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While dozens of cyclists lined up on the Tel Aviv boardwalk on Monday to register their bicycles with the police, two young men sat nearby, observing. The police said they were well-known bicycle thieves.

"They've been watching us from the start," an officer from the Tel Aviv police told Haaretz. "But we're watching them as well, and, believe me, our very activity here and the knowledge that more bicycles are likely to be registered is already deterring some of the thieves."

More than 70 Tel Aviv residents registered their bikes with the police yesterday. The process involved a policeman engraving the bike frame with a number.

The prospect didn't appeal to all cyclists.

"Forget it, it looks bad, it'll make them rust, and it's ugly - I'm not letting them touch my bike," said Dr. Ram Lem to his friend Eli Katzir, as the two watched the process. The two 71-year-olds were passing by on their routine 25-kilometer bike ride, from Herzliya to Rishon Letzion.

"I thought it was a nice idea, but what you get for free looks like you got it for free," said Lem, who owns a mountain bike worth NIS 12,000.

He was eventually persuaded to register the serial number on his bicycle frame with the police.

"I suppose a major part of the deterrence is that second-hand shop owners will be less enthusiastic to buy stolen bikes," said Superintendent Shimon Biton. "We've established a relationship with the shop owners and there's some cooperation. I can tell you that since we began the registration and since the media began talking about it, the number of bicycle thefts has dropped."

Noah, an American who has been living in Tel Aviv for more than a year, raised police suspicions when he came to the registration point.

"Weren't you here before?" one asked. Noah explained that he had been there earlier, but that he left when he saw the line.

"Back in the States, there's a bike lock company that guarantees if you use their locks and your bike is stolen, they'll buy you a new one, but if you read the fine print, you'll see they only do that if you live in New York. I guess this is something Tel Aviv and New York have in common," he said.

Bicycle registration was also taking place in Ramat Hasharon yesterday, at the initiative of two local policemen, Sergeant Major Said Wahabi and Sergeant Major Arieh Zilberman.

City residents are invited to the local community police station on Trumpeldor Street between 10 A.M. and 7 P.M., where they can have their bicycle registered and engraved with their name and ID number, or any other personal details, for free.

Zilberman told Haaretz the idea resulted from a surge in bicycle thefts in the city.

"If a bicycle is stolen, the owners may be able to identify it by the details engraved on the frame," he said. The operation will deter bicycle thieves, he added.

Police turned down Web-based registration

When Avi Ganor, publisher of the "Bicycle" magazine, read in Haaretz about the new police initiative to mark and register all the bicycles in Gush Dan, he couldn't believe his eyes. According to Ganor, he offered the exact same plan to police four years ago - but was turned down.

Ganor, who owns the Israeli license for the American property registration company BoomerangIt, said he presented the idea to Major General Shahar Ayalon, then head of the police traffic department and today Tel Aviv District police chief. "I approached them four years ago and told them I'm operating a Web site which has a database of many items, including bicycles, and to which anyone could register. Once you register, you get a sticker with the Web site address, and if someone finds your item - be it a bike, a set of keys or a cellphone - he can locate you on the site," Ganor told Haaretz.

He said that despite his efforts and insistence, the police was not interested. "What they're doing now is mostly public relations," he said. "I really don't see many Israelis dragging their bikes to a police station, when you can easily register them on the Internet."