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Readers expose a bike touring con man named “Ian”

Posted by on May 31st, 2012 at 9:22 am

A photo of “Ian” on the Oregon Coast
taken by Barb Wade on May 16th.

Since our post yesterday about the generosity of strangers toward a man who claimed he was down on his luck, we have come to realize that “Ian” is a prolific con-man. We have received numerous comments and emails from people all over the west coast who have had run-ins with this man — and he tells a similar sob story to everyone he meets.

To quickly recap; Salem resident Chad Butler met “Ian” over the weekend. After “Ian” claimed his bike was busted up and his belongings had been stolen, Chad swung into action. He befriended “Ian” and rallied friends to raise a nice chunk of money to get him back on the road. Almost immediately after our story went up, someone notified us that they had run into this same man in 2010 and he told them a very similar story.

But that was just the start.

Below is just a sampling of the people who have been the subject of “Ian’s” scams over the years:

From Gary:

“This sounds all too familiar to me as well. I helped out a similar fella probably 9 or 10 years ago (same small stature same penchant for tale telling) claimed he had toured all over the country… I actually drove him to a shop in Salem from the side of I-5 where he had his wheel repaired and since he had no money I ponied up the ten or so bucks with the promise that he’d pay me back. Never saw him again until (I think) now…”

From Dave D:

“… as I read it I recalled back to when I was worked in a bike shop in Arcata Ca, in the mid 90′s. There was a guy who was touring down the coast he was from either Australia or Canada, I think he was going by Duncan and had run into some hard luck and need his bike fixed, he had no money and was looking for help. As I recall someone else at the shop remembered him from the last time he came through town needing help a few years prior [and] with that we showed him the door. I saw him around town for several weeks after that then he dispaired. Always wondered what had happened to him, that is until today when I saw him stairing at me for the picture on the website.”

From Pat:

“… About 9-10 years ago, I came across Ian on my ride home from work along Interstate Ave. [in Portland]. He was looking for a place to camp, and was freaked out by the homeless camp scene in downtown, so I offered my back yard, let him take a shower, and fed him a good meal. When he mentioned he had some aches, I offered Tylenol, and he poured a handful of tablets into his palm and swallowed them, risking liver damage. That was one tip-off, as he seemed to be seeking a buzz by any means. Another was when he tried to talk his way into sleeping inside, but I firmly said no. The next morning, I was late for work, because he was very reluctant to leave my property, and I wasn’t going to leave him there with an empty house. I gave him a helmet (he had none), and sent him on his way.”

From maxadders:

“Wow! I ran into this guy at Standish-Hickey in August 2010 in the middle of a tour to SF. The guy showed up with a can of Budweiser, a copy of USA Today (“rubbish” he called it) and said he’d been robbed in Eugene (bags stolen while he used a gas station restroom) and was going to high-tail it straight down 101 to the Australian embassy…”

From Matt:

“I was riding east on the Springwater Trail maybe a year or so ago, and just after I crossed 82nd, Ian stopped me for a few minutes and gave me a similar tale to some of those mentioned above, and asked me for some money (which I didn’t have)… he told me that he was beat up in the middle of the night while camping on his cross-country journey, near Mt Hood. He said they stole his trailer, money and ID.”

“Ian” as seen by Salem resident
Chad Butler on Sunday, May 27th.

From Daniel R. Miller:

“Well, just to add to the rather amazing list of people who’ve encountered this guy, I’m pretty sure I did too on my coastal bike tour in 2003 (being Australian and telling tallish tales), somewhere in the vicinity of Fort Bragg. It’s kinda weird. Yes, he’s an alcoholic scammer, but he also does seem to continuously bike all over the entire northwest quadrant of the U.S.”

From Gregg:

“I’ve crossed paths with this guy three times..first in Corvallis around 1995 when he came in the bike shop I worked at. Then a few years later n Tahoe I was doing a mtb race and he was there telling stories to anyone at would listen. Then once outside Seattle in 2000. He had just lost his wallet and passport and was waiting for a new one from the consulate. He gets around, that’s for sure…”

From Zippybike:

“I’ve seen this guy twice before also. Same story. First time I was doing a bike tour from Newport to Mendocino. He was just south of Eureka in September of 2003. Claimed his handle bar bag was stolen and was heading to SF to get his passport replaced. We ended up at the same campground that night.

