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Lady luck

10 April, 2013
  • Thousands of Australian are victims of bike theft each year. Most never see their rides again, but very occasionally someone gets lucky, finds Margot McGovern


Perhaps the worst thing about having your bike stolen, aside from the obvious downside of being sans bike, is the near certainty that you’ll never see your ride again. “Maybe you’ll get it back,” your friends say, with a hopeless, pitying look that clearly communicates “and maybe you’ll win the Tour de France on a unicycle”. They have a point: your chances are dismal to none, but as I recently found out, miracles do happen.

I was in the supermarket for ten minutes getting things for dinner on my way home from work when my bike was stolen. I wish I could say I dealt with the loss in a calm and mature manner. Instead, I sat in the gutter and cried and cursed the great injustice of the universe. I loved that bike. Admittedly, she was nothing special to look at – a two-year old powder blue Mojo singlespeed vamped up with a Token track wheel set and in bad need of a new headset, chain and a good clean – but we’d shared a history. She was the first bike I ever bought. I’d crashed her more times than I care to remember, first as I learned to ride with cleats, and later after tentatively flipping her hub as I taught myself to ride fixed-gear. It was with her that I’d learned basic bike maintenance. She helped me conquer my first century. Her wheels had been a Christmas present from my boyfriend, and, damn it, she had a name – Adelaide (Lady) to remind me of home.

…but my boyfriend had his bike too, and the D-lock wouldn’t fit both, so we used what we thought was a reasonably sturdy cable lock. The thief cut through with a single snip. The kicker? My partner’s bike wasn’t taken.

However, I knew I hadn’t behaved as a responsible bike owner. Why? I was naive. Bike theft was an urban legend that often kept me awake listening for the sound of bolt cutters in the night, but which, in reality, I believed only happened to careless friends of friends that neglected to lock their bikes. From a practical perspective, my bike wasn’t worth much, surely not worth stealing. I’m also obsessive-compulsive about locking it. On the night in question I had my D-lock with me, but my boyfriend had his bike too, and the D-lock wouldn’t fit both, so we used what we thought was a reasonably sturdy cable lock, which the thief cut through with a single snip. The kicker? My partner’s bike wasn’t taken. Whoever took Lady didn’t even rifle through his panniers.

Through wracking sobs, I managed to give the police a detailed description of my bike and file a report. However, I didn’t have a record of the bike’s serial number (typically located on the underside of the bottom bracket), which would have been the best way for police to identify Lady and organise our reunion. A more diligent bike owner would also have engraved her licence number and state initials on the bike to increase her chances of getting it back.

I put the word out on social media and kept tabs on eBay and Gumtree listings. I entertained grandiose fantasies of finding the low-life scum who took my Lady and making a citizen’s arrest. But months passed with no sign of my bike. I’m ashamed to admit it, but eventually I gave up.

Lady was the furthest thing from my mind when I was home in Adelaide for the weekend and received a call from my boyfriend to say he was outside Melbourne University – with Lady. The bike was chained up with no sign of the owner, and my boyfriend called the North Melbourne police. They put our D-lock on the bike with a card and instructions for the owner to contact them. The fact that I’d filed a police report and had pictures of the bike, as well as my boyfriend being able to give detailed descriptions of how the bike had got its various upgrades and dings made it easy to prove that the bike was mine.

Later that evening the guy who’d been riding Lady made himself known to the police. Was he the thief? He said no – he’d bought the bike off someone else for $80 on Smith Street. If he was telling the truth, he should have known better. There’s no compensation if you’re relieved of stolen goods, even if you bought them innocently.

Needless to say I’m very happy to have Lady back and have abandoned the romantic idea of lock sharing. My boyfriend and I have since invested in an extra D-lock.

Update: buyer beware

Early this week I received a letter from the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria informing me that police had brought two charges against the man who claimed to have bought my bike on Smith Street:

  1. Handle Stolen Goods X1
  2. Deal Property Suspected Proceeds of Crime X1

In English, he’s being charged with purchasing and possessing stolen goods. Furthermore, he’s agreed to plead guilty in court in order to participate in the Criminal Justice Diversion Program.

