Bike Thieves Suck. On that, we can all agree. For many cyclists, the relationship with their bikes is more than just person and machine, it’s one built on love and trust. So, when an opportunistic asshat decides to take bolt cutters to a bike lock and slip away with a person’s trusty steed, it can be heartbreaking. This selfish act not only deprives a person of their means of transportation, exercise or entertainment, it can make them feel vulnerable and unwelcome in their own community. This is the story about a new-in-town cyclist who had his Kona Rove ST stolen just days after he purchased it, and how the local cycling community worked together to reunite bike and rider.
Stick around after the story for some helpful tips on making your bike more difficult to steal and how to increase your chances of recovery if you’re the victim of bike theft.
Eric Pahl, new-to-town cyclist: Hi, my name is Eric Pahl. I do health IT for organ transplantation. I recently moved to Lexington two years ago.
Eric, being the new guy in town, wasn’t searching for a two-wheeled companion, but we all know that the universe has a way of helping us find our match when we aren’t looking for it. It was your typical, tragic love story.
The unexpected meet-cute:
ERIC: I was exploring the downtown area with my fiancé and we went down to Broomwagon to grab some dinner before we went home.
Adam Drye, co-owner of Broomwagon Coffee + Bikes, Kona Bikes dealer in Lexington, KY: Broomwagon Coffee + Bikes is a bike shop and a café. We focus on the local community and our goal is to get more people on bikes and more people excited about bikes
ERIC: We were grabbing some coffee, we got the laptops out, we were working a little bit…I went and looked at all the bikes that they had laying around the coffee shop.
All of a sudden, there’s all of these bikes just looking at me like: “throw all the packs on me, take me across the country. You know you wanna do it.” The steel framed Rove was there. I mean it was just the perfect. The emerald green is…beautiful. I mean it looks like the Pacific Northwest. You see the wood. You see the green. It reminds you of the evergreen trees. There’s no way I wasn’t buying this bike. There wasn’t!
The passionate, can’t-keep-your-hands-off romance:
ERIC: I used it for commuting around and then I actually took it to Iowa almost immediately because I already had a planned trip to see some of my friends. We all kinda went on a ride together and that was wonderful. I came back and used it to bike commute to work.
The tragic separation:
ERIC: It happened on my second commute back from work. It was a short stop at home to do a quick lunch before going back. I come back out to my front porch and its totally gone. I think I did like three laps around my house. Did I set it here? Did it fall off? Did I actually go to the back porch?
I’m asking my fiancé “Did I bring it inside? Did I put it in the attic?” I start running up and down the street. Did somebody take it off my porch and just like stash it the first chance they saw?
It just feels absolutely terrible to leave your bike unlocked at your house and have it taken. It makes you feel really icky and really unwelcome.
My heart was racing. I didn’t know what to do.
Eric was devastated. His new love was gone and he didn’t know how to get it back. So, he did what any good millennial does, he turned to social media.
ERIC: I made a Facebook post to LexBikes Culture, KYMBA Bluegrass… I put it damn near everywhere that would let me. I had a brand-new picture of it from a few days ago when I purchased the bike. [The police] encouraged me to keep getting the word out.
The posts went sort of viral! It was shared among all the people that would care about someone losing a bicycle in Lexington. These awesome groups of a few thousand people in my area are gonna be on the lookout, which is amazing.
James Gonyer, co-owner Broomwagon Coffee + Bikes, Lexington: There’s a number of groups on Facebook and social media for Lexington. We disseminated that information to all those groups to make sure people were aware. Lexington’s got a really good, solid core group of people that want to help each other out in the bike community, so you know we’ve got a lot of eyes on the ground when it comes to looking out for each other.
ERIC: I got a shitload of support from Broomwagon.
JAMES: We contacted him pretty quickly to get his serial number in his hands so he could file a proper police report. Which is always an important step in making sure you can get your bike back correctly.
ADAM: When someone says “Hey I just saw such and such bike” then I’ll go in our point of sale that tracks all the bikes and we have the serial number associated with all the customers who bought that bike.
