Bike Thefts and Crazy Coincidences

How my bike got stolen and how I stole it back.


Quick note: This story originally was posted as-it-happened on Tumblr, but here’s the whole thing compiled together. It really was a Medium post waiting to happen.

Part 1: Monday. Well, this is ridiculous.

First, take a look at my bike. Looks like a normal bike, right?

A picture of my bike from months ago.

On Friday night, amidst trying to walk a dog and get a sick girlfriend home, I locked my bike outside my apartment to a small fence outside the building instead of lugging it into the bike room in my building (which has been largely blocked by maintenance people’s stuff).

Some time between Saturday and Sunday, the bike was stolen. I was upset. In fact, I still am upset. There’s the money, sure. But moreover, it was stolen from outside where I live. There is theft in my neighborhood, and apparently locking up a bike isn’t enough.

My girlfriend Kristen was kind enough to help me start to get things in order, and on Monday put in a police report for the bike, and I mentally tried to move on. It was kinda working.

But here’s where it gets infinitely more interesting.

Around 5pm, one of my coworkers (Brandon, now known as “Eagle Eye” Brandon) came and told me that he thought he saw my bike parked downstairs. I figured sure, it was a bike that looked like mine. I had been looking at every bike I passed along the way as well. But I figured it couldn’t hurt.

The photo of the bike, locked with someone else’s lock near my office.

We got outside, and it didn’t just look like my bike. It was my bike.The scratches from my U-lock. The stickers I left on the frame. The little blinky light mount I left on the back. The rear bike rack. The new pedals (that’s why they aren’t in the first photo). Hell, the OnGuard wheel locks I had installed (which were bought at the time I purchased the bike, and are no longer available).

So now, there’s my bike. It’s locked up with someone else’s U-lock. What do you do? I mean, do you call the cops? Do you try and pry off the lock? Do you steal all the parts that aren’t nailed down? Do you just, I dunno,wait?

I decided to call the cops. I had photos of the bike on my phone, and things were just so. Special (non-standard) handlebars, it’s not that common of a bike, I figured I had a good shot. When the police officers showed up, they could not believe the coincidence that my bike had showed up at my office locked up after being stolen at my apartment. Was I sure this was my bike? Why would it be here? Yes. It’s weird.

Without registration and concrete proof the bike was mine, there was nothing they could do. They said they’d be in the area and would check in on it, but that if I had registration I should run home and get it. I had a U-lock on the bike so it couldn’t walk away again, but the cop told me to remove it.

So I had some friends from the office stay with the bike and I ran home. I couldn’t find the registration paperwork (BE SURE TO REGISTER EVERYTHING WORTH MORE THAN $100 AND WRITE IT DOWN) but I did find the serial number written down, and the wheel lock key. I brought both back to the scene and called the police again.

20 minutes later, they showed up, and it’s not enough. Since none of it was the official registration and serial number, no amount of coincidence would convince them. On one hand, I understand. On the other, the chances of all of these things being the exact same, and finding the bike 1.5 miles from home is astronomical. This cop told me to put a U-lock on it so the bike couldn’t walk away, so I did.

Now, the bike sits. There’s a note on it explaining that it’s my bike and I want it back, please remove their lock. Who knows if the person who rode it and locked it up is the thief or just someone who bought it. Either way, I hope they decide to comply.

The note:

In the morning, I’m going to try and find the real registration for the bike (I must’ve registered it in a few places, but the bike shop doesn’t keep records back that far and the wheel lock company and bike company are closed for the night).

I’ll update you guys with more when there’s more to tell.


Part 2: Tuesday. The Stalemate.

So a quick update to this. The bike is still sitting there, with two locks on it. If I knew how to get the other lock off without basically being a bike thief, I would have. Luckily, some friends have offered to help.

What’s most surprising is how many people suggested tools like bolt cutters and angle grinders. I live in a 1-bedroom apartment. I don’t even have a color printer, much less an angle grinder. And even if I had one, I’ve never used one before in my life. But maybe. We shall see.

For now, my bike sits there outside. No response to my note. No action taken by its temporary owner. I know whoever it is must have seen it, because they clearly rode their bike to work Monday afternoon and unless they are working the worst shift ever, they have to have seen it.

As for the police, I can’t find the official registration and the bike shop deleted their old records. So I don’t want to try something foolish only to be unable to prove it is even my bike.

As someone (Tom Tomorrow?) said on twitter, this is the Kobayashi Maru of bike situations.


PART 3: Wednesday. Payback.

So I had left out a few details previously in order to avoid conviction that now that the dust has settled, I don’t mind sharing.

