One Less Mountain Bike: A Tale of Too Many Stolen Steeds

“Sleep on it, calm down, and then decide if you still need to comment.” This seems to be an accepted rule for thoughtful online commenting and service industry reviews. Angry and excited comments rarely reflect the person we want to be, and a good night’s rest can dull the shark-sharp teeth that glisten ugly in the moment. I took a similarly paused tact regarding my recently stolen bikepacking ride and now I want to dust off the topic and commiserate with readers who have come back to a bike rack or parking lot to find their steed stolen. In this instance alone, I hope not everyone can relate.

In my early twenties, I worked as a 3am bagel baker in the other Emerald City of Eugene, Oregon. My housemate and dearest companion had two of my bikes stolen while borrowing them to commute to work. Both were locked to staple-racks on the sidewalk. One was a Diamondback hardtail that I had spray painted black, with a sweet forged alloy crank. The other commuter was a GT Predator that I purchased as a replacement. Both were swiped off the street whilst my housemate was working long hours in a crowded call-center downtown. Anyone who’s had the pleasure of cold-calling people all across the country while the interrupted responder is busily working or sitting down to supper knows that the work itself feels quite terrible on a daily basis. Losing your ride home is stepping in different piles of shit with both feet.

My roomy told me of these thefts in the same way either time: over a beer on our tiny concrete stoop. He felt terrible that my bike had been stolen, and I felt terrible that he would now be stuck sitting on the bus, doubling his commute time. He offered to replace the bikes, but he was riding mine because he couldn’t afford one of his own. We were both hangin’ below the poverty line, the health insurance affording line, and the sit-down restaurant line, but I wasn’t above the “ask my parents for a little help” line. I would find a way to get another commuter. We drank a couple more cans and talked trash about bike thieves and the trusted inefficacy of reporting stolen bikes to the police.

A few years later another one of my bikes was stolen from a chain-link cage outside the grocery store where I worked. This particular bike had additional value for me. It was my first full suspension mountain bike, and the first bike I had raced many years prior. The person who took it was clearly agile and equally sly, as the eight-foot cage remained uncut, and my lock lay split open in the bright light of day. This was the saddest stolen bike incident. I felt pretty cool on that bike. I seldom grow attached to things, but that thing was special. Now I was relegated to the bus route. Again, the police report that my employer insisted on wasn’t worth its paper.

This most recent bike theft was about as straightforward as they come, or go as it were. My simple Surly Karate Monkey was locked to a bike rack behind the apartment building, behind a locked six-foot-high pointy gate and some equally unfriendly shrubs. Just the rear wheel was captured by the lock, as that’s all the lock and rack combo allowed. I figured that the bolt-on rear hub would turn any would-be thieves toward my neighbors’ unlocked whips. That rear wheel was the only piece left when I returned to find my parking space otherwise empty.

That little minty pile of steel pipes was my adventure bike, trails-are-too-wet-so-I-gotta-ride-dirt-roads-bike, and faithful grocery getter. It certainly saw more miles than my favorite high-tech trail machines, along with a requisite amount of neglect and scratchy character. It was wrapped in beautifully constructed bags from Oveja Negra and a host of cool components that I hope are serving someone well today.

Like a lot of defiant young people, I swiped some stuff when I was a kid. Having tasted the other side of thievery and perceived-need has framed my feelings around my bikes being boosted. Once I even pocketed a shiny orange brake lever from a friend’s porch while we were working on our BMX rigs. That poor choice sours my gut to this day and gives me a sliver of empathy for the folks who risked their freedom to take a shiny thing that they could use and easily sell. It still doesn’t feel great, but I get it.

With a rested and cool head, I’m able to remember that most bike thieves are not evil, or even inherently bad people. Like folks who sell illegal drugs or create counterfeit cash, most bike thieves are seizing an opportunity in a cutthroat capitalist system that likely feels void of plausible alternatives. We all gotta eat and based on the social structures that we currently live under some folks have to steal their supper. Several of my neighbors work as bicycle couriers, and It’s better my bike was stolen than theirs.

Have you had a bike stolen? How did it make you feel? Did you get it back? Please share your story with us in the comments below.