Friday Group Ride #234

Friday Group Ride #234

All the time, I get calls from people who have had their bike stolen. They are invariably in some phase of the grieving process, usually either sadness or anger. I always say, “I’m so sorry,” as if they’re bereaved.

The first bike I had stolen was a Trek Antelope 800 with white crackle paint. It was a hideous eyesore of a bike, and I loved it. One day a college roommate asked to borrow it. He was late for class. He locked it to a chain fence outside the liberal arts building and someone came along with wire cutters and a van and removed, probably still locked to itself.

He offered to buy me a new bike, but I declined. Mistakes happen. Bikes get stolen.

Then a month or so later, I borrowed his car and got a $50 ticket for parking partially in a loading zone. I wondered aloud to him if we weren’t then square on monetary terms, but he insisted I pay the ticket. We haven’t spoken much since.

My next bike was another bottom-of-the-line mountain bike turned urban assault vehicle. This one I rattle-canned bright yellow to make it less attractive to thieves, and I managed to keep that one under me for a few years, but eventually it too got stolen. I locked it to a meter down a dark side street and went to play pick up soccer on a rocky field behind an auto-body shop. When I got back, I found just the broken lock.

I thought, “Good luck getting the drug money on that one, asshole.”

That was some time in the ’90s, and I haven’t lost a bike since. Touch wood. Maybe it’s because I’m smarter now. Maybe it’s because I seldom actually lock a bike outside. Maybe it’s because I live in a better neighborhood now. I don’t know, but the pain of having a bike stolen is not something I have forgotten, and I never fail to feel my bile rise when someone tells me about losing a bike to a thief.

This week’s Group Ride asks, have you ever had a bike stolen? How did it happen? Did you get it back? Did the thieves get caught? Were the police helpful? Did insurance cover it?  And, what do you tell people about locking up bikes?

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  1. Patrick24

    I had Schwinn Varsity stolen from in front of my house in the suburbs (decent neighborhood) when I was a kid. No idea what insurance did, but I never got it back. That bike was not locked up.

    I had someone cut a cable lock on a road bike in broad daylight in downtown DC, but I managed to chase the guy and get the bike back. Nothing since then.

    I tell people u -locks are best, but can be easily defeated by a professional bike thief, so to try not leave their bikes outside for an extended period of time.

  2. Quentin

    When I was a teenager, I bought a brand new 1986 Raleigh Olympian with money that had taken me months to save. After about 4 weeks of locking it outside my high school, it was gone one day. I never saw it again. I believe I filed a police report, but I don’t remember. It’s value was not enough for an insurance claim. My dad found a much heavier and less sexy Schwinn Varsity for me to ride to school for the next few months while I saved my money again to buy the used Trek 460 that I eventually entered my first race on. I also had a mountain bike (also locked with a cable lock) stolen in college. I haven’t had one stolen since then, probably because at this point in my life I don’t ride for transportation all that much.

    A few years ago I found the same model of Raleigh on Craigslist in pristine condition for $100, so for the sake of nostalgia I bought it and turned it into a commuter/gravel bike. It’s a lot of fun to ride.

  3. Phaedrus

    My college girlfriend had recently transferred (to my school) from a different school with a much better football team. Her ex-boyfriend was the quarterback of that other team. I wasn’t sure how to feel about them maintaining contact and talking often, but she assured me that I was the one. He even came to visit once and she brought him to my house to meet me. I wasn’t home and she knew I hid my unlocked bike around the corner of the house. They took it as a joke.

    I got home, noticed, and called the police. While giving my report to the officers, she called. I had to apologize to the policemen and inform them I was the victim of a prank and not a theft.

    Several months later, the quarterback won the Heisman Trophy. I’m probably not the only person to have a bike “stolen” from a Heisman Trophy winner, but I might be the only one enjoyed the experience.

  4. Jeremy

    I have never personally had a bike stolen. When I was young and using it for transport I was diligent about never leaving it unlocked. Maybe I was lucky, maybe bike theft wasn’t that popular in my area, but both my siblings had bikes stolen. One from a neighbors yard in day light, the other right out of our garage at night.

    If I lost one now, I would be very, very angry….at myself.

  5. Steve

    I had a Bridgestone MB-1 (one of the last ones with the Ritchey crown, rigid fork, lugged frame) stolen from my kitchen while I was getting ready to go on a ride in another room, and yes, I was in the house at the time. Can’t fault them for being bold. I hope someone actually rode it, rather than leaving it outside to rust.

