Bike Theft with a Happy Ending

Everyone who rides a bike lives with the fear that the bike will be stolen one day. This is a tragedy that both Trisha and I have experienced – now I use the heftiest and burliest locks available for my bikes, even when they’re locked in my garage. Sadly, my friend Julie suffered this fate last week (the same Julie from yesterday’s post), but her story has a surprisingly happy ending.

Julie and her bicycle - photo (c) Martha Williams of Bike Fancy

In her words:

My bike was stolen Friday afternoon outside my office in Lincoln Park. No cut u lock, no signs of the rack being compromised. I honestly thought that maybe I hadn’t rode in that day…. but I had my helmet and rain pants so I know I wasn’t going crazy.

Immediately I filed a police report over the phone, added it to the stolen bike reg and sent emails to friends.

Yesterday a few people checked out the bike swap on the south side with no luck.

This morning I headed back there with a couple of friends.

Within 5 minutes I saw the bike, we called the cops and they recovered the bike for me. No arrests.

My fenders and rack were missing (which had numerous stickers) but besides that, mommy and baby are reunited.

Apparently, the south side “bike swap” is a regular place/event through which a lot of Chicago’s stolen bikes are funneled. Crazy. I’m so happy that Julie got her bike back, especially because finding a bike that fit her properly took a long time – the Redline is 39 cm with 24″ wheels.

Have you had your bike stolen before? If so, what did you do and was the bike ever recovered?

{The beautiful photo of Julie above was taken by Martha Williams. Check out all her fabulous bike portraits at her blog Bike Fancy There is a new portrait nearly every day.}

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42 thoughts on “Bike Theft with a Happy Ending

  1. Wow, great story. Happy it all worked out.

  2. Wow, I am so happy for her.

  3. Mr Colostomy says:

    I had a bike stolen once from a communal bike-parking area in my building. The rack was a wheel-bender and at the time I was using a Kryptonite Series 2 (the one which comes with the tethering cable) which meant only the cable could go through the rack and the U-lock was through the rear rim, one of the seat-stays and the seat-tube (and the cable itself). One morning I came downstairs to see only the cut cable remained and the bike had gone. I reported it to the landlord and police and came to the conclusion that it must have been another resident who had done it. The next morning I came downstairs to see that my bike had returned, with the U-lock still in place (although a little wounded with cut marks) and a broken spoke on the back wheel.

    Needless to say I was happy to have got it back and to have defeated the thief in a way too. I now use a Kryptonite New York Lock instead.

    • Wow. I’m so glad Julie was able to get her bike back. It’s a little scary that the bike made it to the bike swap so quickly.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      I always worry of that sort of theft, with a neighbor having a few too many and “borrowing” my bike, fully intending to bring it back later, but being too drunk to remember and leaving it in a ditch somewhere.

  4. SM says:

    Glad the story had a happy ending. Also, yesterday’s post made for some interesting reading. Personally, I don’t believe by bicycling i’m making a political statement. But, I get the impression from people that I’m making a self-assertive statement, which I’m not. But I think I scare some people – because they associate bike riding – especially when i forgo my car to commute to work via riding my bicycle as being strong and willful. In the end I just enjoy riding my bicycle; I’m not making any statements. Anyways just my two cents on the topic. Have a nice day.

  5. dustin says:

    I ride BMX mostly, but building a commuter as we speak. Anyways, about ten years ago I was eating at a fast food joint and had my bike sitting outside the place, with me eating my food on the other side of the window. If the window wasn’t there, the bike and I would have been touching. So I’m enjoying my food and I see some dude walk up looking at my bike, but not like he was going to jump on it. He stops, looks at me, waves at me, grabs and goes.

    I jump up and run after him. I’m not gaining, but I’m losing ground quickly. I run through to the next little shopping area and wave a guy down in a suburban, he stops, I point and tell him that kid stole my bike. I jump in and as we chase after him, I tell him the story real quick and as we catch up to him on the main road, he pulls into the median, looks at the kid and says, “If I were you, I’d stop where you are, I’m a fireman and I WILL make you stop if you don’t.”
    Kid ends up getting arrested, the thai place where we ended up stopping gave the fireman a gift certificate for being the man of the hour and I ran into that guy several more times over the next few years.
    I ended up cracking the frame a year or so later down in Utah on a road trip, but that’s my only experience with a stolen bike personally. Ever since then I bring the bike into any fast food joints, keep it in my car if it’s a nicer place or leave it inside my house if it’s not in line of sight.

