Nabbing My Craiglist Bike Thief

As I was sitting here thinking that 2013 has been a weird pendulum of pretty awesome things and pretty sucky things, I realized I never told the story about how I got my stolen bike back. Back in June, I had finally gotten around to bringing my bike to local shop Jack and Adams to take my Quarq off my old wrecked Felt B14 frame to swap it onto my new Quintana Roo. I was post-workout sweaty when I picked up both bikes so I pulled my nice bike into my apartment (which overlooks where my car is parked) and locked my old wrecked bike to the bike rack on the back of my car to take a quick shower.

When I came back out... there was nothing left but a cut lock. Shoot. Should have used a U-Lock... that was totally my fault but didn't expect to have a bike nabbed in a decent neighborhood from right under my window at dusk.

After a minor freak out, I immediately contacted the Austin Police Department with description of my bike, the location it was stolen from and my serial number. Right now, before you read further, go find your bike and write the serial number down somewhere safe... this is key!! They will not even file the stolen goods alert for a bike unless you provide it. I set up alerts on Craiglist and eBay for bikes that potentially matched mine. I seriously spent hours scouring the sites and side-eying anyone who came past on a bike. About two weeks later, the bike popped up.

The description:

Great Condition! $2000 OBO

The reality:

Recently hit by a car. Cracks all over the frame. No crank. No pedals. Front fork so bent in that the wheels could not roll.

I started to send in feelers to the seller. I set up a fake account, fake identity, everything, to try to lure the seller to reach out to me. When I didn't hear from him to that email account, I set up four more and sent reasonably-spaced emails to the guy, including one with a super low ball offer and one saying that she was willing to pay the full $2000. After what seemed like WEEKS, he finally got back to me to set up a time to meet. Turns out patience is key.

All this time, I had been emailing the generally-uncooperative Austin Police Department. Heck, I don't blame them... it's just a bike. But I was out for vengeance. I finally convinced the cops that I would do all the legwork and they would just have to show up on the day of to check the serial number and claim the bike. After a bit of back and forth and disagreements on location logistics, I finally got the perp to agree to a meet-and-greet.

The day of the sting operation itself, the cops said I didn't have to be present (and potentially didn't want me to be present because my car is very recognizable and he stole it off of it). However, being the micromanager that I am, I parked on a secluded side street several blocks away, arrived at the exchange point (a local Whataburger) a half-hour early for my stake-out and to scope out the situation. The cops showed up about five minutes before the perp's planned ETA and were not sneaky at all - they even told the woman at the cash register what they were there for! Thankfully my bike thief was pretty stupid because he pulls up, my guys walk out, and they ask to see the bike. From my window seat in the Whataburger, it looks like they cross-check the serial numbers and ask a lot of questions but not a lot more. They take down some info, before driving away.

Let me tell you, it was really anticlimactic. The whole exchange took less than fifteen minutes and there were no cuffs involved. Granted, I don't want to ruin someone's life, but he did steal a potentially-expensive bike.

The next day, when I went to pick up the bike, the detective said that they were going to bring him in for questioning, though he was claiming that his mom's boyfriend (apparently some "big time Austin thug") stole the bike and was making him sell it. I haven't heard anything since, though I have been parking my car in a different location to avoid any retribution and a little more careful about coming home alone at night. I'm also planning on moving when my year's lease is up.

The bottom line is that I'm not sure if he actually ever got charged with anything-hey, they can't prove that he stole it, only that he was in possession of stolen property -- but overall I was very surprised with how laissez faire the entire transaction was... definitely not what I was expecting. Thanks to all my Rev3 Peeps who urged me to be smart and safe about the whole exchange and the Slowtwitch posters who also helped spot my bike and provide guidance during the whole process!

My method, while the red-tape was pretty headache-inducing, was probably still wiser and safer than this girl, who simply took a "test ride" on the stolen bike and never turned back.

Best tips for retrieving a stolen item or bike? 

  1. Save that Serial! I can't stress this enough - keep that # somewhere safe!
  2. Patience Patience Patience!
  3. Multiple "aliases" > just be sure to create unique gmail accounts for each
  4. Smart contact. Space it out. Less info in your request seems to help (less suspicious?)
  5. Get the police involved early but expect to do the legwork yourself.
  6. Dealing with Crooks is not a DIY. Don't take justice into your own hands.
  7. Don't expect much out of it.
  8. Overall.... STAY SAFE!