The Explainer: Grand theft Eddy

Maybe next time you park your Eddy Merckx without locking it, you should have this guy watch it for you. | Copyright, Bikekulture.com.

Dear Explainer,
It finally happened to me. For years, I was the one who was always methodical about locking my bike up and even renting a bike storage locker near my office. Last month, I decided to take my racing bike to work and, after a nice 25-mile detour through the hills, I stopped for coffee, ran in to get a cup and – you guessed it – my beautiful Eddy Merckx was gone.

I reported it stolen. I have homeowner’s insurance. I have “bike lock” insurance, the policy that came with my lock when I bought it. I admit that the bike wasn’t locked when I went to get coffee, so I didn’t even try to contact those guys, but my insurance agent is squawking about the size of my claim. She didn’t complain when I asked about coverage when I bought the thing, but now, all of a sudden, the first words out of her mouth were “$9500 … for a bike?!?”

Anyway, I filed the claim and haven’t heard anything for a couple of weeks now. This morning, I saw an ad on Craigslist for a bike that looked like mine. I called the police and they seem to be taking their sweet time about getting over there. Should I go for it?

What happens if it is mine?
– Annika

Dear Annika,
First off, great name. One of my favorite people in the entire world is named Annika and, after building up a really nice BMC hardtail for her, I am constantly lecturing her about the risks of “I’ll-only-be-a-minute” thinking when it comes to parking her bike. I will forego the opportunity to lecture you on that, although I do reserve the right to use your story as an example for my Annika, who also happens to be my 12-year-old daughter.

So, you’ve raised a couple of interesting questions. First, the insurance thing and then whether you should just go ahead and investigate the possibility that the Craigslist bike is yours.

Let’s start with the insurance question. I am going to guess from the tone of your letter that you are a fairly thorough person and that you have maintained a reasonably good file on your bike, including receipts, credit card records, serial numbers and other things connected with your sizeable purchase. If not, go ahead and contact the retailer from whom you’ve purchased the bike and try to get as much documentation as you can. You might also want to contact the retailer to get an estimate as to the replacement value of your bike.

If you have a copy of your insurance policy, take a look and see if it specifies whether the insurer is going to offer “actual” or “replacement” value for the bike. The actual value may be lower, once the insurance company takes the bike’s age, history of use and other factors into account. You, on the other hand, want to claim the replacement value of the bike, meaning the cost you will ultimately have to bear to be “made whole” again … putting yourself in the same spot you were before your bike was stolen. If the policy doesn’t specify, push them on covering replacement costs.

The difference between actual and replacement values may be small in this case, largely because – at $9500 – I have to assume this is a relatively new bike.

As for your agent’s reaction, it’s really irrelevant what she thinks when you make the claim. If you haven’t already provided documentation as to the bike’s value – actual or replacement – then do so as soon as possible. You should hear from them soon. If not or if your claim is denied or their offer is substantially less than the value of the bike, go back to your policy. That policy is a contract and it includes certain rights and responsibilities for both parties. From the sounds of it, you’ve lived up to yours – starting with paying your premium and filing a claim. Their responsibility is to pay you in the event of a loss.

Most policies have some provision that allows for dispute resolution, so that if you don’t like the offer, you can follow an additional procedure to address your concerns. That could involve mediation or arbitration. You may also have the option of filing suit against your insurance company, claiming breach of faith on their part. You paid your premium, they took your money and when push comes to shove, they didn’t live up to their end of the bargain. I would be careful, though. A lawsuit involves hiring an attorney. That means either a pricey hourly fee, or a contingency fee – meaning you will give up between 25 and 40 percent of whatever settlement you receive. Sure, lawyers are helpful, but try to exhaust all of the available remedies before you bring one into this thing.

Of course, all of that may be moot if you find out that the Craigslist seller is offering your bike for sale to the public.

I am answering your question in this column, but as you know, I’ve already sent an email hoping to dissuade you from heading there yourself.

My strongest advice is to keep bothering the police. This is a serious crime. We’re not talking about a little kid’s $99 WalMart special here. If you’re making a $9500 insurance claim, you’re well over the limit of this being a felony in all jurisdictions. Remind the police that this crime involves some serious money and strongly encourage them to investigate.

On a side note, I am not sure where you live, so I can’t really offer an assessment of the police and their willingness to get involved. Man, where I live, we have tons of cops, with five law-enforcement agencies with arrest powers in our little community of less than 30,000. We have local police, the County Sheriff’s Department, the Highway Patrol, University Police and, for good measure, Game and Fish. I once had a client arrested for being a minor in possession of alcohol. He was a 19-year-old college student, carrying a Coors Light across campus. Because he ran, there were eight cops, two bikes and five police cars involved by the time everything was over. I suspect those guys would jump at the chance to make a real arrest involving a felony theft. But, alas, I digress.