According to the information I received: “The Criminal Justice Diversion Program provides an opportunity for mainly first time offenders to avoid a criminal record by undertaking program conditions that benefit the community, victims and the offender.”

As part of the program, the accused can be require to do any of the following:

  • Apologise to the victim in a letter or in person
  • Compensate the victim
  • Attend for counselling and/or treatment
  • Perform voluntary work
  • Donate money to a charitable organisation, local community project or the like
  • Attend a defensive driving course and/or Road Trauma Awareness Seminar
  • Any other condition the Magistrate or Judicial Registrar deems appropriate.

Which of these applies in this case won’t be decided until the hearing in May. Watch this space.

I was aware the police had interviewed the man who had my bike, but until I received the court’s letter two days ago, I wasn’t aware they’d charged him. Being in possession of a stolen bike is a relatively minor offense and I was impressed the police took it seriously.

Perhaps I’m naive, but I don’t believe the majority of bike thieves are riders. Surely anyone who regularly experiences the joy and freedom of riding wouldn’t be so cruel as to deprive someone else of the experience. However, I can understand how a rider might see a bike for sale, know the price was too good to be true, but buy the bike anyway.

The charges against the man who had my bike serve as a cautionary tale for anyone looking to snag a bargain.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. 10 April, 2013 12:21 pm

    So basically, don’t buy any second hand bike because it might be stolen and you could be charged? I now wonder if the giant I bought on ebay could have been stolen and I could be a criminal?

    • 11 April, 2013 9:07 pm

      I’m with you Chris, the guy should never have been in trouble with the police. Shame on this writer for letting it happen.

  2. 10 April, 2013 5:05 pm

    My bicycle was stolen once in university campus. Surprisingly the next week, i found it sitting somewhere else inside the campus. The lights and lock was gone. But i took it back. Must be some other desperate student.

  3. Patrick permalink
    10 April, 2013 7:12 pm

    I had my bike stolen from Carlton (Vic) and happened to drive past it on Russel St – opposite the Elephant and Wheelbarrow.

    Assume the low-life scum that stole it had been a resident with ‘access’ to my undercover ‘secure’ carpark where it was locked up. A week later (and a few phone calls to police officers- okay lots), I received my bike back after I had described it, had family members (from interstate where it originated) describe it to police officers and a little patience with the same note left for the ‘new owner’ and received it back after a week!

    You can get lucky, but I would suggest your luck improves with the biggest D-lock that is practical to carry and photographs with owners manuals, serial numbers, bike receipts matching purchase (lodged with your LBS) and plenty of common sense.

    Good luck hanging onto your precious steed/s (you should have at least one!), safe and happy riding!

  4. Les permalink
    10 April, 2013 8:46 pm

    Chris, if u have a receipt I don’t see the police persuing u.

  5. Luke permalink
    11 April, 2013 8:48 am

    I managed to get my bike back from a pawn shop using a receipt with the serial number recorded on it. (Luckily for me it was pawned 100m from where it was stolen). Now I get the salesperson to write the serial number on the receipt when I buy a new bike.

  6. Rafael permalink
    11 April, 2013 11:34 am

    Are you suggesting the cable lock is useless?!?! …& only de D lock does the job?
    Now I’m worried about the security of my bike!!!

    • 11 April, 2013 12:43 pm

      For maximum security, forget the cable and go for a D lock; cables are just too easy to cut through. Cable locks can be a practical deterrent in some situations where carrying a d-lock isn’t practical; short-term parking in low-risk situations/areas, for instance. But if you value your bike, you should have a D lock.

  7. 11 April, 2013 9:04 pm

    As a cyclist and one whom has also had her bike stolen i take great thrill in knowing you got lady back.
    It seems very unfair that the guy whom bought it for $80 went to court and had to be so involved and personally responsible for your loss. That sucks. Maybe a good deal came his way but that doesnt mean he should suffer.
    How can you allow him to get in that deep when all he did was buy a 2nd hand bike? The law needs to change and chase the thief, not the middle man. Your story was cool until that point.

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