Last week I stumbled on a couple of news stories with an unusual twist.
I don’t think anyone would complain about getting a bike thief off the streets.
But the interesting thing was the way the thief was uncovered, when a man simply walked into the Redondo Beach Police station and told them he’d bought a hot bike.
It seemed like there must be more to the story.
And there was.
The next day, I found an email in my inbox from South Bay cyclist Mike Bike, who identified himself as the man in question. And offered a detailed explanation of his role in the convoluted tale.
Yes, it’s a long read. But it’s a great story, and well worth the time.
And fair warning to anyone tempted to buy a bike of questionable provenance.
Strange day today. Very strange, indeed.
It started out so well. Jane and I are training for a couple of tours at the end of the month and we had been frustrated trying to get her new bike to fit her. Today’s ride was going very well, though, after we finally got it dialed in: up the west side and back to the South Bay where we’d finish up the long weekend with this long ride.
Then it got weird. But let’s go back a ways.
A month ago we’d started training in earnest after Jane’s school year ended. We had done a serious climbing day up on the hill. We were headed home and Jane was in a hurry because she had some prep to do for a summer class. As we passed ‘the corner,’ I saw some bikes chained to sign posts on the right side. One of them caught my eye because it was a small women’s frame. The issue with Jane’s bike was that it’s a 52cm men’s frame that we thought was just a tad long in the top tube and with the standard diamond frame didn’t give her much stand-over clearance. I pulled over but Jane kept going. It turned out the guy selling the bikes was strolling up to show it to some other guy who just came there and must have called (both bikes had hand-written signs with a phone number). I asked the guy “how much for the Specialized?” He said he had checked on Craigslist and it was worth a lot and he’d have to get $1000 for it. It was a new looking Specialized carbon fiber WSD with Shimano stuff on it. Nothing looked abused. It had eggbeater pedals on it. I told him I was in the market for something like this but that my girlfriend had just ridden by. I wanted her to look at it and test ride. I jotted down the phone and model stuff and left him there.
Jane was interested. She thought it would be worthwhile to look at a bike just a mile from the house. So I collected my mad money, $700, and got in the van to go look. We brought her pedals and a pedal wrench and Allen keys to make it a little better for a test ride. We called ‘The Guy’ and he came on out from somewhere. I asked if I could swap pedals and he said, “sure.” We chatted a bit and he said he rode regularly up on the hill. He had bought the bike for his wife and she loved it but they were forced to move since his dad was dying of cancer in New Jersey. He was moving back there to take care of him and they needed to get rid of stuff. I could sympathize with that. Jane came back from her spin and said she liked it. I told ‘The Guy’ that I only had $700 or so on me, could he take less? He said he needed the grand. I told him I could go to the ATM down the street. Jane stayed and I went to the ATM. I came back and gave him the cash and we did the deal. I asked about cleats for those pedals; he said they had never bought those. His wife only rode it a few times and he had bought the bike like that used, with the pedals. OK, I was a little suspicious; but it was a plausible story.
After a week off for travel, we got on it in the middle of June. It was clear that the stem was too low. On a ride back from the hill, we saw ‘The Guy’ out by still more bikes for sale. We stopped and told him that we were really pleased with the bike but were still dialing it in. Jane asked about these two ‘new’ bikes; He said they had found two more stashed in the back of the garage. We rode away thinking that things weren’t as plausible as they were earlier. As for the stem, I thought it was an 80 mm but it was actually a 60. It turned out a friend at work had an adjustable stem he wasn’t using. And he wanted the pedals so we made a swap.
I did the wrenching and things were better but she was still cramped and getting a sore back. She wanted the seat further back. We moved it as much as possible but she wanted more. I was thinking we bought the wrong size bike. I looked at set-back posts but thought maybe one of my other posts could yield a cm or so. I swapped to a different post with a little more space but it was not enough. Looking at the bike, it was obvious that the bars should be moved forward if she wanted more space. My work friend had an array of stems and he was pleased with his pedal deal so he agreed to lend me all his OS stems. Over two rides we eventually gravitated to the longest of the lot, a 120 mm. We were even able to switch back to the original post.
