The Chainlink

THE BIKE THIEF Chapter 1: It’s Always Sunny in Chicago Alleys

I think it’s safe to say that *serious* bike thievery is on the rise.  Over a dozen reports of sawed u-locks on the stolen bike register in the last month.  Wheels stolen right out from under us pub-crawling. Vigilante groups organized to comb the swap meets. 


What should, can and will be done?


Truthfully, I don’t know.  But gather around kids and I shall entertain and delight you with a true tale of high adventure and daring-do, featuring violent thugs, vigilante justice, beautiful maidens, keystone cops and courtroom dramas.


And don’t spoil the ending if you’ve heard it >:-(



‘Twas a sunny Sunday in early March, perhaps the first in our unseasonable warmth. I was making my rounds delivering  the latest issue of Momentum Magazine, cycling south down Damen Av.


Approaching the 1000 N. block I observed a curious man on the sidewalk, hunched over a bicycle with telltale sparks a-flying.  I did not to leap to conclusions, hoping, expecting even, that I should recognize one of the wrenches in the employ of Rapid Transit or some other such bicycle retailer, legitimately disabling a seized lock.


No such luck.  The Bike Thief, as I would affectionately come to call him, was using a cordless angle grinder, poorly concealed in a plastic Aldi bag, to slice through u-lock securing a bike to a signpost.  It could not have looked shadier if he were standing under a mighty oak.


I coolly passed by but immediately pulled into the next mid-block alley and frantically dialed 9-1-1, giving a detailed perp description, a location and a warning to the authorities make haste.  Returning to the street, I tucked behind the row of park cars where I had a visual on the bike thief.  I worried he might spy me, but he was head down, hoodie up and all business.



It was perhaps 1pm and with the warm(er) weather, the sidewalk was bustling. Joggers, dog walkers, couples with strollers, hipsters.  All passed by the noisy shower of sparks without taking notice, except to cover their non-cell phone ear.  The only time I took my eyes off of the thief was to glare at these passersby in disbelief.  Hell, even a few cyclists rode by, oblivious (or pretending to be).


Suddenly, the worst.  The broken lock clattered to the ground! The bike was free!  No constables in sight!  Without delay the thief threw a leg over and began to roll off.



There was no time for further considerations; it was only I who stood between justice and heartache.


I quickly closed the gap between us in time to see the thief turn into the alley parallel Damen.  I followed as he turned again down the next alley, unaware, slowly tottering along, obviously out of practice.  It was the slowest chase since the Juice was loose.


“HIYA DOIN’?!” I exclaimed in a loud, friendly voice as I overtook him.  I tucked in tight along side him, nearly rubbing shoulders.  Without any further conversation, I braced my foot solidly against the
crown of his fork and gave a good, hard shove.


(I should probably disclose that my electric-assist longtail cargo bike weighs in at roughly 100lbs, was carrying a 100 lbs payload and measures over 7 feet long.  It was like launching an attack from an aircraft carrier.)


The Bike Thief began to wobble, then sway, then weave, then swerve violently side to side.  The weight of the heavy power-tool hanging from his handlebars was not helping his
situation.  He ran upon a thick patch of ice and clipped a trashcan at which point the bike flew out from beneath him and he went sprawling backwards.  In short, the takedown could not have gone more perfectly. 


I leisurely dismounted my ride and approached the Bike Thief, who was struggling like a turtle on his back.  “DON’T GET UP!  STAY ON THE GROUND!” I bellowed while standing over him, emulating this one COPS episode.  The Bike Thief managed to rise to his feet, a blank look on his face.


I continued with what is perhaps the most concise statement I have ever shouted: “I SAW YOU STEAL THIS BIKE, I’VE CALLED THE POLICE, WE’RE GOING TO WAIT RIGHT HERE FOR THEM!”  Not bad considering that my heart was wedged inside my throat.


Of course there were the matters of *how* the police were going to find us, or what we find to might talk about in the interim, but these would quickly become irrelevant.  As the Bike Thief half-circled round me, it became apparent he was mulling over his options and leaving his easily-earned new bike was looking low on the list.


He was not a large man, the Bike Thief, roughly my same height (5’ 10”) but significantly stouter and 30 lbs heavier.  He looked fairly seasoned and his silence throughout the episode was unnerving.  “Boy”
I thought, “I wouldn’t want to run into him in an alley.”


Finally, the Bike Thief reached into his coat pocket and took a step towards me.


“TAKE YOUR HAND OUT OF YOUR POCKET AND DON’T COME ANY CLOSER!!”  I shouted, anger edging into my voice.  


He paused, but reached further into his pocket. 


“TAKE YOUR HAND OUT OF YOUR F*CKING POCKET!!!” I screamed.



Well kids, it’s late and that’s all the time we have.  Tune in next week for THE BIKE THIEF Chapter 2: The Bike Thief Strikes Back.  Who knows?  I very well may be killed.


