Velo Posse Recovers Stolen Bike. Thieves Beware
Let me tell you a little story about my stolen bicycle. It’s rare to have good news about a bicycle theft but I’ll tell you from the outset this story ends happily. It all started on a typical night (Thursday January 16th). I had ridden my Surly Long Haul Trucker Xtracycle this day, even though for the past few weeks I’d been riding the new Bike Friday Haul-a-Day. The brakes were rubbing a bit on the Haul-a-Day and I didn’t need to use the Hooptie to pick up the kids so I rode my classic steed. First a little background on the bike. I’ve had this bike since I worked at Pedal Express in Berkeley, California. Originally the Xtracycle was on an aluminum cyclocross frame in 2002 but I broke that from all the hard work I put it through (like racing it in the Cycle Messenger World Championships in Seattle in 2003). In 2004 I upgraded to the Surly Long Haul Trucker and the first major trip with it was the day Missy proposed to me at Hawk Camp in the Marin Headlands. Since then I’ve ridden that bike on a trip in the Czech Republic, on our Honeymoon in the Yucatan Peninsula, on our “All Around US” circumnavigation of the country, on countless errands/commute trips, many camping trips and eventually carrying all three of our kids on it. Needless to say it’s a pretty damn important bike. So on this night I parked it as normal at the Albertson’s at 18th & Chambers, picking up some food for my spanish class breakfast the next morning. When I got to the bike rack I ran into Lucas from Cascadian Courier Collective and talked for a bit. I shopped for about 10 minutes and when I came back out the bike was gone. I had this moment of doubt…wait, had I parked on the other side? No, it was definitely here. Oh crap, did I lock it? I’m sure I remembered pulling the lock out but now I couldn’t remember the actual locking moment. Did I just set the lock down? It wasn’t locked to the rack like I missed my frame. It wasn’t in my bag. I certainly don’t think someone ground it off right by the door of a busy store. It was the old Kryptonite that was “bic compatible” but that old trick probably isn’t used much really. I’ll never know what really happened but no matter what happened it was clear that the bike was gone. In all my years of cycling this was the second bike I’ve had stolen from me. The first was back in the early 90’s when I left a bike overnight in downtown Eugene with a cable lock. What can I say, I was a college student after a very fun evening. I did have one other bike stolen but it was one I was loaning to a friend and it was the classic “unlocked on the back porch” theft. I truly believe that a bike locked with a u-lock is very rare, except maybe in NYC. In Eugene I think most thefts are of bikes with cable locks or those left unlocked on porches, decks or backyards. My first call was to Missy to let her know I’d be walking home soon. At least I was close to home and didn’t have much with me. Next I checked with the store to see if they might have video but the loss prevention person was out. I left a message to have her call me. As soon as I got home I pulled out my “bike folder” and pulled my Eugene Police Department Bike Registration form. I had registered it in 2008 at a Breakfast at the Bridges event and had all the info including the serial number. I posted it on Craigslist, Facebook, Twitter, WeBikeEugene and other social media sites. With all of that; the registration, the social media and hundreds of eyes looking out I still wasn’t very optimistic I’d get the bike back. The next day I called my homeowners insurance (Farmers) and filed a claim. By Monday I had a brand new Xtracycle Edgerunner and was moving through the grieving stages and moving on.
Then on Tuesday an associate from my Safe Routes work, who is from Eureka (we’ll call him Tom to help keep him anonymous), wrote me and asked, “Shane…is this yours? http://humboldt.craigslist.org/bik/4297366546.html ” Uh, why yes that IS my bike. Okay so it made it down to California. Now what?!
Think that’s it?!
Tom asked some questions of the seller to see what info he could find out. Here’s the initial exchange:
Tom: Hi, Can you tell me the size of it? What year is it? Thanks Thief: It’s 53 cm my sister bought it used and I used it for a little while and I drive now so it’s just sitting here I know it’s older than 2010 but it’s perfect condition with ALL new part s for sure
Great! I called the police and told them the bike had been found on Craigslist. They said they would send someone out that night but by 11pm I said not to bother as it was too late. Wednesday was a day of waiting for the police to come. They didn’t come to my home in the morning, they didn’t come to my work all through the day and that night I was starting to get discouraged. Meanwhile Tom had another exchange with the Thief:
Tom: That’s about the right size.
Where can I see it?
Thief: I could take more pics but for now I am stuck in eugene?
Wait, what?! It’s still in Eugene?! Alright, now we’ve got to plan a bust! But how. And where is that police officer?!
And then this happens:
Tom: Are you planning on bringing it here or is the potential buyer suppose to travel?
Send more pictures if you can.
Thief (from his personal email…with a name on it): Of I would deliver , are you near Arcata?
Thief in a second email (from the anonymous email): Of course I would deliver … Are you near Arcata ?
Oops. Okay, so now we have even more information beyond the contact information we already had in the contact section from the Craigslist ad. Then the police show up! I fill Officer Solesbee in. I give him copies of all the emails, the ad, my registration information, pictures, etc. He says he’ll try to get to it that night and that from the info I gave him (which included some potential information from Lane County jail after a quick Google search of his name) he’d check parolee information first. Great! By this time we’re late night Wednesday.
Thursday was radio silence from the police. I called a couple times to see if they could give me information with the case number but they said I would have to talk with the officer that was in charge of the case. I left Officer Solesbee a couple messages on both the cell he gave me and his office voicemail. Nothing all day. The only thing that kept my spirits up was all the support from the broader Velo Posse from Eugene and all around the country. Kidical Mass families from around the country, friends from high school, family and friends all were keeping their eyes open and being super supportive. Thanks everyone!