In the mean time I had purchased side loading bottle cages due to the extreme smallness of this little compact frame, along with a new top-tube bag and seat bag. We had her Garmin on there and a new bell (which didn’t fit so well on the OS bars but I rigged it with a zip tie). Saturday night she declared it finally dialed and she looked at the tour profile and said “We need to do 71 miles tomorrow.” A quick calculation showed the west side run with a trip to Hawthorne would do it. The hot weather would help with heat conditioning though the breeze kept us from getting too hot.
Sunday morning we got underway about quarter to eight. We turned at the plaza and headed north along the coast, and were going much better than other recent rides because the bike was finally dialed. What a difference! Jane held my wheel while I kept an eye on her with my relatively new helmet-mounted rear-view (really nice unit: http://www.safezonemirror.com/install/). Great day.
Coming back, we rode the beach south taking our time through the crowds. Then we rode by the plaza on our way to completing the 71 miles. I did the mental math and it looked like we were right on target. Go to Hawthorne, hit Trader Joes for some cold drinks and then home.
Then it got weird. As we crested PV West I noticed a small female rider on a bike that looked too large for her; she was rocking her pelvis on the saddle and just looked awkward. I passed her and didn’t say anything. I looked back and Jane was off my wheel a bit then I heard the ladies talking. I got to the overlook and pulled off thinking I might give the lady advice. They both pulled up and I thought I heard the lady ask how long Jane had been riding. I told her about 5 years. She looked displeased. It became apparent she was interested in the bike and wanted to know how long we had it. I said we bought it used about a month ago. She said “that’s my bike!” Well, what do you say to that?
She said it was stolen from her house nearby a little over a month earlier along with other items and she had resorted to riding her old bike which had been re-fitted for a daughter (she did not wrench). Then she started obsessing. I asked her about the stuff I had replaced, could she tell me what the original equipment looked like? She could not. But she claimed she had the police report and the serial number in her phone.
The serial numbers matched. Crap. I bought a stolen bike for cash. But I still had the guy’s phone number and I had seen still more bikes at the lot on Friday.
The lady insisted she wanted her bike back right there. I said that we were out on a ride and I understood it was her bike but could we please finish our ride and we’d give it back with the original equipment on it (provided I could trade back to get the pedals!). She wasn’t buying it. She wanted the cops. We agreed, police were needed to resolve this, but she had no idea where she was. I helped her out giving her reasonable instructions on our location (you say Paseo and PV West and it could be about 5 different places). She kept insisting that I should have known the bike was stolen and I should have checked the stolen bike data bases before purchasing. Maybe so, but I’ve been stymied too many times trying to buy well-priced used merchandise on web-sites that I tend to move quickly.
The cops arrived and at first wanted to know who the perp was. Thank goodness they didn’t draw weapons or cuff us. We explained the situation several times to several officers and since the numbers matched (and they checked the report online) they said the lady needs to have her bke. I asked again if we could please finish up our ride and we’d get the bike restored and returned; they said no. They said we should remove our stuff from the bike and they’d impound it.
Fortunately, I had spotted Greg (another guy who’s ridden with us many times and done construction work for us) parked nearby. I went over and he had just finished his ride and I explained some of what was going down. So with Greg’s pedal wrench and my multi-tool, I started taking off pedals, stem, bags, computer, and bell; leaving the bars dangling by the cables. The lady exclaimed “are you going to let that asshole take parts off my bike?” The cops said, yes, they were my parts so I could have them. I explained yet again that I would make the bike whole and I really wanted to finish the ride but if you are going to be like this, this is how it will be done. So Greg loaded up our stuff in his truck, the cops carted the stolen bike off in the back of the police cruiser and I was left to ride home. I passed the lady on the ill-fitting bike and waved. She had my phone number and address and would stop by to let me fix the bike later.