  6. Scott G.

    My friend and I had our bikes stolen out of locked garage at the Best Western Reims.
    I had an amusing interview with the police, their limited english vs my marginal french,
    they were very nice and we had good time. They recovered my friends bike the next
    day, my Atlantis is still lost in France. The hotel director Rodger Hum was more upset
    than I was, very embarrassing for the hotel. He and I worked several months with the
    insurance company, which did pay off. The police report and the Chris Kvale the insurance
    help pay for are nice souvenirs.

  7. Chris

    A few years ago someone broke into our garage through the back door and took my DeRosa King XL with Campy Record 10. They left the three other bikes and the spare wheels and opened the main door to the garage to go out. Police came and dusted and took a report. Apparently, there is a theft ring in our area that targets the group rides and steals to order. We have a lot of guys here riding “show bike” quality bikes. Super Record EPS, SRM cranksets and carbon tubulars are not uncommon.

    I found the bike on eBay almost a year later and sent the ad to the detective, who happened to ride, and managed to get it back. The guy claimed to have gotten it at a swap meet. It was covered with dust and hadn’t been ridden in the intervening year. Insurance had long since replaced the bike, so I was given the option of giving back my new DeRosa, or letting insurance keep the old one. A week later the bike was back on eBay for $2000 through a liquidator. I should have bought it, but my wife said I didn’t need two DeRosas.

    We have moved since then, and we now have a 100lb German Shepard that sleeps overlooking access to the garage with two DeRosas hanging on the wall in front of my wife’s new car. Fair trade.

  8. Tom D.

    I never post comments but like most who have had a bike/extension of their body stolen it sticks with you forever.

    As a more or less broke college student I saved up all my extra cash and bought a Specialized Allez E5, maybe back in 2004 or 5. It was red but not the sworks and I eventually added a bunch of high end parts that made it pretty distinguishable from other the other red specialized bikes out there; most importantly, which I will get back to, the naked carbon sworks fork I added to it, who wants an aluminum steerer anyway.

    One of my roommates, the much younger and even more irresponsible one of the group, threw a party one night and proceeded to get black out drunk. I had to carry him up the stairs to his bed over my shoulder. being the host that I am the party continued on, most of the people I had just met. When the shindig finally ended I did the rounds to make sure everything was picked up and locked up and found that my bike and two pairs of limited nike dunks were stolen out of our garage. Not like the garage door was open or anything, one of these effers was probably after my roommates nike collection and stumbled upon my rig.

    I called the cops who did little to nothing. I eventually had a pretty good idea of who it was too but there was little I could do.

    About three months later I was on the freeway and swear I saw my allez with it’s more unique upgrades, fork specifically, riding on a pedestrian bridge acrross the freeway. I took the next exit and did my best to hunt down the likely unknowing rider to no avail.

  9. Michael

    I had a custom-built mountain bike from the mid-80s that was stolen in the mid-90s. A friend had convinced me to join her in a yoga class and she had a lock and cable for both our bikes. It was at an adult center at a local park. An hour later, we came out and my bike was gone, her bike was there, and the lock was lying on the ground, shackle cut. I was bummed, but figured that technology had come a long way (it was a rigid fork bike and that was the time of the rise of shocked forks), so maybe it was time to buy a new bike. I ordered a new bike and then mentioned my bike to various friends around town, just in case. The police report made it into the local paper’s crime blotter and was hilarious. I don’t know whether the policeman or the reporter got it wrong, but the bike was reported to have a knobby seat, among other odd things. A friend called a couple of days later to report he had found the bike hanging in a bike store in the closest town to ours (about an hour away). I called the detective, who did nothing for a week while I called daily, so the dispatcher eventually called her friend in the other town who sent a cop out to pick it up. A month later I drove down to get it, and then sold it when my new bike showed up. I still see it around town occasionally, now used for bike packing. And thinking about it now, I realized I have never been to another yoga class. I do it at home, where my bike is safer.