Let’s assume that the cops don’t respond … or don’t respond quickly enough to satisfy your concerns. Don’t go over there.

Okay, I admit, it has worked for people to go over and simply retrieve their stuff. Last November, a young woman in Boulder, Colorado, spotted her recently stolen bike on Craigslist and went over, pretending to be an interested buyer. She asked if she could take a test ride, the seller said yes and she rode away and then called the cops.

Look, I don’t advise you to do that, but if you do opt to go, don’t go alone and, if it turns out to be your bike, don’t confront the thief directly. If he’s dumb enough to let you go on a test ride, hey take advantage of the situation and ride away. You’d better make damn sure it’s your bike, though.

If he – or she – has already sold the bike, it’s time to get law enforcement actively involved no matter what. Don’t try to play detective and track it down on your own.

On a final note, if the Craigslist bike turns out to be yours and if you manage to recover it with – or without – the assistance of law-enforcement, contact your insurance company immediately. If the claim is in process, either put a stop to it or ask to amend the claim to reflect recovery of the bike, while still seeking compensation for any damage or other losses you may have suffered. Check the bike thoroughly. Are there parts missing? Is anything broken? Will components need to be replaced or repaired? All of that is insured, as are any missing items that were attached to your bike when it was stolen, such as (and I doubt this is the case with your bike) racks, panniers and the contents of those panniers.

Again, I advise against going over to check out the bike in person, but if you choose to ignore that, remember the words of Sergeant Esterhaus: “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”
— Charles

The Explainer is a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

Follow me on Twitter: @Charles_Pelkey

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11 comments

  1. Jesus from Cancun

    Great advice. I have seen guys who lock their bikes with their helmet straps, and others who walk in the store with the front wheel in their hands, leaving the rest sitting outside.

    I also have a friend who unlocks the rear quick release when leaving the bike outside for a minute. Once him and the guys he was with saw someone running away with his bike, but once he was on the street and mounted it, the rear wheel slid off the dropouts and he fell after losing control of the bike. These guys got to him and beat the twinky out of the thief.

    I think that when someone really wants your bike, they will try everything to get it. But little things like this could spare us from being robbed by a lazy opportunist. And I think most of them are lazy, that’s why they steal.

    By the way, I found out that LUG will be doing the Tour de France. Amazing news! See you all in June 30 for the prologue!

  2. Gene Sanders

    If the bike was stolen within a minute or two of arriving at the coffee shop, the thief probably saw her arrive and leave it unlocked. If he saw her arrive, he saw her, and would probably recognize her if she attempted to view/test-ride the stolen bike. If the thief recognizes her, and is afraid of getting caught, he may commit a worse crime in an attempt to keep the original bike theft hidden.

    I suggest it’s worth repeating the plea to not confront the CraigsList seller alone, no matter what the police do or don’t do.

  3. Michael

    I also had a bike stolen – custom-built and easy to identify (including a dent in the seat tube courtesy of an airline). I had the serial number, which is worth writing down for all your bikes (plus a photo). I put out the word when it was stolen and heard from a friend of one of my students, who’d seen it hanging in a store in the closest town to us (about an hour away). I called my local police (who had done a truly awful job on the description of the bike in their report – a “knobby seat”?!) and was given the assigned detective’s voicemail. After not receiving a call back in a week of several daily calls, the dispatcher grew tired of hearing my voice and she called down to the dispatcher in the town where the bike was, who simply told a police officer to go get the bike while on patrol. At least then it was safe from sale. The store had the name and address of the thief, but it took our local detective a month to go to the house and he was gone by then.

    The moral I took forward: Police don’t care at all about bikes, no matter what their value. Don’t rely on the police to do anything, but don’t do anything dangerous yourself. Search for someone friendly and helpful within the police department and have him or her pull in favors to get what’s needed done.

  4. Jim

    After having a store get trashed in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, I learned the insurance companies will balk at any claim unless you have documentation. If you have good documentation they will often pay without any complain. So a few years ago when my garage was broken into and only bike stuff was stolen, I was ready for the insurance claim. I had receipts, instruction manuals, boxes and more. When I asked $2000 for a fairly new Zipp disc they said how could one bike wheel be worth so much. But I was able to easily prove the claim. Moral of the story, keep, scan or take photos of receipts or anything that can prove the value of something that you might have to one day file an insurance claim for.