Let’s rewind to Monday afternoon. The bike is locked up outside, with someone else’s lock. It’s missing a few parts. One cop has told me NOT to lock it up. The second cop has told me TO lock it up. I take the second guy’s advice.

Remember before, when I mentioned that I had “wheel locks” on the bike? This is a special key that you use to lock on the front wheel, rear wheel, and the bike seat. When the cops had left, I used my key to unlock the front and back wheel as well as the seat, and brought them inside. When the thief/new owner came outside to my bike and my note, he found it useless to him with no wheels or a seat. So from then on, I either would get my bike back and assemble it, or at least teach the new owner that crime (or at least a shady bike deal) doesn’t pay. Plus, those were good tires.

I neglected to mention this because, as mentioned before, I couldn’t legally prove to the cops the bike was mine. According to the police, I had no proof because I had no registration with a serial number and my name and DNA and a photo of me with the bike with the newspaper from the day it was bought. This meant by taking the wheels and seat I had just “stolen” my wheels and my seat off of a bike that I couldn’t prove was mine. If the new owner had called the cops, they knew who I was, that I had been ranting about the bike, and where to find me. I was extremely obviously linked to the “theft” of the seat and tires should the cops decide to make this story more ridiculous. Luckily, that didn’t happen. The new owner did nothing, which to me just confirms my story.

Why would any new owner do nothing when they find a note on their bike? Why wouldn’t they leave a note in return saying that they wanted the wheels back? Why not remove the lock? I dunno.

Which brings us to Tuesday.

Do you know the best way to remove a U-lock from a bike? I do! So does my coworker Joe, who googled the problem and found a video that showed how to use a car jack to bend open a U-lock. He also owns a car, and therefore a car jack, which he brought to work on Tuesday.

First thing in the morning, I walked past my bike. Same situation. Still there, but without the wheels and seat it looked like a junker someone had abandoned. I thought about just leaving it and taking the insurance, since after all I couldn’t prove it was mine. I also didn’t have the stones to steal my own bike.

Around 2pm, I found the stones to steal my bike. Joe had to leave, and he was going to take the jack with him. It was a mixture of the mid-day slump and peer pressure from my coworkers that did the trick, so we marched outside.

15 white people with tech jobs, some with mugs of coffee in there hands and others live tweeting the experience, all stood around and made jokes and cheered me on as I tried to steal my first bike.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have a tire iron to turn the car jack. Instead, Joe had brought a screwdriver, which quickly proved to not be enough leverage. “Oh well,” I thought, “I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”

Around this time, we attracted the attention of the two shoe shiners who work at the corner. One was determined to point out every flaw in the plan as my friends explained it, the other was determined to help me. He put the jack back on and started trying to twist the jack open himself, when I realized I could use the other U-lock I’d had attached to the bike myself as the lever. The shoe shine guy wouldn’t let me do it, and was working up quite a sweat twisting it open.

While all this was happening, we were drawing a crowd. My friends were explaining to everyone who came by the situation. This included some new onlookers, no cops, and a guy named Scott who worked nearby, had a bolt cutter, and said he’d be back by soon to help.

Luckily, it didn’t take that long. My shoe shining friend and I had the errant lock bent out into an “O” in about 10 minutes, and one good crack from a hammer later, I HAD MY BIKE BACK!

When I got it back to my office, I put it together with all its missing pieces. Unfortunately, the time on the street had taken it’s toll. It’s now missing rear brakes, most likely someone who thought it was an abandoned junk bike. I’ll get it back up and running in the next week or so, and can’t wait to go for a ride.

So, some life lessons?

  1. REGISTER YOUR BIKE. Have proof it’s yours! Hide little notes in it, do whatever you can to avoid the situation I was in. And if you register it, leave yourself copies everywhere. On your phone, even.
  2. Don’t leave a bike locked up in plain sight overnight if you can avoid it. No lock is perfect. Just keep your bike out of harm’s way.
  3. I heard stories about cops helping people who just had photos of their bike handy. This wasn’t my experience at all, but it couldn’t hurt to try. But don’t be surprised if you don’t get much help.
  4. Cherish what you’ve got.
  5. Renter’s insurance. Get it, use it.
  6. Report stolen shit to the police ASAP.
  7. Drink coffee. It’s good.
  8. Sometimes, crazy coincidences happen.

So, there you go! It’s late, I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few things, but that’s my story.

Oh, and read this article on bike locks. And this new unstealable bike that I really hope becomes a thing.

Finally, if you like bikes and my story enough to read all this, check out these bike comics I’ve made and maybe the rest of the comics on the site that I also made.