  10. Shawn

    I was pitching in a slow pitch intramural softball game at the University of Texas. My Vitus was leaning, unlocked, against the far side of the chain-link backstop, directly behind my catcher. It being Austin and all, there was a bum sitting on the four-level riser bleacher where all of our rabid fans watched the game. OK, he was the only one there. He looked half dead, or embalmed, or something, and smelled even worse. But in the brief time it took my catcher to throw the ball back to me after a pitch, that bum jumped up, ran down the two steps to ground level, mounted my bike, and started to ride for the street. Without a word, all nine fielders started running towards the thief. After the millisecond it took our opponent brothers to comprehend the situation, their dugout cleared, and they joined the pursuit. The batter did not drop the bat. Yells rang out. The bum looked back at his pursuers with saucer eyes, struggling against the 52×13 for acceleration. Some of the smarter pursuers angled towards the small gate in the perimeter fence the bum would have to pass through, and the brightest of the bunch reached for their car keys. We gained on him. We pictured what we would do to his body after we caught and killed him. We were close, but he was beginning to wind-up the gear. He passed through the gate still about forty or fifty feet clear of us. His — my — tires hit parking lot pavement just as the fastest sprinter I’ve ever seen in my life (he had just scored against us before the thievery, seemingly rounding the bases in the time it would take me to uncap a beer) shot past me and closed the gap. Sprinter grabbed the bum’s shirt just as their speeds equalized. But, perhaps shifting too much weight too soon to slam the bum to the pavement, sprinter tripped and let go to regain his balance. In the briefest moment between release, rebalance, and recapture, the bum topped the gear and rolled away, — the gap growing between him and sprinter. Growing. At a snail’s pace, but growing nonetheless. As inconceivable as it would have seemed 24 seconds earlier, the dessicated cadaver was laying down real power. He had reached escape velocity, and by the time the first pursuer’s car came past, he had escaped orbit into the vast blackness of night.

    Come to think of it, he looked a lot like Alexi Grewal.

    1. Padraig

      This is the greatest, most dramatic comment we’ve ever gotten in response to a post here at RKP. I was breathless. Yet another example of just how amazing our readers are.

  11. Miles Archer

    What do I tell someone locking up a bike? Look for one more expensive than yours to lock up next to. Hopefully the thief will choose the expensive one. Or, lock up next to someone with a cheaper lock.

    I’ve been very lucky not to have a bike stolen. If I’m riding somewhere where I expect to leave my bike outside, I ride my old 1980s mountain bike. If I had to regularly lock up outside, I’d paint my bike rusty looking with a little bit of primer. If I ever get a full carbon bike, i’m painting it to look rusty for the heck of it. I have a fantasy that if I ever get a titanium bike, I’m going to paint it to look like carbon, just to piss off the titanium aficionados.

  12. Les.B.

    Just posting to advise that Chris’s experience is not unusual, many bikes are stolen from homes. So lock up your bike at home. A residential thief is not likely to bring bolt cutters along.

    I keep my DeRosa (I only have one) locked up in my bedroom and any cutting tools I have are kept in the garage which is in a separate building in our complex.

  13. Alan

    Two bikes stolen.

    1. POS modified girls bike with “welded” top tube (no idea why my dad thought this was a good idea), but it had BMX mag wheels that I bought.

    2. POS Giant Kronos road bike. Rusted and rebuilt by me. Thought no one would steal it. WRONG.

  14. cash

    I’m a police officer in a college town on the front range. Bike thefts are epidemic. I make special effort to locate stolen bikes, which isn’t terribly difficult if you know what to look for. Just two nights ago, I recovered a stolen bike that had not yet been reported. I take great professional and personal pleasure in recovering and returning stolen bikes. I’ve lost count of how many. A lot, to be sure.

    On another not, perhaps underlying the above. I had a sweet Schwinn Predator freestyle spike stolen from my front yard when I was a grade schooler, sixth grade probably but I can’t recall exactly. I remember the mental trauma vividly. And the lesson learned still burns in my mind today.

  15. Garuda

    My first bike I ever bought with my own money was stolen from a locked garage just over two years ago. It was a bottom end red Allez, and I’d gladly pay thr thief twice its price to give it back. I still search the internet for a red 2006 Specialized Allez triple whenever I have time to burn.

  16. Rob P

    I’ve only had one bike stolen; my first mountain bike that eventually was too trashed to ride trails.

    I use to keep it outside the door of my basement apartment. One day someone found their way down the rural back alley and made off with it.

    I think the joke’s on them though. Due to a bent frame, cracked chainstay and about to implode rear wheel, the real brake was disconnected. Seeing as though only the front brake worked, it was in dire need of new pads.

    I wouldn’t want to be the presumably drunk guy who rode that down the steep sustained hill from my place, but I sure wish I could have watched.