I saw him again on a bike coast bike tour in 2005. Same story: lost handle bar bag and needing to get to the Aussie consulate some where. I met another rider on that trip who also had the same experience.

This guys is a scammer. It’s sad because he ends up giving cycle tourists a bad name.”

And one reader emailed us a recent “Ian” sighting he read about on the Crazy Guy on a Bike website. Turns out “Ian” was on the Oregon Coast as recently as May 16th:

“Just before stopping for the night we encountered Ian, a down on his luck, Austrailain bicyclist tourist. His BOB trailor had broken down and there was nothing we could do to help. We left him along side the rode where he was hoping some one with a truck might stop to give him a ride.”

Given that we heard all these accounts in less than 24 hours, it’s pretty clear that “Ian” has likely duped dozens if not hundreds of people over the years. It’s also worth noting that, while he’s not always a model citizen, “Ian” doesn’t seem to be out to hurt or steal from anyone. He actually seems like a fairly personable guy (which is an essential trait for a con man).

This story also doesn’t discount the admirable generosity many folks have displayed toward a stranger — and fellow rider — in need.

Reader Jake Rosenfeld, who gave $100 to “Ian” after hearing about him through Chad Butler, put it this way:

“As I read the article I was surprised that I didn’t feel more dismay about the loss of the $100 dollars that I donated… It was help that was asked for and help that I gave. In the grand scheme of things I’ve been done far worse by better people. This won’t affect one bit the help I choose to give in the future.”

And Chad Butler says that, “In the end, I think I’d rather get slightly burned for whatever generosity I’m willing to lend than to never open up to strangers seemingly in need.”

One of the many pleasures of bike touring is all the interesting people you meet. “Ian” is certainly interesting; it’s just too bad he’s not honest.

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Comments
  • redhippie May 31, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Maybe Ian should write a book about his travails and retire!

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    • JNE May 31, 2012 at 9:53 am

      I can already hear the Ira Glass intro and the reading from the excerpted book (probably written by someone about Ian, maybe one of his kids who went to Evergreen or USCB, maybe even by Ian himself) — it should be a delightful romp.

      In the big scheme of things, characters like these make life richer for the rest of us — too busy chasing the next buck, paying off the next bill.

      Ian – if you’re out there, I say go to Australia next, this story needs at least one chapter in the real Outback. Plus, please figure out a way to rebrand yourself from scam artist to folk hero.

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  • Esther May 31, 2012 at 9:59 am

    I think Jonathan’s last point(s) is the most salient here: the goodness and generosity of people and particularly our community is far and away larger than any con schemes. If people are interested in doing real good, there are people “down & out on their luck” out there on the streets of Portland, and ways to help them – like donating or volunteering for JOIN, Sisters of the Road, or Northwest Pilot Project – where you can be sure your generosity will go far.

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    • Jram May 31, 2012 at 10:44 am

      Just to add to the list, there is also p;ear, Yellow Brick Road street outreach, wrench raiders, Outside In, and various others that can always use a little help.

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  • John May 31, 2012 at 10:03 am

    Maybe he’s not a scam artist but the most unfortunate man in the history of the world. “My wallet’s been stolen thousands of times…”

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    • 9watts May 31, 2012 at 10:11 am

      Or just really handy with the spoke wrench… to have a busted wheel at the ready at all times?

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  • craig harlow May 31, 2012 at 10:46 am

    Wouldn’t be at all surprised if he’s then turning around and craigslisting the goodies that shops and individuals are gifting to him. THAT would make this scam worthwhile.

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  • biertodd May 31, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Ha…I met this guy in Newport a couple of years ago. I wonder if he got the local shop for anything.

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    • Josh June 6, 2012 at 9:34 am

      Yeah he got the shop a couple years ago and came in last week or so and we made him square up.

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  • Brian E May 31, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Seems that Ian is a “Friend of the road”?

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    • BURR May 31, 2012 at 12:01 pm

      Or an Irish Traveller

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  • oskarbaanks May 31, 2012 at 11:53 am

    Oh, holy crap! With this profile shot, am I seeing that he has longer hair in the back? Over ten years ago( like 1999-2000) when I lived far a away, and had more money for bike touring, I came to Cali./Or/Wa. to ride the coast often. I seem to remember this guy now around the Euerka-Ferndale area. This guy was super loud, I am talking about LOUD! This is coming from me says a lot. This is weird! I totally think it is the same man.