ERIC: I started getting Facebook messages from all kinds of people saying “Hey, I saw your bike!” or “My buddy may have seen it somewhere.” I was checking my Facebook messenger like every day. Most of it was just a recollection: “Oh yeah, yesterday I saw it somewhere….”
But then there was one seen like minutes beforehand, and they took a picture.
Jon Strom: It was my friend, Clay! I’d showed him the photo and said, “keep an eye out for this bike, you know, it’s pretty unique.”
Clay McGuffin, friend of the biking community: When you showed me that photo, I knew I’d seen it at the liquor store the day before. It was hard to miss, that thing was gorgeous! The tan side walls with that green–I wanted one!
JON: I was on vacation with my family at the time and I’m relaying messages back and forth between Clay and Eric about where Clay saw the bike when Clay texts me a real-time picture of a green Kona Rove with a current location.
CLAY: My dad and I were on our way back from Home Depot and I saw it rolling down the street. I told my dad “Slow down! Slow down!” as I’m hanging out the passenger window trying to snap a picture so I could send it to you.
JON: I forwarded the picture to Eric and he said “Oh my god, I think that’s it!”
ERIC: Because we saw the liquor store picture like a week before, they were doing a route. It was being used in town. We really had an opportunity.
The information and pictures pointed to a relatively small and defined area, which allowed the community to narrow its search and set the stage for a couple of heroes to save the day.
Tiffany Morrow, co-owner of Broomwagon Coffee + Bikes: This is when we really hit that Kona wave at the bike shop and there were a lot of Konas hitting the town, but [Eric] got one that there weren’t too many of. So when he got his stolen, I knew we’d be able to find that bike.
Jackie Miller, local brewer and bike polo enthusiast: I was at work on night shift and I think I asked Tiff to bring my phone charger up to me. And she walked up and I met her at the gate and we both looked over and saw a bike very similar to the one that had been stolen locked up at the bike racks at West Sixth [Brewery]. And Tiff was like “That’s gotta be his bike.”
TIFF: I ended up taking a picture, trying not to be too obvious, taking a picture of the bottom bracket and getting the serial number. And I think I ended up sending it over to James. And while I was waiting to hear back, I was just hanging out around the bike. This guy starts walking down the sidewalk, just kinda looking at me, and noticing I was near the bike…. he walked all the way across the street, got on the other sidewalk, walked down to the end of the block, kept looking back at me…so I was like “oh this must be the guy.” One of my friends is a police officer here in Lexington, I called him and I was like “I’m kind of in this weird situation right now, it would be really cool if you could roll up.”
JACKIE: I was still inside working. When Tiff said that the serial numbers matched, I went back into the warehouse and grabbed some huge bolt cutters and brought them outside like “here you go, cut the lock and we’ll roll it inside the brewery and keep it safe until Eric can come pick it up.”
Right when we’re cutting it, that’s when her [police officer] friend showed up like “Hey what are you doing to that bike!?”
I said “We’re just stealing this stolen bike real quick!” He showed up in uniform and stood there and that guy realized he was not getting that bike back and he just wandered off on foot.
ERIC: Tiffany Morrow messages me on Facebook and says “Hey, send me the serial number one more time, we’re like 100% sure we got your bike. It’s at West Sixth.” I think I was there, very shortly after I got that message.
The Tearful Reunion:
JACKIE: We just brought the bike into the brewery and [Eric] came up and had a beer and got his bike and cried a little.
JON: I don’t think he’d deny that.
JACKIE: No, he probably wouldn’t. He was very happy. And that was a really quick recovery time, I think it was only missing a week.
ERIC: I drove it home. It may have been dangerous for me to get on the bike and ride right away because it was just such an emotional event… I took it back home and went on a bike ride that night.
Eric and his Rove lived happily ever after, spending their days spinning around Lexington.
ERIC: I commute with it for pretty much everything. I mean, if you could do it on a bicycle, I was doing it on a bicycle – grocery runs, beer runs, pizza runs.
