How Bridie got her bike back

tl;dr:

My bike was stolen 2 years ago from work — despite being locked inside our bike cage inside our parking garage. A police report was filed, a close eye on Craigslist and OfferUp was kept and a CL email alert was set up. Recently (Thursday, 4/20) — almost 2 years later — my bike popped up on Craigslist. With the help of good friends and the Seattle Police, I got it back on Sunday, 4/23.

The back story:

It was May, 2006– 11 years ago — pre-kids and 1 year after my first Seattle-To-Portland (STP) ride, my wife and I went to Portland for my birthday weekend with another couple. We had a great time — dinners out, long brunches, shopping and we came home with 2 new bikes. A single speed (Specialized Langster!) for me to satisfy my bike messenger fantasy and a new modern road bike for my buddy, Chris. I smartly went with the freewheel side of the flip-flop hub and I had the bike shop replace the dropped handle bars with ram horn style. Yay for Oregon and no sales tax!

I loved my new ride and couldn’t wait to start using it for commutes. I felt like a kid again riding a bike with no gears and enjoyed at least looking the part of a bike messenger.

The day it was stolen

Fast forward to June, 2015. I had ridden my Langster to work, locked it up in the bike cage in the parking garage with a cheap cable lock (won from a raffle on bike to work day!), and went about my day. I got a ride home and ended up leaving my bike at work over Solstice weekend. Since my bike was locked and in the bike cage, I had no worries about it. The garage doors also close after hours and on the weekends.

Monday morning I come in to find a voicemail from our building security saying something about my things might be missing from the bike cage. I was sure it was a mistake — my bike was locked, inside the bike cage. I went down to the cage and looked for my bike (and helmet). It was like that Beavis and Butthead episode where their TV gets stolen. My bike was gone.

“This sucks more than anything that has sucked before!”

I went up to our security office — they had the cut cable and the padlock AND video of the bike thief. We watched as he jimmied the key card reader open — definitely not an Adobe employee. He walked straight over to my bike, cut the lock, put my helmet on his head and walked my bike out of the cage — all in under 2 mins. The last frames are of our security guard arriving just after the thief left.

Although normally the garage doors might have helped prevent this, we found that the entrance on the other side of the building was broken/left open that weekend.

What a day to wear my ‘Bike to Work’ t-shirt to work.

PDX

Adobe Security had filed a police report on my behalf and told me to call SPD to update the report if I had the serial number or any additional info. I did not have the serial number anywhere that I could remember/find. I did however, remember the bike shop in Portland that I bought it from — River City Bicycles. I called them and low and behold they had a copy of my receipt WITH the serial number on it! 2006 was before they had a digital system. Barry H emailed me a PDF (go Adobe!) of my receipt on June 24th (Weds).

River City Bicycles old logo, decal on my bike

I phoned the Seattle Police and updated the police report. By Thursday, I created a Bike Index page for my (then) stolen bike and included both the serial number and police report number.

Register your bike(s) now! www.bikeindex.org

Little did I know that my bike had likely already exchanged hands by that point.

CL alerts

Although I was checking Craigslist and OfferUp daily — I was sure I was going to find my bike — a friend suggested setting up an email alert on CL. You have to create an account, create a Saved Search and set up a Search Alert from your account (more info here). I set up an alert for ‘Langster’ and started receiving an email any time a post popped up for ‘Langster’ in bicycles.

My email alert for langster created 2 years ago!

Specialized makes a variety of Langsters — all single speeds but over the years, several different styles. I received a few alerts per month for Langsters that were for sale — and could usually tell by the title and definitely by photos if there was a match or not. Nothing close until this recent Thursday.

The Chase

In my gmail inbox on that fateful Thursday: alert: langster. I opened the alert: 1 new result for search terms: langster, as of 2017–04–21 01:39:03 AM PDT

Specialized Langster 50cm 2006 — $300 (Greenwood)

I thought to myself immediately — there can’t be that many 2006 50cm Langsters in Seattle. I clicked on the link to the post — the bike was definitely the same year/model/size but the picture wasn’t of a Langster with ram horn handlebars. I looked more closely and realized that it was a stock or borrowed photo — the bike had no pedals.

This really could be my bike! So I called the Seattle Police and left a voice mail with my name and police report number on Thurs. I called again on Friday morning and spoke with a person who turned out to be the admin and she said she had left a message for the Sergeant to call me back on Monday. I told her while I’d love to talk to a Sergeant I asked if there was someone else I could speak with sooner. She transferred me to a detective.

I told the detective that I thought I had found my stolen bike on CL and asked her what I should do next. She advised me to try and get the serial number from the seller to confirm if it was indeed my bike. We talked about how to ask the seller and what if he (or she?) didn’t respond. She said to try and we’d go from there. So I sent the seller the following inquiry:

Hi -- I’m interested in your bike and have a few questions:
Are you the original owner? Why are you selling? Could you send me some more pics (including one with serial number)? Are pedals included?
Thanks!