  5. randomactsofcycling

    I had a very nice LOOK 595 stolen from directly out the front of my workplace. It was literally 2 metres from the employee entrance, at the entry to a very busy carpark and under the direct gaze of a security camera. Of course, no-one saw anything and the thief wore a cp, keeping his head down.
    I placed a listing on eBay, with several photos and listing each detail of the bike. It had several less than common parts and custom made wheels.
    A kid at a Bike Shop on the other side of town saw the add and amazingly the thief took it into that bike shop two days later to “get some flat pedals fitted”….on a LOOK 595 with 11 speed Campy…..sigh…
    Anyway, they called the Police and the thief was nabbed!
    However! He had cut the seat post and it was now too short to build back up to my requirements. I placed an insurance claim even though the frame was technically still OK, however I could no longer ride it. The Insurance Company paid out.

  6. Troutdreams

    Email the seller and arrange for a viewing. Chances are he’ll suggest a public location. Have some male friends arrive a little early in a second vehicle not too far away.

    If the bikes yours, give the signal and they can use their cells to report a grand larceny while you ride around in circles until the cops pull up.

    They might describe the “vehicle” as a “white 595″, rather than a $9,500 carbon bike but that just depends on how long you can wait around

  7. Adam

    I both work in insurance and have had a bike stolen and encountered the same issue regarding disputing the value of a bike. You may find that like jewelry, expensive audio equipment and artwork that there may be a sub-limit for a bike stolen (especially if it is outside of the home). If there is one, its probably set at $1,000 and if you had wanted coverage in excess of that you have to list it in the scheduled property section with a stated value and pay an additional premium to cover it. In my case I now pay a 5% base rate – or the annual equivalent of $500 for your Merckx.
    It is annoying, but from their perspective they can’t offer reasonably priced coverage to the average homeowner and then have these shock $10K losses from incidents outside the average claim history off of which they base their rates.

  8. Derek

    I had an experience with both the insurance and police issues. My bike was stolen from my kitchen (they left 5 or 6 other bikes. When I was purchasing my homeowners insurance I specifically asked about coverage for my bikes and my tools. The agent didn’t want to list specific items he just said as long as it was under the total value of coverage it was covered, when it came time to pay up they hemmed and hawed and I was still fighting with them eight months later when I recovered the bike. In their defense I was product testing for and some of the equipment were prototypes. I did have documentation from the manufacturers explaining the situation and photographs of the bike and some of the equipment. Didn’t fly.
    Even with massive documentation without a serial number the police can’t track a bike, this I was told after I tracked the bike down myself. It was also after I had called dozens of times to see if the bike had turned up and I was told that yes they were looking for it. There was no serial number because the company hadn’t started using them yet. It was one of six frames and was the only one in the US. It was a carbon fiber full suspension bike in ’92. I had pictures and letters from the manufacturer explaining the situation and offering to id the frame at any time. No dice.
    I found it in a local paper listed, along with six other high performance bikes, called the guy and asked about the bike. He knew nothing about bicycles but clearly was reading things off my bike. I set up a time to meet and look at the bike at his condo. I called the cops. The said no serial #, no help. I explained about the documentation. No luck.
    I told them they might want to send a car to the condo address in about an hour as that would be when I would be retrieving my bike. I was told not to do that but that there would be no police help in recovering the bike. I restated the time and the address. Ten minutes later the dispatcher calls me back and asks if I can meet an officer in a parking lot down the street from the condo. We meet, I hand him a 1″ thick stack of documentation on my bike including color, glossy photographs, he says “There is no serial #”. We argue, he calls a captain or somebody to get special permission to retrieve my bike. We go to the guys house and he has all seven bikes in the garage from the ad. He clearly does not ride bicycles and says he got them all from a pawn shop but his dad has the pawn tickets. I got my bike back but he gets to keep the other six. I happen to know he did get the bikes from that pawn shop because I had been there a week before on a tip they had my bike and I had gone in asking questions. I am willing to bet they dumped all their stolen bikes on that poor schmuck right after I left.
    Sure would have been nice if the cops had been helpful in any way though because I was going to get my bike back.

  9. Derek

    It was much easier once the cop was willing to go but it was like pulling teeth. Otherwise I am with Troutdream, several of my “male friends” closely resemble rock walls and would be more than willing to help recover stolen gear.

  10. Erik

    I got my bike back today. Stolen in September of last year, a friend spotted it on CL two nights ago. I filed a police report when it was stolen Cincinnati police were on top of it when I told them where it was.

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