An Icelandic town reliant on bikes for transport gets jeopardized by increasing bike theft. The bike whisperer comes to the rescue.
A town in Iceland called Reykjavik, with a population of a little more than 100K, is largely dependent on bikes for transport. So, when Bjartmar Leósson noticed increasing bike thefts in 2019, he was driven by anger and his passion for bikes to bring about a change in the town. The bike nerd and bus driver decided to track down the bikes and return them to their rightful owners. However, what started as a heated decision to bring justice turned into a cause that had a tremendously positive butterfly effect on the town. Before earning his title of “bike whisperer,” Leósson helped hundreds of owners get their bikes back, per The Guardian.
People in the town turn to the 44-year-old for help when they need to find anything from lost bikes to tools. It has gotten easier for the bike whisperer to do his job as the years have passed and this couldn’t have been possible without the major shift in his attitude towards the thieves, who now help him find the bikes. As soon as Leósson learned that most bike thefts were fueled by addiction, he grew empathetic towards the thieves. Instead of turning them in, he started lending them an ear and getting them into rehab. In turn, the former bike thieves became his allies. They help him gather crucial information about lost bikes. His act of kindness has snowballed and made him the bike hero of the town.
Leósson has a Facebook page where people report stolen bikes or identify lost ones. It takes as little as 48 hours to find lost bikes through his page, Hjóladót ofl. tapað fundið eða stolið, which has 14,500 members, making his job easy. This initiative has earned him nicknames like “the bike cop," "bike priest" and "bicycle Jesus" from his community. The 44-year-old bike enthusiast’s efforts are essential to his town, which is steadily trying to increase its cycle usage by 10% by 2025.
The police in the town also expressed how Leósson has tremendously helped in bringing down the city’s bicycle thefts. The thefts have gone down from 569 in 2021 to 404 up until November 2023. The cops also shared that they often guide victims of theft to various organizations, including Leósson’s Facebook page. This increases the chance of recovering the lost item. Leósson shared that he felt increasingly angered by seeing stolen bicycles outside shelters. He was baffled by the fact that not even the police tried to do anything. This would often get him into arguments with people. However, he quickly realized that he would need to adopt a more conversational approach if he wanted to bring about real change.
"At first, I was very shocked and angry at the situation,” he says, "But then I started to think: OK, it doesn’t matter, I can scream until I’m blue in the face, nothing’s going to change. So I decided to try to level with them and just talk to them.” After that, he made friends with some of the shelter's occupants and some of them began to assist him in finding bikes. He claims that he assisted some of those in entering rehab, and it had a profoundly positive effect on Leósson. He donates any finder’s fees he gets to charity. His efforts have brought about immense change in the lives of the thieves and his community at large.