    Glad this story had a positive outcome as well!

  6. Shannon says:

    A neighbor of mine years ago had his brand new bike stolen… a recent gift for graduating highschool. He was so proud of that bike and used it constantly, up until the day it was stolen from his garage. I was home that summer from university, and still had an old mountain bike stored at my parents house… I cleaned & tuned it up, and offered it to him. I was so heartbroken & angry hearing the story of his new bike being stolen I really wanted to do something. Giving him that bike was all I could think of (or afford!). I was a little embarassed by how old the bike was, and figured he wouldn’t be interested in riding a slightly-too-small, used, purple bike that weighed a tonne…but I couldn’t have been more wrong. With a big grin he accepted the bike, stoked to have his two-wheeled freedom back. I was just happy to see the bike in use again, and know that there was one more cyclist on the road :-)

  7. Coreen says:

    I’m so glad Julie got her bike back!

    I had a bike stolen several years ago. It was the only bike I had at the time, my trusty hybrid that I had put thousands of miles on. I left it unlocked on a friend’s porch with the U-lock dangling from the bars. I still have (and use) that U-lock.

    More recently, in the last 3 weeks there have been three attempts to steal one of bikes off my front porch. I always U-lock the wheels to the frame, but hadn’t always locked them down to anything, so I’ve retrieved my still U-locked bike from the snow banks out front and around the side of the house. I hate fumbling with 2 locks when it -20, but it seems to be necessary as soon as it warms up the slightest bit.

    Me and some friends are going to set up a bait bike on my porch and a web cam to catch some pictures of these would be bike thieves to post around the neighborhood.

  8. […] incident, a blind Illinois cyclist is killed by an apparently distracted driver. A bike theft with a happy ending. Minneapolis cyclists find strength in […]

  9. Martha says:

    My current bike was once stripped of all of its parts when I left it over night outside The Bob Inn on Fullerton. They took everything– the derailleur, pedals, break calipers, even the break cables, and just the frame was left. I had to get all new parts, and I was a super broke college student. Kevin from Blvd Bikes helped me out with some used parts, and my dad did the rest, I still wonder if some jerk is using my faux white suede bike seat somewhere (it came with the bike).

  10. adventure! says:

    I’m so happy that Julie got her bike back, especially because finding a bike that fit her properly took a long time – the Redline is 49″ with 24″ wheels.

    I’ll say! A 49″ seat tube would be extremely hard to find! But in the photo…she looks so normally proportioned!

    (I think you meant to say 49cm.) ;-)

    Great that she got the bike back! I use a Kryptonite U-lock mostly with a Kryptocable to augment it. No thefts so far (knock on wood.)

    Now I have to go check up on my bike…

  11. That is great to hear that she recovered the bike!

    This is one reason why I am weary of the second-hand market; you never know which bike is stolen.

  12. NancyB says:

    My daughter’s bike was stolen out of our driveway. Our teenaged neighbor chased after the thieves and got the bike back. He’s currently deployed to Afghanistan, still chasing after bad guys!

  13. ridon says:

    i had mine stolen from underneath my stairs (didn’t lock it). i’m still suspicious that it was one of my neighbors who saw me put it there everyday. i put it on stolen bike registry, i filed a police report. i combed craigslist bike ads for the next month to see if anyone off-loaded it there. now i lock both wheels and to a stationery object. i still hold out hope that i’ll see it somewhere so i’m always looking at people’s bikes (although i did this before my bike was stolen). and occasionally, i’ll search craigslist.

  14. Emily says:

    That is great news for Julie! I was so sad when I had originally heard her bike was stolen!

  15. I’ve never had a bike stolen but I’ve always kept in locked and in very visible places where suspicion would be aroused. My husband was very reluctant to purchase a quality bike when we starting biking to work. He bought a pretty expensive Giant mountain bike when he lived in Colorado. Stolen the very same day. I believe he parked it in front of a bar without locking up.

  16. Andrea says:

    My bike, not-so-affectionately known as the Tank, was locked to itself in my parents’ backyard when I was still living with them. I woke one morning to find it gone. I was heart-broken, because it was my main mode of transportation.