With his faith in humanity and in his community restored, Eric decided to get involved in Lexington’s cycling scene by joining the Board of Directors for Bluegrass Chapter of the Kentucky Mountain Bike Association.
ERIC: Having the Lexington bike culture come out and accept me with super open arms, like “Everybody, get this guy’s bike back!” really made me feel like a part of the Lexington bike family. It gave me confidence to become more involved. I wouldn’t be a part of KYMBA Bluegrass if it hadn’t been for that type of help.
Eric was fortunate that he was able to tap into a local cycling community that realizes the pain of having a bike stolen and is willing to invest time and resources to help riders recover stolen bikes. To help make this process more efficient, Broomwagon has been working with local web developer Mediocre Creative, to launch a stolen bike registry for Lexington, KY. Victims can input a bike’s identifying information and the location of where it was stolen so that people have a simple database with pictures to search if they believe they’ve found a stolen bike. It’s a well-designed tool which will help people feel a little less helpless in the event they are a victim of bike theft. Check it out at the link below.
Most bike thefts are crimes of opportunity. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings and to take appropriate preventative measures when you leave your bike. The folks who contributed to this article provided some great advice for making your bike less vulnerable to bike thieves:
- Be aware of your surroundings when parking your bike.
- Evaluate how long you plan to leave it, and the vulnerability of the location.
- If you’re parking it in the same spot every day, bike thieves may notice target your bike.
- Think about how long it would take someone to grab your bike and roll away
- Can you chase a bike thief down on foot? No? Lock it up.
- Secure your bike based on location.
- Lock wheel to frame for an in-and-out stop.
- More rigorous security measures to leave it for a longer period of time.
- Invest in a good lock and always use it
- Broomwagon recommends a manganese hardened U-Lock, chain or folding lock.
- Cable locks can be cut more quickly than you can unlock it.
- Record your serial number
- This allows you to prove you’re recovering a stolen bike, not stealing one.
- Plus, it’s usually required for a police report.
- Personalize your bike so its easily recognizable.
- Easily identifiable features such as colorful bar tape, custom racks/fenders or unique components make your bike easier to locate.
- But don’t just rely on unique parts to identify your bike, they can be easily changed or hidden by resourceful bike thieves – recording your serial number is crucial.
- Keep a current picture of you with your bike in its current configuration. Even something as simple as this:
Unfortunately, regardless of what precautions you take, a diligent thief may still be able to snatch your beloved.
ADAM: It sucks! It’s just a classic bummer of a day to get your bike stolen but then, until you recover it, every bike that goes by reminds you that your bike is stolen and you’re scoping it out like “is that my bike? Is that my bike?”
Suspicion and anger is natural, but it’s important to remember to be safe and not put yourself in a dangerous situation trying to recover a stolen bike. Start with these steps to help increase your chances of successfully recovering a stolen bike.
- File a police report
- This is the reason you keep your serial number and pics of your bike.
- Remember that even if police aren’t actively investigating your bike, stolen bikes have a way of turning up in other investigations.
- Share on applicable social media pages and utilize local resources
- Target bicycling centric groups in your area.
- Post identifying photographs, the serial number and even the police report number.
- Find, use and support local resources like Broomwagon’s Stolen Bike Registry or cycling-centric social media groups.
- If you find a potentially stolen bike, confirm with the serial number and photos – do so tactfully.
- Don’t put yourself in a dangerous or uncomfortable situation to recover a stolen bike.
- Include the local authorities in the recovery.
- Avoid confrontation
- Could create a dangerous situation.
- Remember that the person riding your bike may not be the person who actually stole it.
- Be careful confronting too many people. Word could get out the bike is hot and the bike could disappear for good.
Your relationship with your bike is a special one, don’t let opportunistic bike thieves tear you apart. Be safe, pay attention to your surroundings and always lock up your bike.
Now that you’re done reading, take a second to record your bike’s serial number and snap a current picture of you with your bike. Share your pictures on social media using the hashtag #MeandMyKona so we can check out your awesome rides!
Seriously, go do it.