Last week, with the help of my buddy Seth Picket, I was able to achieve a cycling-related bucket list item that I wasn't 100% sure was attainable. Long story short, I stole an expensive mountain bike back from some tweakers, and returned it to its rightful owner.
Last Thursday I was clanking away at my computer working on an article about CDOT's efforts to widen sections of Highway 14 up the Poudre Canyon (more on that later this week), when I got a notification that Seth had made a post on the YGR Facebook Forum. Always suspicious of Seth, I shot over to that tab to see what he was rattling on about. It usually has something to do with making fun of me for being a roadie (#dontcallmearoadie). This particular post piqued my interest.
"If anyone is missing or knows someone who is missing dark green full sus pivot I know where it is. Very new and mid travel. Worth more than the illegal RV camp it was in and I struggle to believe it is not stolen. I have requested to be added to the Denver stolen bike page as well but thought I would post it here also" it read.
After making a half-joking comment about going down to take a photo of the serial number, I sent Seth a text asking where the bike was and he replied with the exact location down in Loveland, off the bike path, near the Les Schwab Tire Center. I knew the exact spot. I tossed the Rockymonts Splitrail bike rack onto the back of my car, and off I went.
Now, I feel like I should point out a couple of things, A) approaching meth-heads or alleged meth-heads is never a good idea. They're unpredictable especially if they're in the possession of alleged stolen goods and doubly so if you're going to remove the alleged stolen goods from their possession. B) It's also worth noting that when I graduated from college, I spent several years doing insurance fraud investigations so I have a fair amount of experience in surveillance — i.e. reading people’s movements, going unnoticed, vehicle positioning. I used to observe people as they went about their days undetected (usually and hopefully) for up to 12 hours at a time. I once followed a truck driver that was on 100% disability from Alliance Neb to Rapid City SoDak and back again. He claimed he couldn't drive....
Anyway... When I rolled up to Les Schwab, I immediately saw the sketchy campers and a guy working on a panhandling sign. I parked my car in an area of the parking lot, out of view of the alleged tweakers with several exit options, dropped the rack and went for a stroll down the adjacent bike path. This is about when it dawned on me that flip-flops may have been the wrong shoes for the task at hand. I was fairly familiar with the area due to covering the Longview Trail project and doing long, zone two rides from Fort Collins to Loveland with the kids in the bike trailer. As I walked past the campers, surrounded by less expensive bikes and piles of junk, I noted the green Pivot full suspension mtb. That thing was definitely out of place, especially with a kid trailer full of crap attached to it. I snapped a nonchalant photo of this whole junk show and took the long way back to my car. I wasn't comfortable just jacking the bike for several reasons; there were a couple of people milling around, the bike had that stupid bike trailer attached to it and honestly, I wasn't 100% sure it was stolen (I mean, I was but I try to think the best of people). I went back to my car to plot my next move.
This was about the time I received a text from Seth saying he'd found an identical bike listed as stolen out of Boulder back in July on https://bikeindex.org/ (register your bikes, kids). As I was texting with Seth, the guy with the panhandling sign headed off to 'work', and another with the mountain bike followed shortly after. I relocated my car and went for another walk. As I approached the guy with the sign I could see the bike but not the other guy. I told him it was a really nice bike and offered him $500.00 for it on the spot, hoping I could take it for a never-ending test ride. He declined the offer, stating the bike belonged to his buddy and he couldn't sell it. I continued on to the gas station to get a coke and on my return trip, I reiterated my offer which was again declined, while taking note of the build, and that the serial numbers had been scratched off of the fork and the shock.
The obviously removed serial numbers in addition to the fact that the bike had been dropped, drive-side down, was enough for me to know it was stolen. Nobody who knows anything about anything lays an $8000.00 bike down drive-side down. Right?! I went back to the car to reposition and decide on my next move, that’s when I noticed the bike was gone from the corner. I again parked out of view, in a spot with easy access to at least 3 exits and went for another walk to the camper. As I approached the camper, I assumed that the guy who 'owned' the bike would be expecting me and my offer but nobody came out. After a few moments, I moved closer to the camper, listening for movement or talking from inside but didn't hear either. That's when I approached the bike, leaned over and disconnected the trailer grabbed the bike and took off down the trail.
After 10 or so seconds, I checked my shoulder to see the guy standing in the camper doorway watching me ride down the path. He grabbed a stolen (probably) cruiser and gave chase. In crit. terms, I was off the front with one lap to go and he was chasing at 15 seconds, he wasn't going to close that gap. I railed my preplanned route back to my car, jammed the Pivot onto the Rockymounts rack and slipped out of the lot less than 100 yards from the camper. I was watching for any of the players as I approached the car and exited the lot. I didn't see any of them and they didn't see me.
When I got back home, I sent Seth a text saying I had the bike in my possession and gave it a quick once over. The rear caliper was unbolted and dangling, it had some cheap plastic pedals on it, the kid trailer hitch, a monster energy sticker, lots of scuffs and a u-lock attached to the frame. Nothing particularly unique and no serial number, damn, they peeled the sticker off (a serial number sticker?!). I went in and researched the bike on Pivot's site. It was a stock, medium Treeline Green Switchblade with a Pro X0 29er build. An $8,000 bike. The fact that this bike, like the one stolen out of Boulder, could come in 3 colors, 14 different builds and 5 sizes made it fairly unique on its own. Seth registered with Bike Index and reached out to the owner of the Boulder bike. We'll call him Randy. I reached out to Pivot, and Pivot dealers Drake Cycles and Sports Garage to gather info on the bike and Randy. Pivot and Drake didn’t have any info, but SG did have Randy in their system and while they couldn't or wouldn't say if he had purchased this exact bike they did agree to forward my contact info to him.
Randy, Seth and I batted texts, voicemails and emails back and forth for a few days making sure nobody was getting scammed. Randy was able to identify a pretty serious scratch near the rear axle but that was about the only proof that he had other than an original receipt from SG showing that he had purchased the bike from them new, about a year ago. The scratch, the proof of purchase of the exact build and the fact that he had listed a bike stolen a month ago was good enough for me. Seth and I agreed to meet him at ProVelo on Sunday and asked that he bring that receipt. When Randy and his wife came up, he was able to positively identify the scratch he put on it during its maiden voyage out at Hall Ranch. After showing us the original receipt Seth and I handed the bike back over to its original owner who was going to take it straight back to SG for a tune-up and an appointment with an angle grinder to get that u-lock off. It was actually still in pretty good shape with the only long-term issues being some new scratches but it also has a hell of a story now. Before Randy pulled out of the lot, his wife insisted that he come back and offer us a reward. We all agreed that a donation to Wish For Wheels FoCo was the best course of action. So Randy got his bike back, I got some much-needed good karma and we're getting more bikes for kids. Win, win, win.
After we all left ProVelo, I did a drive-by of the Les Schwab down in Loveland and found the campers and other vehicles were gone. Nothing left but trash.
Be sure and take photos of your bikes, make notes of the serial numbers and register them with Bike Index.
Why didn't I call the police?
Because I wasn't confident that they'd spend as much time trying to track down the rightful owner. I was fairly certain the investigation would have ended as soon as they discovered it didn't have a serial number or they couldn't readily identify the owner.
Why do bike manufacturers use stickers these days?
Why don't they chip bikes like they do dogs?
I don't mean tracking devices, we're not there yet, I mean those chips that they put under the skin of dogs that the Human Society or a vet can scan to get the owners info. Bike manufacturers could build the chips into the frame or paint and shops would be able to update and scan the serial number and other info. Boom done.