gear.

"The more bike-friendly...Denver is becoming, the more likely thieves are going to take advantage of that," Gorman says. "That discourages would-be commuters and just makes life miserable. Whatever we can do to help stem that, we're all about that."

Here's how GetOutt's new Howler App works.

Folks who sign up for the app document their gear with photos of parts, serial numbers and other useful details. That way, as soon as users discover that their bikes have been stolen, they can send out an alert through the Howler App to other local howlers via push notifications on their iPhones. In other words, folks who download the app will get notifications about stolen items in their area organized by zip code, greatly increasing the odds that someone may actually spot it and report it.

"It's amazing how common this is," Gorman says. "I had gotten my first-ever mountain bike stolen...and immediately launched into this little grassroots campaign, telling everyone I had met on the trail.

"I wanted to expand this out as much as I could," he continues. "The prevalence of tools that were becoming available through social media...if I got something stolen, I could get the word out through Facebook and Twitter."

Through, users can also sign up for a free web-based account, which syncs with the Howler App and send out alerts as well.

It just seems like a logical way to mobilize in response to thefts, he says.

The success of the Howler App depends on the number of users; the more people who get alerts, the more likely it is that bikes will actually be located. GetOutt is also targeting other kinds of gear, like skis and snowboards -- another reason the company is trying to establish a foothold in Denver.

"With the growth of bike lanes everywhere, unfortunately -- and I hate to be the Debbie Downer on this -- opportunistic thieves are going to join forces and cause problems," he says.

Right now, by the way, will donate $1 to the Colorado Red Cross when folks buy the $2.99 smartphone app.

Denver, home to groups like the Denver Cruisers, is the kind of city where this app could actually be successful, and Gorman is interested in trying to bring it to some of the local colleges and universities, where he thinks it would work well.

Ultimately, Gorman says he hopes the app will help encourage biking, despite the rise in thefts.

"If...commuters have their bikes jacked on the second ride, they're not going to be too stoked to go out and buy a new bike," he says.

More from our Environment archive: "Jefferson County adopts first-ever bicycle plan with proposed (unfunded) routes"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at [email protected].