The Violation

The Violation

You walk out and it’s not there. Sometimes it takes a moment or two before you comprehend what your eyes have been telling you for far longer than it takes to read this sentence. The bike—your bike—is gone.

You look around. There’s a chance you’re wrong, that it’s locked up someplace else, that you have a memory like an Alzheimer patient. You really want to doubt yourself. We spend so much of our lives trying to be right that when we don’t see our bike where we left it we are suddenly desperate to be incorrect. We want to be saved from the obvious.

There are few things that can summon the anger and indignation, the hurt that comes with a stolen bike. A ripped-off iPhone? Not much to lose if your photos are on the cloud. Your wallet? It’s just cash and none of us look good in our driver’s license.

But your bike? They might as well have taken your skin. It’s personal. Sure the fit of the bike is for you and you alone, but what makes a bike theft such an intimate loss goes way deeper than a few changeable dimensions. A bike is a conduit to good times. How many of your favorite memories are in some way tied to a bike? Don’t bother counting. Your bike is an extension of you. While your friends might not be able to recall the last pair of pants you had on, they know your bike on sight. That is as sure a test of a bike’s link to identity as there is.

You get over the loss, eventually. But that wound lingers, the road rash that takes months to heal. You second-guess leaving your bike anywhere, no matter how well locked. You eye the unshowered differently.

Even if you recover your bike, it is forever changed. Never mind paint removal. Your relationship to it is different. That’s the bike that was stolen. The theft becomes as big a part of the bike’s history as the time it was ridden to the top of Mount Vacation.

In the aftermath you vow to buy a better lock, trust less, watch more. It’s no kind of solution. Like a breakup, you take your lumps. You take your lumps with you.

A bike stolen stays with you in a way that a bike sold does not.



  1. Brant Arthur

    Well said. My stolen (and recovered) bike sits outside my office now. It can account for its missing days with a small dent on the top tube and the phantom trailer that never returned. We don’t think of our bikes so much as commodities, but something approaching family members.

  2. Quentin

    This brings back memories of the heartbreak I felt in 1986 when my beloved new bike was stolen from the high school bike rack.

  3. Sebastian

    “You eye the unshowered differently” This initially struck me as hilarious, duh. Then I realized why it’s funny, because we don’t want to feel that way about anyone, and being made to do so is part of the indignity of having this happen to you, and your bike. Fuck thievery in general, but hell had better have a special place for bike thiefs.

    1. TomInAlbany

      @Sebastian, Thanks for saying it out loud. I was feeling uncomfortable just reading that line. Now I can put words to it.

      As for my own history: I neglected to lock up my first bike. I was late gettting home and dumped it by my sisters’ bikes that were locked to the porch railing., Brown Schwinn. Bright Yellow Banana Seat. Three speed shifter on the top tube. I’d had it for less than one summer. It was the best Christmas present ever. Some jerk walked into the back yard in the middle of the night and took it. Never saw it again. My dad came into the house this morning and said my bike was gone. I’m still a little stunned and saddened, 45 years later.

      Foolishly, I repeated my mistake, a few years later with my dads 3-speed Murray that he would occasionally commute to work on – until he crashed and left himself with a heap of roadrash. I didn’t lock it at the local bowling alley. I had to sit on Donny’s handlebar and get ridden home and tell my dad I’d lost his bike on him.

      Fool me once. Fool me twice…

  4. Author

    Thanks everyone. This was, in fact, inspired by an actual event this summer, which will get a related treatment soon. The line about the “unshowered” nods toward the dimension of this that I most struggle with. My bike was stolen by one of Santa Rosa’s many homeless people. Since then, my attitude toward them, their plight, is much less empathetic. This is due in large part to the fact that even though it sounds like there was a suspect close at hand, the Santa Rosa Police Department elected to simply take possession of my bike and return it to me and not make an effort to prosecute the crime. As a result, when I look at any homeless person here, I’m aware they *might* be responsible. It’s an emotional rather than rational reaction, one I really despise, but I’ve not yet dispensed with that general mistrust. It’s something I’ll have to work on.