I thought it couldn’t get any stranger. I started mulling over a visit to the roadside bike sales lot to chat with ‘The Guy’; but what to say? Basically, the lady was going to be more-or-less whole; but I was out $1000 and the PV cops had no interest in helping me. At least they didn’t shoot me! Down the hill I went. What to do next. I had to get the pedals back; shouldn’t be a problem. I had to talk to more cops in the south bay; never much fun talking to cops. I turned and headed toward home. I was mulling things over as I crossed an intersection. Someone yelled from a car window “Hey, I’ve been looking for you!” I looked over and there’s the guy! He pulled a left turn and parked the wrong way behind me.
He says his buddy just came up with a high-end bike and he thought I might be interested. A month later and he recognizes me!?! In any case, here he was saying he wants to talk to me I said, yeah, I’m real interested. His wife was in the passenger seat and she offered to take my phone number again since he didn’t have it anymore. He remembered that he sold us the Specialized and that we’d stopped to say how much we liked it. I asked him, again, where did you get that. He said it was his wife’s and said “where’d we get that, honey? Was it Huntington?” She said it was. I asked about how his dad was doing. He said “it is what it is.” Very profound. I was less sympathetic this time. He said “Yeah, we’re leaving in a couple of weeks.” Then they drove up a side street as I noted their vehicle license and make and color. Tres bizarre.
I got home and Jane wasn’t home yet, so I called her. Greg had to drop some stuff at Ray’s house. They were just looking at bikes at ‘the lot’. I told them to forget that; I was going to get a call from him this afternoon to see a bike. They drove to our street. We talked it over and decided first things first, get the pedals. Then the bike lady called and said she had the bike and was stopping by. I said I had the stem but no pedals yet but I’d get them. After 45 minutes and a trip for pedals, she was set. I went back home and we contemplated our next move. No call from ‘The Guy’ so I called the local cops. Cops on the phone don’t really want to chat so I said I’d stop by the station.
Jane and I went down and after some screening at the front desk and sitting on their hard bench, got to talk with first one officer and then a pair. They seemed somewhat disinterested in my bizarre tale; maybe because it sounded like I made it up. But they took down all the info I had: stolen bike police report number, phone number for ‘The Guy,’ plate number, description and times. Then they told me I was SOL; that I was lucky I wasn’t arrested for possession of stolen goods! I thanked them for their compassion and we left figuring ‘The Guy’ was going to have a long career as a salesman.
We cleaned up and decided to go out for dinner with Jane’s daughter. We ended up driving by the sales lot. The bikes that I’d seen earlier were gone. Crap, maybe he’d gotten wise and pulled up stakes after my questions. Then I glanced right and saw a police car parked. Hey, I said, half in jest, maybe they’re visiting my friend. Jane’s daughter said it wasn’t one car but two. We went to dinner and talked about the day.
After dinner and some shopping, we drove back by the place. Wow! Now there were four police cars and a police pick-up truck! And it was loaded to the gills with bikes! Holy crap; not in my wildest dreams did I expect that outcome. We pulled around the corner and parked and got out with cell phone cameras ready. We chatted with the official looking officer on the front steps. He indicated that they took the guy down and he was a major operator. He had been carted away and would spend the night in jail. Wow. Then the two officers from the PD visit emerged with big smiles. They thanked me and said it had been a big help. I told them that ‘the Guy’ hadn’t called me back. I got the police report number so I could cite it for my income tax loss; that’s about the only way I’m going to recoup any monetary benefit on this one. Small claims court seems a long shot. No offense, but I’m not a fan of courts, lawyers or law enforcement. But I’ll give them kudos on this one.
I sent a text message with the pick-up full of bikes to the bike lady. She called back to say she was very excited and glad they got ‘the Guy’.
Reflecting on it now; it was one very strange day. Jane has got a new Specialized from a local dealer; costs more but nobody is going to stuff it in the back of a police car in the middle of our ride.
Oh, and if you’ve lost a bike to theft in the south bay, contact the Police department, (310) 802-5124.
Don’t expect sympathy.