And, amazingly got a reply WITH THE SERIAL NUMBER…and OMG OMG OMG IT WAS A MATCH!!

I called the detective back. Now what?? Time to set up a meet, but where? The detective suggested the North Seattle Precinct — she said that it’s common for people to set up CL and OffersUp transactions at police precincts. ‘If he’s a normal seller, he should be ok with that suggestion’.

Then what? If he goes for it, then you call the Seattle Police non-emergency line and request ‘an officer stand by for help recovering a stolen bicycle’. She advised calling an hour before the meet up and to keep calling if the police didn’t show.

Ok — I emailed him and then he phoned me. He didn’t want to meet at the precinct because it was too far away but he understood the request to meet somewhere public and suggested a coffee shop in Greenwood. We agreed on 4:30 on Saturday. OMG OMG

The Recovery

I texted my buddy, Jim, and asked if he was available to help with the recovery. He immediately replied: ‘Absolutely.’ We had a plan, but I didn’t know if it was going to work. I could hardly sleep Friday night.

On Saturday @ 3:15 I called the non-emergency line, I requested help with a stolen bike recovery. I was instructed to call back 10 minutes before the meet up AND when were 2 blocks away. I told the dispatcher that the detective had suggested that I call early — he told me: ‘and that’s why they’re behind a desk. We’re on the front lines.’ Ok, got it! When I asked what to do if the police were unable to show up, the dispatcher repeated that I should wait for the police for my safety: ‘I hear from people every day in situations like this — you could get punched in the face’. Ok, got it.

At 4pm, Jim and I were ready to roll out. I repeated the instructions to Jim. We called the non-emergency line on the way. We found parking ~1 block away and the dispatcher (a different person) said ‘you’re not 2 blocks away’. We started driving again looking for a spot a little further away while still on the line with the dispatcher. He was not happy. We finally found a spot and waited.

Meanwhile, Jim’s wife got in on the action and went to the coffee shop and was texting us updates. Unfortunately the updates were that there was no one hanging about with a bike to sell. No police either.

We waited 20 minutes. I emailed the seller. No reply. I realized I had given him my office phone # — I checked it, no voice mail. No police. So close but no cigar (or bicycle!). We drove home @ 5:10pm sad and mad.

Late that evening, the seller replied to my email. He said:

‘I called you and texted multiple times . I’m sorry I didn’t see this email . And assumed you flaked on me . ‘

The Recovery part 2

OMG OMG — we still have a chance! I replied:

‘Agh, I’m sorry I missed your calls! Can we try again today a little earlier? Herkimer @4pm? I work tomorrow. Text my cell when you are heading there?’

This time I included my cell phone number.

Jim was immediately in again: ‘I’m ready when you are’, as was another friend who would be our eyes this time at the coffee shop. Saturday’s dry run made us prepared for round 2 on Sunday. We parked, we called the non-emergency line and waited for either the seller or the police to show up. The seller emailed me that he had arrived. No police. Our eyes at the coffee shop provided confirmation via text. Still no police. I replied to the seller that we were looking for parking:

‘Be there in 5!’

I was ready to go in — police or no police. Jim convinced me to wait out the 5 mins. When the police still didn’t show, we started walking. I called the non-emergency line one more time as instructed ‘if anything changes, call us back’. I told them that the seller had arrived and that we were going to meet him: ‘I just want to get my bike back’.

I saw the seller, I saw my bike. ‘Hi, I’m Bridie’ I said. We shook hands and then Jim told him:’We have good news and bad news for you: the good news is we have a little reward for you, the bad news is that this is a stolen bike’.

The seller was surprised but as gracious as possible given the situation. He said he had checked the serial number — which he had, but had inadvertently left off the first letter because it was very hard to see on a seam on the frame. And just then the police rolled up in a SUV and 2 officers came over to us. The officers took us aside individually to ask us questions. Officer A. said: ‘I read the report — 2015! How did you find your bike 2 years later?’

I explained the CL alerts and showed him a copy of my receipt. He confirmed the serial number. The other officer talked to the seller. As we wrapped up, I asked if everyone was up for a photo.

I still can’t believe that I got my bike back — or maybe I can…

I can’t totally explain why I hadn’t turned off the CL alert after nearly 2 years. Hope? Lazinesss?

Let’s go with hope.

Bridie got her bike back!

Riding my bike to work today was like, well, riding MY bike! It felt great.

Key takeaways:

  • Write down your bike’s serial number
  • Create Bike Index pages for your bike, include the serial number
  • If your bike is stolen, create a Craigslist email alert for it!
  • File a police report
  • Make sure the police report contains the bike’s serial number
  • Make sure your Bike Index page contains the police report number

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