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  • biertodd May 31, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    I remember the Aussie’ accent, and his bike that was just a tad overloaded – or the bags looked very full in any case.

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  • GlowBoy May 31, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    Absolutely amazing how many people have come forward with Ian/Duncan stories. I haven’t crossed paths with him, but I’m glad for the heads-up because it seems likely that I eventually will.

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  • carye bye May 31, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    skimmed this article for now, but wanted to add We met him Memorial day weekend at Devils Lake, in Lincoln City two years ago. He said he was Australian and that he was sponsored and talked our ear off about gear, and mentioned having gear stolen in Portland. Another friend said he had a different accent and story. He had just come from the bar and was very much into himself. We were three gals on a Holiday weekend and mostly did our own thing at camp, luckily he found another male camper to talk bike gear with, so he left us alone. He never asked for money.

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  • Evan May 31, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    I picked him up once on I-84 Thanksgiving weekend, at least ten years ago and maybe more. I had already met him drinking at the Lucky Lab prior. His rear axle was broken and he claimed he was on his way to somewhere in Canada. In the snow! He said he felt uncomfortable in my car (not surprising as I was driving over the Blue Mountains at 60mph in the snow in my old AWD Previa) and I eventually dropped him off at Farewell Bend. Good riddance for me, he stunk. Bad.

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    • Paul in the 'couve June 2, 2012 at 7:04 pm

      rear axle broken – I heard that one

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  • naomi May 31, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    I find this story fascinating for so many reason. And isn’t it strange how we seem so much more eager to help those whom we perceive to be from other countries?

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  • HAL9000 May 31, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    BTW, Bike Snob already caught wind of Ian the “faux-stralian”:

    http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com/2012/05/self-preservation-theres-no-me-in.html

    Sounds like Bike Snob is fantasizing about his imaginary life in PDX again folks…

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  • velvetackbar May 31, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    when was the LAST anyone saw of this guy? He almost sounds like a good guy to go drinking with. Plenty of stories!

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    • naomi May 31, 2012 at 4:09 pm

      haha I agree! I’d at least like him to submit an ‘essay’ to Jon (With a picture for proof) giving his side of the story. The fact he doesn’t always ask for cash kinda redeems him in my eyes in some odd way. Dishonesty is never good (and who’s to say he, perhaps, doesn’t have any kind of mental issues he is dealing with) but maybe if he ‘came clean’ he’d see an even greater embrace from the cycling community. Redemption is always good! :)

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    • Jeff January 15, 2014 at 2:03 pm

      January 15, 2014 – Hells Gate State Park, Lewiston, Idaho. I recognized him from around 1995/97 from Tacoma WA. Same stories!

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      • Paul in the 'couve January 15, 2014 at 4:17 pm

        Thanks Jeff! Always interesting.

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    • Jeff January 15, 2014 at 6:23 pm

      Did I forget to mention in my previous post that Ian was/is at Hells Gate State Park in Lewiston Idaho today? He did pay for his campsite with a twenty, maybe it was the one I gave him in 1995! I recommend a new section called “Where’s Ian?” It would be interesting to track his travels.

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    • Jbone July 3, 2014 at 6:25 pm

      Ha! He’s still at it. I’ve seen Ian twice around Lewiston,ID. As recently as May 2014. I came across him two years prior south of Moscow, ID. Same story. Broken down and in need of help. I gave him and ride, bought some coffee, and gave him $40 when he said he needed a “little help.” I drove away thinking I may have been scammed, but could not find anything online about him. In May of this year I was riding my bike up the grade outside of Asotin, WA. Lo and behold,there sat Ian with a beer in hand. I stopped and chatted with him about where he was headed and if his bike was “broken down” again. That’s when I reminded him of our previous encounter. He wasn’t too keen on that revelation. I continued on up the road and saw him pass by me in a truck. Bike and BOB cart on a trailer. I wonder how much he actually rides the bike!

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  • dwainedibbly May 31, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    Well, he isn’t hurting anyone, really, and he seems interesting. Anybody else just the slightest bit jealous that this guy has figured out a way to manage life while getting to ride a bike all over the place? (No, I can’t condone what he’s doing, but he’s not the worst person out there.)