UPDATE: http://www.thechainlink.org/forum/topics/the-bike-thief-chapter-2-the

Tags: Theft, Theives, Theiving

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Awwwwwwwwwwww. (disappointed moans)

Great writing!
I can't wait til next week!
You must have balls the size of cymbals to confront the guy. I commend you.
Jeez, can't you guys just enjoy the story? :-)
It's important to remember that the stolen bike registry by its nature can not approach anything resembling a scientifically satisfying 'sampling'-- it's self-selecting, relies on internet access and skills, relies on having heard of it in the first place; that said I feel it's fairly useful in showing overall trends.
Every year has looked about the same . . . reports drop off to less than one a week in the colder months, and suddenly surge with nice weather, to up to 8-10 per day.
Overall, though, the face of bike theft is changing, no doubt-- U-lock thefts were almost unheard of a year ago, now they're becoming the dominant type. We've also had other reports of a type not seen before,l e.g. see the recent thread about a whole group of people losing wheels when they went inside a bar . . . I have no doubt bikes are becoming a much more sought after commodity for thieves as their popularity grows. It certainly doesn't help that cyclists, upon hearing about places where stolen bikes are sold, make a beeline to those places to try to score themselves a nice bike.

M.A.R.K. said:
I think the recent theft run/trend has something to do with the weather(let's not mention economy).. In the off-season(did I just say off-season?)people don't tend to buy as much. Well from my experience anyway selling stuff. If there was an accurate source of thefts I am sure we could all see the trend waves.. The stolen bike registry is a great place to start as far as data collecting and trends, but how many people report there then actual bikes stolen? While me and you know about it, I am sure there are millions that do not.. Maybe some flyers can be printed/distributed up if it truly cares to be the data/trend collector for the region..
Correlation, not causation. A few years back, when the economy just barely began sneezing and sniffling, people began noticing a spike in bank robberies. While many speculated that these were indicative of an impending rise in criminal activity among the poor and destitute, it was eventually concluded that the rise in occurrences was tied to there being more banking facilities than ever before. The number of criminals hadn't necessarily increased; the number of convenient targets did.

M.A.R.K. said:
(let's not mention economy)
Sorry, I think we are seeing a rise in crime "among the poor and destitute", at least in part due to the economy.

Michael Perz said:
Correlation, not causation. A few years back, when the economy just barely began sneezing and sniffling, people began noticing a spike in bank robberies. While many speculated that these were indicative of an impending rise in criminal activity among the poor and destitute, it was eventually concluded that the rise in occurrences was tied to there being more banking facilities than ever before. The number of criminals hadn't necessarily increased; the number of convenient targets did.

M.A.R.K. said:
(let's not mention economy)
I wouldn't be so sure about that. Taking into account the jolt that commonly happens each year as the temperatures begin rising, I believe that the overall crime statistics continue to trend downward.

H3N3 said:
Sorry, I think we are seeing a rise in crime "among the poor and destitute", at least in part due to the economy.

Michael Perz said:
Correlation, not causation. A few years back, when the economy just barely began sneezing and sniffling, people began noticing a spike in bank robberies. While many speculated that these were indicative of an impending rise in criminal activity among the poor and destitute, it was eventually concluded that the rise in occurrences was tied to there being more banking facilities than ever before. The number of criminals hadn't necessarily increased; the number of convenient targets did.

M.A.R.K. said:
(let's not mention economy)
I've been pondering this and I'm coming to think that in the age of the angle grinder more radical solutions are needed. Example: Here in Hyde Park the U of C is running what seems to be a reasonably successful bike share. There are four locations stocked with a fair selection of beater-ish but safe bikes maintained by Blackstone. You sign up for the bike share online, and then if you need a bike you check it out with someone at the front desk of one of the host sites, with the proviso that it be brought back to the same location at the end of the day.

Obviously the university has some infrastructure that makes it easy to screen people who are signing up for this. Still, I tend to think that local bike shares like this, run on a neighborhood scale, would be a meaningful way of addressing theft. Start up costs wouldn't be much of an issue, as there are plenty of janky but sound bikes around and lots of mechanical knowledge, too, and there are surely lots of local businesses that would be happy to serve as host sites. Running the administrative side would be a bit of a pain, but nothing insuperable. Some of these bikes would get jacked, but oh well, and better the bike share's $50 Schwinn get taken from outside the bar than your brand new Surly.

Anyway, I don't think better locks or the magical city government or ATA or even u-lock justice are going to solve this, so it's time to think of something new.
So you are saying TC's balls are large but flat?

Ouch.

Shay said:
You must have balls the size of cymbals to confront the guy. I commend you.
Not sure why but I am reasonably sure you survive the encounter...
What I find puzzling is that cordless angle grinders have been around for well over a decade (I think Makita may have been the first manufacturer, if I recall correctly), yet this is the first I'm hearing about them being so popular among bike thieves. Perhaps it can be attributed to the "hiding in plain sight" principle? That might explain why so many people passed by the thief without giving a second glance. They might have thought that anyone grinding away at a lock in broad daylight, loudly and with a plume of sparks flying couldn't possibly be doing anything wrong.
They where out there but in the early days even the 'good' ones where of marginal effectiveness. Now the expensive ones are fantastic and you can get a cheap one that is still very effective.



Michael Perz said:
What I find puzzling is that cordless angle grinders have been around for well over a decade (I think Makita may have been the first manufacturer, if I recall correctly), yet this is the first I'm hearing about them being so popular among bike thieves. Perhaps it can be attributed to the "hiding in plain sight" principle? That might explain why so many people passed by the thief without giving a second glance. They might have thought that anyone grinding away at a lock in broad daylight, loudly and with a plume of sparks flying couldn't possibly be doing anything wrong.

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