My stolen 2013 Triumph has been found!
Last year some generous friends with Triumph Motorcycles set me up with a 2013 Bonneville T100. The fine fellas over at British Customs provided a box full of aftermarket parts. The guys at Motorcycle Center helped me with the installations.
I was working on a photo/video story for Alarm. The plan was to ride solo across the country and document it. I was going to have the bike shipped out to Palm Springs, where I would meet it and ride it back. It wasn’t super easy to get two weeks off in my schedule, but I timed it to coincide with another story I was writing on Rat Sound at Coachella. I would already be out in Cali and had some photographer friends who were there already shooting the festival. Perfect.
A lot of details had to fall into place in a really short amount of time. The bike itself needed more than a dozen parts, and then there was gear for the trip and for shooting on the road. Pretty much everything was late showing up, including the bike itself. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make the schedule, but a week before departure, boxes started arriving. Miraculously, the bike was done the day before the deadline.
I hopped on uShip and found a shipper who was available to get the bike on short notice and make it out to Cali in time. After work that day, I picked the bike up from MCC in the pouring rain and rode it home. I barely had any time with it. It was my first “new” bike. The odometer had 25 miles on it. I kept looking for the fuel petcock — it was first bike with EFI. I was seriously geeking over the new ride. With the rain, and a ton of stuff still to get ready, I put the bike in the garage and headed back in for the night.
The shipper was supposed to meet me at 5 AM the next day. He showed up five hours late. The guy looked liked a total deadbeat, smelled terrible, and had a pit-bull puppy in his cab. He was using a baby crib as a dog crate in the backseat. So, naturally, I loved the guy.
I threw the bike and a bag full of my gear in his trailer and told him I would see him in five days in Palm Springs. That was the last I saw him.
I waited around in Cali for a few extra days hoping he might show up. I bombarded him with phone calls, texts, E-mails. I tried to stalk him on social media. I found his personal Gmail, and would see his green dot come up as “available” in Gchat, but he wouldn’t respond. I gave up.
I knew my bike and all my gear was gone. The Chicago police were zero help. UShip did not care. They gave me his home address (which turned out to be no longer valid) and told me any other help from them would have to come from a court subpoena. It took two dozen E-mails before uShip would even refund the fee. No help.
After pretty much begging so many different suppliers, photographers, and videographers to donate or heavily discount their time to this story, I had to let them all down. “Sorry, guys the bike has been stolen. The story is off.”
Life went on. I bought a flawlessly restored ‘79 Bonneville to get over the loss. (I’ve come to really appreciate an electric starter.) I had a good summer of riding and finally got my R100 up and, mostly, reliably running.
So it’s almost winter at this point in Chicago, and all my bikes are stored away. Early on a Saturday morning, I got a voicemail: ìHi, this is the Sandy, UT police department. We have recovered your motorcycle; please call us to claim it.
Holy shit! It turns out that my bike, along with a half-dozen others, had been stored in a now-abandoned storage locker in Utah. I was told that the bike was filthy, and one of the headers was slightly damaged, but otherwise it looked to be in perfect condition. Hells yeah! “So how do I get it back?”
The thing was that I couldn’t buy it back. Once a bike is deemed stolen, it gets a salvage title. And in the state of Utah, salvage bikes can only be sold at auctions, and only registered salvage bidders can bid on them. I was technically no longer the owner of the bike; my insurance company was, and I couldn’t buy it. Tough luck.
Uf. But fuck that. There must be a way. So a couple dozen phone calls later and I find a guy at a body shop out there that is a registered salvage auction bidder. He agrees, for $150, to bid on the bike for me. Deal. But there is no way to tell when the bike goes to auction; you just have to keep checking the site to see when it gets listed. Awesome. At the time I was traveling in Taiwan for another story and trying to keep up with checking the auction website.
I figure out what day the auction is happening; the body-shop guy heads on over to the auction and starts bidding.
I win! It’s a fair fee, but more so I just want my fucking bike back. Then I find out that the auction site will only store the bike for three days. FML.
Despite everything I look up, uShip is the only site I can find with someone available on that short of notice for a reasonable fee. Screw it. I do a more thorough background check, including asking for copies of all of the shipper’s insurance and license info, and book the shipment.
I fly back to Chicago, and four days later the shipper shows up exactly on time. He calls me at 7 AM, and I look out the front window and see my bike sitting in the back of a shitty white pickup. I can’t believe it! It’s almost winter in Chicago and it’s also like 50 degrees out. Perfect. I grab gloves and a helmet and literally run outside.
I walk up to the driver-side window, give it a knock, and the guy flies off the fucking handle instantly. He’s making almost no sense he’s so pissed off. I have no idea what he is going on about, but I ask him if I can get in the truck, which he agrees to. I ask him to pull around off the main street into an empty lot so we can talk it out, which he does. His cab is filthy. He’s been sleeping in the back, and it’s littered with takeout containers and loose tobacco. Papers are everywhere.
I get him to get out of the truck and just take it one step at a time. Turns out that the night before he was pulled over in a tiny town. The cop runs the plate on the bike in the back, and sure enough, it’s registered as stolen! The cop is thrilled to have a bust and wakes his sergeant out of bed, who rolls up to the scene with like a dozen more cops. They tear his truck apart, but they find nothing illegal. They prepare to impound his truck and arrest him. From the story, it sounds like this is maybe the biggest “bust” these guys have ever made. They give him one phone call to make, and he calls me. I look at my iPhone’s missed calls. Yup, missed a call from him at 3:30 AM. Oops.
Anyway, the shipper is so fired up, but he’s a great storyteller and really getting into the details. It’s actually a pretty damn good story, and if it weren’t for the fact that I’m expecting this guy to take a swing at me any second, I probably would have been laughing my ass off. He convinces the cops to call and check with Progressive, whose info was on the BOL. The cops figure out that the story checks out, and since the auction had just closed this week, the paperwork probably hadn’t cleared yet. They also ran the driver’s info—he has a clean record and some sort of super-high-level DOT shipping clearance (for which he proudly showed me a special license), which lets him drive something or other across the border. They eventually write him a ticket for some bullshit and let him go, but he still wasn’t sure if this was some sort of scam on my end.
“So what’s your deal,” he asks me. I tell him the whole story, which takes a good half hour. I can see he believes me, and he’s starting to sympathize with what a fucking mess this thing is. He starts getting pissed off at the thief and bummed that I missed my cross-country ride. He rolls a cigarette and we shoot the shit for a while as we unload the bike. It turns out that he’s a good dude with some great stories. I give him $200. He tells me that if his wife E-mails me (she manages all the transactions), not to tell her anything yet. He wants to tell her the story in person.
So there I am with the Triumph! I put a fresh battery in it, swapped out the plates, and she started right up (those BC Predators sound awesome)! I rode the hell out of it around town, and she’s now sitting in my office. It wasn’t the story that I was hoping to get, but it’s not a bad one after all.
This story originally appeared in ALARM Magazine #42.
Sincere thanks to Triumph Motorcycles and British Customs for their support through this whole ordeal.