    Happy ending, though: since it was so heavy, the would-be thief got tired of carrying it and left it against the fence in the front yard!

  17. Susan Heredia says:

    My niece just got her bike stolen yesterday in Chicago. More info on the “bike swap” please!

    • Jami says:

      I just did a write up of what I did at the Ashland Swap here: http://www.balloonbiker.com/biking/my-vigilante-career/

      Let me know if you have any questions.

      • Susan Heredia says:

        Thanks Jami!

        • La says:

          I haven’t had my bike stolen but I recently had my phone stolen and I think its just kicked me into gear about watching all my other possesions like a hawk. I love my bikes and would be completely distraught if anything happened to them because my boyfriend has built them up and restyled them for me! I think its just so sad that people would steal other peoples bikes, our bikes are our babies!
          I just found your blog tonight and have gone through almost every post, I love it!

  18. lucienrau says:

    I had a bike stolen from a train station, I was doing a multi-modal commute at the time and my heart fell out the bottom of my shoes as soon as I’d realized that it was gone. It was a crummy mountain bike and I was using a middling U lock at the time. I looked for about 20 minutes. I looked at every bike in the area because I couldn’t believe that it was gone. It was locked in a public area but apparently a crew had gone thru and stolen 5 or 6 bikes that day.

    My next bike I locked up with a Kryptonite Evolution thru the frame and wheel and never had a problem. Now I use the pinhead pitlocks and a good U lock thru the frame lock on my bike.

  19. Jami says:

    My bike was stolen at the very end of August and it definitely made me angry. I got a little obsessive with going to the flea markets looking out for my bike. Ultimately, I ended up getting a person arrested who had 6 pretty nice bikes in his possession, outside of the swap.

    It turns out that afterward, I would see the same vehicle in my neighborhood on a weekly basis. I’m almost certain that they are the ones who stole my bike.

    I’m writing up some posts on my blog about what to do when your bike is stolen…and also about what I did when I visited the flea markets. I know it doesn’t exacly go with the balloons, but I’ve accepted that my blog is multi-faceted.

  20. Janet in NorCal says:

    Yes, flea markets are prime selling location for thieves, who are allowed to keep selling stolen bikes week after week. It’s crazy! Why can’t/won’t they enforce this?
    Check out the detailed descriptions of the thieves at the bottom of this craigslist post: http://sfbay.craigslist.org/sby/bik/2258066008.html

    • kevin says:

      Crime against property is a much lower priority than crimes against people, and I think that’s appropriate. The Illinois Criminal Code even imposes different penalties for theft of a given dollar amount depending on whether the property was taken from someone versus just taken. The police in the District where this particular Swap Meet is located are very cooperative and helpful.

      I don’t want to blame the victim here, but a significant bike theft problem that needs to be addressed in the City of Chicago pertains to education; i.e. 20% of the bikes stolen are not locked; an additional 35% of thefts are of bikes only locked with a cable lock. Eliminating or reducing these two practices would greatly reduce the rate of theft in Chicago right now.

  21. A lot of stolen bikes end up on Craigslist. It helps to roll up a driver’s license copy and insert it into the seat tube. That way if you find the bike you can claim it on the spot. I also register my bikes serial number with National Bike Registry. The cops will return a bike that is registered with NBR.

  22. Maureen says:

    So glad Julie and her “baby” were reunited! Luckily I have not had a bicycle stolen, though I have had cars stolen.

  23. Patience says:

    I have had 2 bikes stolen from me in the last 12 years, but only 1 has a good story. Back in 2004, I had a beautiful, matte-black Phat cruiser. It was all black, and to my pre-vintage bicycle days, was my favorite! And no one else had one like it. One day I came home and it was gone off my back porch, u-lock broken. I lived in a crappy neighborhood, and there is a huge trade in stolen bikes between Austin and San Antonio. So…..I sadly considered it gone. THEN! One day, about 2 weeks later, I was driving with my friend down a side street in Austin and there was a guy RIDING MY BIKE! We sped up, pulled to the side and I started yelling at the guy that he was on my bike and he promptly started biking away. Luckily, he was pretty old and I was young, and I ran after him and caught up. I said, “Sir! You are riding my bike!” And he said, “I don’t know…..I bought it from this guy for $20.” I said, “Are you saying if I give you $20, I can get the bike back?” He nodded, I grabbed a $20, and got my bike back. Yeah, no police, yeah…..whatever. I got the bike back! :)

  24. Joel says:

    What bike lock make/model do you recommend?

