In the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik local bus driver and self-confessed “bike nerd” Bjartmar Leósson has become a local hero by helping to return hundreds of stolen bikes. On top of this noble act, he has helped the bike thieves to reform in the process.
In 2019, Leósson noticed a stark rise in bike thefts in Reykjavik. Rather than accept that the bike was gone forever, he decided to take matters into his own hands and started to track down the bikes and return them to their rightful owners.
The 44-year-old has helped return hundreds of bikes over the past 4 years and developed a reputation amongst Reykjavik’s cyclist community and even potential bike thieves as the “bike whisperer”. His Facebook page has more than 14,500 members and helps people track down more than just lost bikes. His page extends to people who have lost tools, cars and other items of high value.
Initially Leósson would confront the thieves with anger and indignation.
However, over time, he realised that the vast majority of the thefts were driven out of addictions and other issues. He went from feeling negatively towards the thieves to developing empathy for their situations:
“I was very angry, they were angry – it was very rough at first. 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.”
From this moment onward he reached out to the thieves, offering help and guidance towards rehabilitation. After the change in his approach, Leósson found that the bike thieves began to often hand back the bikes to him, without even being asked. Amazingly some former thieves that Leósson helped now assist him with tracking down the stolen bikes.
“It’s like a little snowball that got really big really fast,” says Leósson, “It’s not only me,” he says. “Many times someone sees a bike hidden in a bush, takes a picture and then someone else comments ‘hey that’s my bike’. So everyone’s looking out.”
Now when somebody loses their bike it can take as little as 48 hours to track it down on his Facebook page, Hjóladót ofl. tapað fundið eða stolið (Bicycle stuff etc lost, found or stolen), updated every few hours with missing and found items and which has more than 14,500 members.
Reykjavík is already one of the safest cities in the world, ranking at number 3 in a 2023 ranking, with Iceland being the world’s safest country. And thanks to Leósson, it is becoming even safer. Since he began his service of rescuing bikes and reforming bike thieves, Reykjavík has seen its rate of bike thefts drop significantly. Theft fell from 569 in 2021 to 508 in 2022 and 404 in the first 11 months of 2023.