Dan Leaverton, a coach for the Berkeley High School mountain bike team in Northern California, was returning from a team event in his 2005 Honda Odyssey with two other coaches and two students—one a freshman and one a senior. Dropping the first of four passengers at their home on a quiet, residential street, a white sedan screeched up, and took the bike Leaverton was trying to unload.
“He couldn’t get the bike into his car so he came back, pointed a gun at me, commanded the other kid still in the car to get out, stole the car and sped off down the street at 50+ miles an hour.”
Leaverton called 911 with the phone of another passenger. The Berkeley Police Department deployed several units and a helicopter, and tracked the car via an iPhone that was among the stolen possessions to a location in Oakland where neighbors reported having seen the van and the bikes earlier that afternoon. Alas, neither the van nor the bikes were located.
“I appreciate their efforts, but police are a band aid,” said Leaverton. “What’s needed is a wholesale, fundamental solution so people don’t need to put a gun to a kid.”
Similar incidents began in the neighboring Oakland hills in 2021, mostly involving road cyclists. In 2022, the targets now include mountain bikers, with multiple armed robberies now reported.
“The situation really highlights the fact that there are two Oaklands — the haves and the have-nots” said Morgan Fletcher, coach for Oakland Devo, a club for middle and high school riders in Oakland.
To this point, the San Jose Mercury News reported that “2018 Census data shows the widest income disparities in the Bay Area in San Francisco County, where the top 5% of households makes an average of $808,105 annually, compared with $16,184 for the lowest 20%” The report highlights the Bay Area has the highest income inequality in California. Fletcher has adjusted his habits since the incidents.
“I’ve moved our practice start a quarter mile away from the main road and have had to ask parents to pick-up and drop off their kids by car,” said Fletcher. “Since our kids come from all over Oakland, it’s not like there were a huge number that could ride their bike to practice anyway, but it’s not the message we like sending — we want these kids to think of bikes as transportation, not just recreation.”
Lauren Haughey, a mainstay in the local cycling community (VP of Finance at the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, California Mountain Bike Association Board member, Vice President-Bicycle Trails Council of the East Bay) says she may have been targeted as she rode to practice as a coach for the Oakland Composite team.
“It didn’t really occur to me until after the fact that a car was driving super slow behind me when another zoomed up alongside and would have blocked me except that I happened to be where I was hopping off the road and onto the trail anyway,” said Haughey. “I wouldn’t say that myself and others are super freaked out, but we are certainly being more cautious — especially with the kids we coach.”
Though the Oakland Police Department told KPIX 5 CBS News they have stepped up patrols, as of this writing, no arrests have been made.
“The department remains vigilant of the numerous incidents occurring in Oakland and urges you to be aware of your surroundings at all times,” an Oakland police spokesperson told NBC Bay Area. “Don’t be distracted by your electronic devices. Do not resist. Property can be replaced.”
The thieves are egregiously unskilled, the perpetrators leaving a massive trail of clues in their wake, so one hopes justice will be done, and not a minute too soon. Until then, be aware of your surroundings when riding, when loading and unloading. Ride with friends, particularly in high-risk areas. Remember to “hide” your start and end location on apps like Strava. But above all, remember that riding bikes is fun. With any luck at all, this too shall pass.