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Friday was another day of waiting. However, I knew the officer worked the night shift so I was hopeful I would hear something that night. It also happened to be a rare and impromptu date night for Missy and I. During our dinner I got a call from Officer Solesbee and I ran out to hear what he had to say. It turns out he was out sick on Thursday. It also turns out the suspect was arrested on Thursday…on an unrelated charge. Officer Solesbee went down to the jail to talk to him. He asked him if he had any family in California (nope), was planning a trip to California (nope) and then what he knew about a bike posted on craigslist. Of course he denied knowing anything. The officer said his record was not one that included theft but other crimes but that they would keep looking into it. What a disappointment. Tom told me he did receive a call from the police trying to get more information but they missed each other.
However, also on Friday I had another secret weapon working away. A fellow Kidical Mass dad, Patrick, sent me a message at 2:30 on Friday afternoon that he had done some detective work with the information in the ad and found a name. It was different than the name we had. He said he was going to keep digging to see what he could find. Soon after we got home from our date night I got a message from Patrick that he thinks he had tracked down a potential house.
Then another message that he and Emma (another Velo Posse member) were going to do a ” non-contact recon” and to text and not call if needed. I looked up the street view map. Holy crap, that is the house! How DID he do that?! We’ll keep that little bit secret just to keep our bike thief fighting tools closer to the chest.
About 30 minutes later they called and said they were pretty sure they could see my bike on the deck. Lights on in the house but quiet. I called the police. I told Officer Solesbee the situation and he said he would try to make it out there after he took care of another call. Who knew how long that would be? Maybe now was the time. I switched out to my black ninja gear, grabbed some tools; wire cutters, a hammer, a jack, etc. and hopped in the van! I parked a couple blocks away and walked to the house.
This was not in a neighborhood you would typically expect to find your stolen bike. It was up in the hills, up Crest drive around some pretty damn nice houses. I walked past the house and down the alley. I triggered a motion detector light on the garage. I peeked up on the deck. There it was. No sign of Patrick or Emma yet. I walked up the alley again back towards the front of the house. I heard a whistle and they appeared out of the bushes. We talked about what to do next. I decided I wanted to get a closer look. The house did look pretty quiet and the porch area was pretty dark, as long as there wasn’t a motion detector light up there. I pulled on my hood and started to sneak over before noticing the house up the hill had some big windows and a couple was right there. I waited until they were looking the other way and snuck up to the deck, moving slowly and looking for lights that might come on, checking for movement in the windows. I got up to my bike. I started to check it out to see if it was locked up or if there was anything that would prevent me from just grabbing it and running. I got to the middle of the bike when I heard a car coming up the alley.
I busted a move off the deck, took off my hood and walked casually down the street like I was on a nice little walk. The car turned the corner and passed me. It was the police. Once he turned the corner after scoping out the street I turned around and walked back to spot where Patrick and Emma were hiding. They came out and we stood a little up the hill and the officer drove back by and stopped. He pulled up the street a bit and we told him we saw the bike on the deck and that it had been pretty quiet. He asked if we had been up to the deck to look at the bike. No, of course not, why would we do that… At first he said he had just come up to check it out and that he couldn’t make contact right now because he didn’t have back-up. Patrick said something like “boy it sure would be too bad to have come this far and lose it if they move it.” Officer Solesbee called to see if he could get back-up. We waited up the street another 15 minutes or so. We had a bit of a view of the house and at one point a car came home and someone went into the house.
Once the other officer came he was filled in and we were asked to go farther up the hill. Officer Solesbee asked me what distinguishing things I could say about the bike. Well, I could go on but I told him about specific dings, holes and stickers on the bike. They were gone for 15-20 minutes and we could see them shining their lights on the bike and then talking to someone at the door next to where the bike was. The new officer came back to his car for something and then they were back at the house for another 15 minutes or so. Then out of the dark, they rolled the bike up to us. It was missing the rear wheel, my helmet, gloves, and lights but it looked in descent shape. The officer asked a couple more questions, especially of Patrick, wondering how he tracked it to this house. They confirmed the serial number (they had just used the police number originally) and asked me to fill out some paperwork to return the stolen property back to me before going back down one more time to talk to the people in the house and look for my rear wheel in a common area.
It turns out the guy in jail was the boyfriend of the girl at the house (the name Patrick had tracked to the house). It also turns out that the officer wasn’t too pleased that he was lied to and he said that he would be going down to the jail to talk to the thief and let him know that they’d be adding 1st degree theft to his charges (a felony since it was over $1000). Victory was ours!
So now I have my bike back. It’s not in great shape but it’s pretty good. Now we have to find out from the insurance company what to do with this awesome new bike we have. I was, of course, very sad when my LHT was stolen but I had this very clear feeling that it was just a material item and that the important things in my life were my family and the memories I had with the bike. I had sort of accepted that it, like most stolen bikes, would not be coming back to me. But as we got closer to getting it back and then once I actually had it back in the garage I got very sentimental and was so glad to have it back. Sure it’s just ‘a thing’ but it’s my bike. It’s taken me on many journeys. This theft and recovery is yet another adventure. I look forward to many more on-the-road adventures with it.
I wanted to say thanks to the whole “Velo Posse” that helped look for the bike (Kris- the late night search on the first night was especially appreciated), spotted it on Craigslist, offered to help with a sting, did detective work, gave emotional support, actually found the house (you sneaky detective Patrick), and helped with the recovery. Thanks to the Eugene Police Department; though I know you’re busy with many more serious crimes and though I might have seemed impatient I am am appreciative of your work and how you did take this serious enough and worked hard to get the bike back. I’m sure it meant a lot of paperwork. Thanks. A reminder to everyone. Register your bikes. It helps, a lot. You can now do it online in Eugene. To those past, present and future bike thieves out there; watch out. The Velo Posse is here and we’re ready to take Eugene off the “bike theft capitol of the US” map.