    • Mike says:

      Someone stole a bike for the fenders?! And gave the bike back?

      That is truly one of the strangest stories I’ve heard this year.

      • Dottie says:

        No, no. Someone stole the bike, removed the fenders to try to anonymize the bike (since it had stickers) and then tried to sell it a a bike swap. Julie saw the bike, called the cops and got the bike back.

  25. zip says:

    What a nice looking lady.

    Bless.

  26. Claire says:

    I had a Cannondale bike stolen when I was at coffee…someone sniped the cable lock. Later a cop saw a scuzzy looking guy on my spiffy bike and didn’t think they went together. The cop found drugs on the guy and seized the bike. I’d reported it stolen and got a call from the police tha they had my bike. When does that ever happen? Sadly, later, with a better lock, the bike was stolen again, and I never recovered it.

    • Haley says:

      My bike was stolen over the weekend and then I recovered it today- a guy was riding it down the street! I yelled out “THAT’S MY BIKE!” and he pulled over. He said a friend gave it to him and I believe him- he didn’t match the description of the guy a neighbor saw acting suspiciously. I showed him several identifying marks on my bike (including my initials engraved into the frame) and he handed it over. I’m mostly happy to have my bike back and at the time wasn’t concerned with anyone being prosecuted for stealing my $600+ and most beloved item. However, it would have been nice to know about protocol for how to keep him there until a cop showed up for questioning. If I had found my bike on Craigslist would I have just emailed the cops the listing to add to my report and hoped they took care of it? If LGRAB could do a post about how to handle such a situation that would be really great info to have.

  27. Elaine says:

    My husband’s bike was stolen in 2006 from our carport. (Not locked, alas.) The weird part: he actually found it the next spring; just spotted some random guy riding it down the street! (Blogged about it at the time: http://www.elainenelson.org/2007/05/20/in-cycling-news/ – starting with the 3rd paragraph.) We donated it to the local Build-a-Bike program…later it was found in a pawn shop during a bike theft bust: http://www.elainenelson.org/2007/11/06/history-of-the-red-giant/

    I had my helmet & lights stolen once, back when I did a mixed bike/vanpool commute and parked at Target all day. After that I always took with me anything that could be removed!

  28. Cheryl says:

    Our daughter’s bike was stolen and we had decided to go to a bike auction held by the police department in order to replace it. We bid on a bike, won it and the auctioneer said “By the way we are throwing in 2 more bikes with this”. When we went to pick it up, one of the other 2 bikes was the one that had been stolen from her. This was a very happy ending for our daughter!

  29. jiminy says:

    My bicycle was just stolen tonight while my wife and I ate at Pita Jungle in Chandler. I ride 18 miles each way to and from work daily. I’ll report it but it would be a big chance to ever see it again.

    I just hope the theif rides it everyday instead of junking it for parts. I guess I’ll get a better lock next time.

  30. Haley says:

    My bike was stolen over the weekend and then I recovered it today- a guy was riding it down the street! I yelled out “THAT’S MY BIKE!” and he pulled over. He said a friend gave it to him and I believe him- he didn’t match the description of the guy a neighbor saw acting suspiciously. I showed him several identifying marks on my bike (including my initials engraved into the frame) and he handed it over. I’m mostly happy to have my bike back and at the time wasn’t concerned with anyone being prosecuted for stealing my $600+ and most beloved item. However, it would have been nice to know about protocol for how to keep him there until a cop showed up for questioning. If I had found my bike on Craigslist would I have just emailed the cops the listing to add to my report and hoped they took care of it? If LGRAB could do a post about how to handle such a situation that would be really great info to have.

  31. La says:

    I haven’t had my bike stolen but I recently had my phone stolen and I think its just kicked me into gear about watching all my other possesions like a hawk. I love my bikes and would be completely distraught if anything happened to them because my boyfriend has built them up and restyled them for me! I think its just so sad that people would steal other peoples bikes, our bikes are our babies!
    I just found your blog tonight and have gone through almost every post, I love it!

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