    1. Rob P

      I amend my previous statement.

      While working in the pit of a local CX race, my “A” bike was stolen out of our team tent this past Sunday… 3 days after I posted previously.

      Chalk me up to two bikes now.

    2. Author

      @Rob P – Stealing a bike is evil. Stealing a bike at a CX race? Hell has never burned so hot.

  17. steve

    Loosening my front QR is my last ditch effort when I don’t have a lock. Nervous thieves can’t get away fast enough. Worked for me once. Found my bike and wheel on the ground, but my buddies bike was gone!

    My other trick is to take my bike inside. I’ve done it at restaurants and uncommon places like walmart. If the bike is clean, nobody complains.

  18. Steve

    24 years ago my newly-wedded bride and I set out on a fall NorCal century on our tandem (built by myself and and a machinist friend) and returned to our townhouse apartment to find that some scumbag had disabled our garage door opener and made of with our two Special-Ed M2 Stumpjumpers (wedding gift!) and all three of my beloved road racing bikes. Our claims adjuster had never heard of “Campy” or Dura-Ace and sure as hell had never heard or a “custom-built” steel frame but we settled for a reasonable some anyway.
    Took that check and used it for a down payment on our current Casa… two adult daughters ( with college loans) later and a garage full of new carbon and Ti road bike goodness I must admit it was probably a more than fair trade.
    Still don’t own a bike lock to this day, keep ’em next to me, in house or in the back seat of my work truck.
    Not all tragedies have a sad ending!

  19. Tom in AZ

    The summer between my junior year and senior year in college I was commuting by bike to work locking it to the rack in the parking garage of the building where I worked. After putting in a double shift I walk out to find the cut cable lock laying in the ground and that nostalgically ugly purple (yes, purple, sparkly purple what was I thinking?) Trek 850 gone. I walked home fuming, praying the idiot who has stolen my bike would ride by so I could inflict bodily harm but they didn’t and I never saw that bike again. My grandmother lived in the building where I worked (it was a retirement facility) and she felt so bad about it, especially since the building’s owners pointed at the sign that said, “not our problem” that she kicked down enough to buy a new mountain bike which I still own to this day nearly 20 years later.. There’s a special place in Hell reserved for those that steal bikes (and those that steal from yard sales) . I lock my bikes whenever I’m out, I lock them in my storage shed at home, I lock them when people say I don’t need to, I’m not paranoid, just been burned.

  20. Tom in Albany

    The first bicycle I ever got, a brown Schiwwn 5-speed with man-shifter on the top tube and a yellow banana seat (over which I swooned as a seven year old, was stolen from my front year during that first summer. I waas supposed to lock it to the porch but, in my haste from beiing late, the street lights were on, I neglected to do so and even left it laying on the ground rather than at least lean it up to the porch. About five years later, I got my dad’s bike stolen from the local bowling alley just because I was too lazy to lock it up. He wasn’t mad but, he wasn’t happy either.

  21. jorgensen

    First stolen bike was when I was 8 years old. It was my pride and joy, literally. A dose of adult reality that event was. Then the advisory that my parents would not replace it. It took 20 months to save up enough to buy a replacement Schwinn Sting-Ray. That effort and a gift of the newly published Complete Book of Bicycling for Christmas a few months later initiated my saving for a real road bike and the racing that would follow. Others would later get stolen, along with pumps and lights off a locked bike. It was the first one that was most significant.

  22. kurti_sc

    My first college was terrible – TERRIBLE – for bike theft. I worked in a local shop and we routinely took bikes back from thieves when they would bring one in for a flat repair or whatever. Through some conversations with the local police, we realized that there was a network that would steal bikes from our city and move them up to the next. Bikes from that town would find their way to us. That made it easier to repatriate the bikes to their owners.
    Given that theft was going to occur, I just used beater bikes around town and never put my nice bikes out of sight. I lost 2 or three beaters that I would lock up with a U-Lock or U-Lock / chain combo, so clearly, that wasn’t much of a deterrent. The last bike I used there lasted until I left. (I got it for free when some Frat house was huffy tossing it off the second floor balcony.) I would simply tie it up with a shoestring to the top tube. Somehow, that made a better impression on the thieves that this thing just wasn’t worth their hassle. Upon transferring to another school, I just left it untied and it was gone when my lab was over.

