Eternal War On All Bike Thieves

Today I got my trusty Bridgestone MB5 back from the toothless scumbag who stole it.

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My baby, that I rebuilt with my own hands, using parts and shop time I earned with my San Francisco Bike Kitchen digging rights. Rights that I earned with 12 hours of volunteer labor, that included three hours of fixing a bike for an old drunk who, laughing in my face, his breath smelling like stale beer and hot garbage, told me I was using the tools wrong, which he couldn’t use himself because he couldn’t get his hands to stop shaking long enough.

I labored for four months to rebuild this bike. I literally spilled blood for this bike. Once it was finished, I took it on a 300-plus mile trek down the coast on Highway 1, and it performed beautifully. I’ve never been more proud of something I created with my own hands. I rode it hard, and I was very happy with it. And then one morning, I woke up to my front gate wide open, swaying in the breeze, my bike missing from its regular parking spot.

Everyone I told about it said it was my fault for keeping it in the front yard, but that didn’t make it hurt any less.

I found it today on my way home from the grocery store. I had just been running through the scenario in my head, for the thousandth time, of just how much of a badass motherfucker I would turn in to if I ever tracked down the son of a bitch who stole it. How I would make them cower in fear, or worse, just how damaged I would leave them, physically and psychologically, if they didn’t part with the bike willingly.

But after all those fantasies of ultraviolence, the thief turned out to be a helpless old man in a collapsing house a few blocks from mine who said he “bought it three months ago from some guy named Gimli, or Gemini”, stuttering as he either made up or tried to remember the name, and then offered to sell it to me for $50.

In the version of this story that played so many times in my head, this was the part where I take my bike, tell the dude to go fuck himself, and tell him to go get his $50 from Gimli, or Gemini, or whoever. But in the moment, I couldn’t do it.

Another important detail of this story is that I live in West Oakland, and I’m a young, able-bodied white dude who moved here about a year ago. The guy with my bike was black, and was the owner of just about the only house on my block that hasn’t been completely remodeled in the last few years.

When it came down to it, my actual options looked a lot worse than they did in my head. Calling the cops was out. So was any kind of violence against a dude with a crooked back and two teeth. That left, basically, yelling at this guy to give me my bike back, “or else”. Imagine for a moment the optics of me losing my shit at this guy, over a bike I already replaced.

Besides, this is the Bay Area — there could easily be a guy named Gimli, or Gemini, or whatever. Stranger things have happened.

I inspected the damage. He (or Gimli, or Gemini) had obviously tried to remove the stickers, but couldn’t get any of them all the way off, and only even tried to remove half before they gave up, scraping off the decals and the paint in the process. In only 2 months, he managed to scuff and rip my saddle more than I did by putting thousands of miles on it. He tore apart my brakes, ripped apart the hoods on my brake levers, and for some reason, removed the leather straps on the toe clips.

There’s a version of this story where the thief is like Robin Hood, and I’m just a naive dilletante, basically at fault because I left my bike in the front yard. In this story, the thief needed my bike more than I did, or it was a crime of survival. There’s some amount of nobility in the theft. And it’s the story I was telling myself, because it somehow made the loss easier to deal with.

Instead, it was just some asshole who felt like taking my bike, who already had two other bikes. He brought them out to show me, to demonstrate that he “buys” bikes. “See?” he said, “I buy bikes!”, like that gave his story more credibility. And instead of trying to make some money out of my bike, he just rode it around, poorly, treating it like trash.

I took a hard look at the guy, at his guard dog that didn’t even bark at me when I came up to the fence, at the steps of his porch that were splintered and missing in some places, and then at the sign on his chain link fence that says “WORK HARD”, among other encouragements.

Here was a guy who managed to deserve both sympathy and a punch in the dick. And because I’m a sucker, I chose sympathy. I offered him $40 for the bike, and he agreed.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying — I have an extra bike for sale. Lovingly restored vintage Bridgestone. Brooks saddle. Make me an offer.

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