On Bike Theft and Boneheads

bike_theft.jpgFlickr Photo: Jym Dyer
Last week I did something wholly in opposition to the tenets of common sense cycling in a city: I left my quality bicycle locked up for four days in a high bicycle theft location, in this case on 24th Street right next to the BART station.

You see, last Thursday afternoon, I was late to catch the BART train I needed to get to an appointment in Oakland, and walking was not going to get me there in time. It was rush hour, so I couldn't take the bike with me, so I locked the front wheel and frame to a parking sign with a U-lock and jumped on BART.

Problem is, on the way back, I forgot all about riding my bike and walked home to pack for a long weekend camping in Yosemite. Flash forward to Monday afternoon, 4 p.m., I needed to get to an appointment in 15 minutes, and when I got downstairs in my building, my bicycle was nowhere to be found. Forgetting my own actions from Thursday, I felt a knot double in my stomach, my face flushed; I was helpless and exposed.

My Surly Long-Haul Trucker was more than fabricated tubes of metal and rubber, it had sentimental value and a name (yes, I anthropomorphize my bike as much as any motorist does his car). I built it up piece by piece with a mechanic friend three years ago, so I literally knew it inside and out.

My mind raced with feelings of rage and confusion, so that for ten minutes I couldn't think past accusatory thoughts toward my neighbors (who I assumed had hopped the back wall to my building and scaled it again with a heavy cargo-bike over their shoulder) or the contractor my landlord had hired to renovate the retail space on the ground floor of our building (both doors out to the street were locked and my landlord said the contractor didn't have a key).

Then I remembered what happened on Thursday.

I was relieved that at least some of my bike might still be recovered, though I felt like an ass for assuming the worst of everyone around me, especially my neighbors.

I nearly ran the four blocks from my house to 24th Street and Mission, imagining any number of situations where my back wheel was gone, the handlebars and headset gone, some or all of the drivetrain gone. I had locked my Brooks saddle to the frame with a link of bicycle chain, though it could have been clipped with big enough bolt cutters.

When I got to 24th Street, I started across, then faltered, my heart in my throat. The street sign in front of the cell phone store where I left the bike was empty. Nothing on it, not even the skeleton of my bicycle, stripped of its essential parts. I nearly called out.

But, when I crossed the street and got to the sidewalk, I was stunned to see the Surly in front of me, locked to a different pole that had been obscured by a delivery truck unloading next to it.

And not just a piece of my bicycle, but every piece of my bicycle.

The back wheel ($150 retail) was still there, despite the fact that the quick release hub only had a hardware-variety hose clamp attached to it to deter theft (they can be opened with a fingernail or penny). The new Nitto Albatross bars ($90), headset and stem ($75), bar tape ($12), and bar-end gearing ($50) were untouched. The Brooks saddle and drivetrain were untouched.

Even my helmet dangled from the top tube, just as I left it. 

When I relayed the story to the mechanic at Valencia Cyclery who installed my new handlebars, he couldn't believe it. He was surprised they hadn't cut through the U-lock by then and taken everything.

I asked myself then what I'll ask you now: How is that possible? Are San Francisco thieves asleep at the handlebars? Is bicycle theft not as rampant as I suspected? Do I have the dumbest luck of anyone you know?

And please don't call me a bonehead, cause I already did, up in the headline.