  23. Peter Dedes

    Last bike I got stolen was my old Devinci phantom, 3 months ago, which had since been converted to a commuter. Was at a cycling advisory committee meeting at city hall, the cable lock was pried open. Press gets the story as I chair the committee. Three days later, I see my bike on the front of the bus coming towards me. Three right turns and a left, then I’m behind the bus at city hall. Red light. I get out of my truck, tell the bus driver that the bike is stolen. I take it off the front of the bus and wheel it to my truck. Guy comes out of the bus. I impatiently tell him the bike is stolen, is mine while I bundle it into the back of my truck.

  24. SusanJane

    I took my green stamps 10-speed to Chico my first year. There was a professional team of thieves that would pick the perfect stormy night and clear the bike racks once a year. Seven stories of students slept overhead. Maybe 100 bikes. There were two left in the morning. An old rusted frame and mine. The lock was too much for them, I guess. But they bent the forks and tweaked the frame. It still rolled so I pushed it downtown and a bike shop bought it for parts.

  25. Ryan

    I was about 7 and had learned to ride on a Schwinn Sting ray knock off with sparkle colored banana seat and a brown rust colored frame – it was the early 70s after all. I went to the garage one day to grab my beloved Sting Ray for a ride around the neighborhood and it was gone!!!! I ran into the house crying to my Mom only to find that – she had given it away! to be fair I had out grown it and was now the right size to graduate to my older brothers old Schwinn Typhoon – all 3 tons of it- but I really liked that POS sting ray knock off , it was with me when I first soloed and never got to say good bye. Sniff.

  26. gmknobl

    The only time I’ve had my bike stolen was during college living off-campus. I was a sophomore. My dad had given me his Schwinn Free Spirit and I was happy with it. Honestly, that bike represented two things: freedom and frustration. Well, one night while I was lying half asleep in the living room, I heard some commotion outside. I foolishly ignored it. Sophomore is right.

    The next day I went out to ride and found the bike gone. It was on porch right outside my front door not locked up. I walked quickly around the neighborhood but didn’t see anything. I called the police and gave them a description. Amazingly enough, they had it; said it was left a couple of blocks away on the street. So, the likely drunk bums had taken it for a joy ride and left it. I’ve kept my bikes locked up since but have lost them to other means, mostly driving them into the garage while on my car roof. That insurance ad must have taken from my life.

    Freedom – I could ride and relished the memories that bike brought with it. My father and I rode one hot Easter Monday throughout Antietam Battlefield for 17 miles, he on the Free Spirit and me on my Azuki ten speed. That’s all the bikes had back then and it was a thrill to have after lusting after a three speed during my young childhood but never getting one. Free Spirits were sold by Sears and everyone in those ads was having a glorious time. I was convinced I’d have one when I rode my dad’s bike.

    Frustration – By my Sophomore year my body finally started to grow up. I had been a 145 lb. weakling with no muscle but no fat either. When I got on that old *heavy* Free Spirit, I found just how out of shape I was. It’s a little hilly where we lived in NW Maryland but down in Blacksburg, VA, there are real hills and real climbs. Now that I had a bike, I wanted to ride again which I hadn’t in years. A friend who did ride asked me to go out on a ride. He took me to Harding Avenue which then drops down into Ellett Valley. I struggled to the top of Harding, got halfway down to the Valley and the rode just DROPPED. This guy couldn’t be serious! If I went down there, I’d have to ride out! Well, I did ride down, slowly and carefully through the s-curves then turned around. I couldn’t make it more than one mile back before having to walk the rest of the way up a class three climb. I was so frustrated with my inability and generally dealing with depression that year anyway that I didn’t ride any significant length until I got a mountain bike at the urging of a friend about 5 years later. At THAT point, I started riding for real and truly rediscovered my passion for biking. I’ve not stopped since.

    1. gmknobl

      Yes, I’m replying to my own. I forgot to mention that by the end of my Sophomore year I did put on muscle. A lot of it. I went from 145 to 170 or so and none of it fat. Then, I continued to put on weight but all of it fat! When I got up to 230 I finally got sick of it. I started exercising in a gym, threw out my back with squat thrusts, decided to get out the old Free Spirit, found I could ride, albeit slowly then was urged by my friend to get a mountain bike – then all the rage – and eventually go on a trip with him. I started riding for real. My weight still yo-yos between 170 and 200 but there’s real muscle under my winter flab (old guys who get fat in winter) that comes out to play in the summer.

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