  5. ac

    If your ride is your commute and you get ‘stranded’ at work, or at the shops, it can be quite a tricky predicament. Your independence, and ability to travel freely and significantly more distantly than walking is suddenly cut off. Even just thinking about it can make you realise how much you rely on the mobility advantages a bike provides.

  6. Austin

    My wife and I have also been victim to bike thefts and the feeling is terrible. Once, about 10 days after my wife’s bike was stolen from our front porch after she had run into the house to answer a phone (to turn around and find the bike gone), I passed by a person riding her bike near our house. Upon confronting this person, he tried to ride away from me to no avail. I was forced to ride up alongside him and physically push him off the bike upon which he jumped up and reached into his jacket while screaming at me.. I thought I was about to be shot and reached out towards him and knocked his hand away from his jacket at which time his wallet fell to the ground. He explained that he had payed cash for the bike at the local flea market (known for selling stolen property). I told him I was going to call the police and he could tell the story to them. At that point, he called me an a**hole and said he was on parole and didn’t want to go back to jail.. I picked-up the bike and returned home with it. Whomever stole the bike sloppily painted the fork a different color as to disguise it, which was a joke as I had built the frame up with assorted used parts and it was very clearly a one-off bike that could not camouflaged. I also felt sad that this guy purchased a stolen bike which he clearly needed for transportation around town..However, there are a few local shops that sell refurbished quality bikes for around $100 that are clearly not stolen so my tolerance/empathy for his situation was lessened.. Bike theft is evil and it is our duty to confront bike thieves when we see them doing their evil deeds.

    I strongly recommend Garage 529 to register your bike.

  7. Dan Murphy

    1979, after the Great Race, which wasn’t a race at all, our group got together in Malden or Melrose MA (too long ago). Parked my car with the bike in the rack and wheels removed. Returned later to find bike stolen. Probably the most upset I’ve ever been , I felt so violated. A Raleigh International with a Reynolds 531 db frame, all Campy. Other than my car, it was the only thing of value I owned and definitely my most prized posession. If I left my efficiency apartment for a weekend, I put the bike in the bathtub/shower and closed the curtain, hoping a thief wouldn’t see it.
    You’re right, that bke stayed with me.

  8. jason

    I decided to start using my first “real bike” to get around town for errands a couple years ago. So many years being connected to it: countless epic rides, two graduations, a failed marraige, relocating four times, hours contemplating fit adjustments, carefully curated upgrades and scrutinizing their impact on aesthetics. My uncle took me on my first proper bike ride in Santa Monica during christmas break in 1986. then we watched LeMond’s 86 Tour rogether. I was totally hooked and started consuming every printed word about racing and road bikes and saved for a bike the following year. I ordered a Cannondale R400, the first big purchase in my life. I went to the shop to pick it up and the shop owner rolled out two stunning bikes that cost double my budget. I was told to pick one instead of the R400. my Uncle in LA got in touch with the shop and arranged to cover the difference. a 1987 F. Moser World hour record with campagnolo victory, MA40’s and pantographed stem became my pride and joy for 30 years.
    last year, on a friday evening it was stolen from the market. I was in and out within 5 minutes! The sentimental value became more apparent and I was furious. I rode around all night looking everywhere, in ill advised and sketchy areas with that crap-hopeless feeling and growing intense anger. The Brooks saddle was perfectly broken in. I just trimmed the flat bars to the perfect width, got the cable tension perfect on the Paul Duplex brake lever. had the Paul thumbie positioned just right. at 630 am i gave up after riding all over the san fernando valley for almost 7 hours overnight. I ordered a dark roast at starbucks and they said it would be 5 minutes before the new batch was done. I rode behind the market from which it was taken and noticed a strange shape sticking up from the shopping cart storage corral and decided to check again, which was the first place I looked. Low and behold, I FOUND IT covered with large trash bags.
    I considered myself incredibly lucky and realized that as angry, and hurt as I was, there are worse things. I now use an abus bordo lock

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