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    • noah May 31, 2012 at 6:24 pm

      Yup, what he’s doing is a victimless crime, like punching someone in the dark!

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      • dwainedibbly June 1, 2012 at 4:01 am

        Not exactly the same. The way I look at it, people are giving him money of their own will. He isn’t being violent or threatening. Fraud? Absolutely. People do say that they felt good about helping him. Perhaps what he’s really doing is selling warm & fuzzy feelings. It’s practically a public service, just like the way he has given us all something to discuss & debate! Ha!

        (I can’t believe I’m actually defending this guy. For the record, if you want to feel good about helping someone, please help somebody who actually needs your help.)

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        • Mike June 1, 2012 at 8:58 am

          Like Nigerian princes that need help clearing their inheiritance…

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  • annefi May 31, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    velvetackbar,
    For how long do you think you could put up with his outrageous stories?
    Something tells me you’d be the one paying for the beers.

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    • velvetackbar June 1, 2012 at 3:21 pm

      Oh, i am quite sure i would pay for a beer. A beer is a small price to pay for stories. AS for how LONG? I would be outta there about the time my cider was done. I have the alcohol tolerance of a 4 year old.

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  • GlowBoy May 31, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    He may not be “hurting” anyone, but he is taking unreasonable advantage of people’s natural generosity. And he is committing fraud.

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    • lyle June 3, 2012 at 10:26 am

      He’s hurting the person down the road who is legitimately in need of some generosity, and who can’t get it because the person who would give it got duped by this a$$hat and assumes everybody with a story like his is just a conman.

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  • Karl June 1, 2012 at 2:49 am

    I hope people aren’t put off from helping real Australian bike tourists because of this fraud. Australian’s are generally very generous and helpful people, happy to help out a stranger in need. It’s nice to think that we’d be treated the same way when visiting other countries.

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  • Colleen June 1, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Met him in Florence at Honeyman State Park. Same Australian story. My friend and I each gave him $20. Funny thing, later at Sunset Bay, met another guy from Kentucky. Gave us a similar story, but we realized he had been at Honeyman as well (camping next to “Ian”). We didn’t get duped a second time!

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  • Matt June 1, 2012 at 9:46 am

    A friend of mine and I stopped for this guy about 2 weeks ago. I felt bad for him but though he was awfully fishy. He said that he was riding from South to North…which is unusual in our area, crashed and busted his wheel and was mugged shortly before that. I think we gave him 3 bucks from my ride bag and wished him luck. Glad we didn’t give him a lift to Corvallis.

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  • esther c June 1, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    Has anyone ever actually seen him riding or just broken down?

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  • Doug Morgan June 2, 2012 at 3:08 am

    He bumbed $10 from me on the Oregon Coast back in the 1990′s. I had the misfortune of witnessing his little congame at the hiker biker areas at several spots down the coast. Why bother talking with someone whose every word is extremely likely a lie or worse. It’s not worth my time and it’s not worth yours. This would stop if people would stop giving him money.

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  • Ivan June 2, 2012 at 6:02 am

    I’m amazed at how good some people are at recognizing someone they met once ten years ago. Me, I have trouble recognizing someone I met yesterday, or someone I actually *knew* ten year ago! :)

    The way I rationalize this type of situation as a victim is “hey, I was just paying him an honorarium/tip for his performance as a talented actor!”

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  • russell workman June 5, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    Ten years on the road, and the build of an office worker. But I have to admit, it was me. I rode behind this guy for ten years and stole his wallet and passport 1000 times.

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  • John A. June 6, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    I’ve run into this fellow twice while bicycle touring on the coast. The first time was about 10 years ago at Standish Hickey State Park down past Garberville. What amazed me then was how this very overweight guy with a hugely overloaded bicycle could do all the bicycling he claimed he was doing. He said he was an ex helicopter mechanic or something like that. I kind of doubted it, but he was very good at selling himself. Unfortunately, he was so loud and overbearing that he was annoying to be around. I don’t remember what name he went by then, but about 4 years years ago or so, I ran into him again at Honeyman State Park. Then he said, at least this is what I remember, that his name was “Hunter”. I recalled that wasn’t the same name he used before, and, again, he was loud, obnoxious, and annoying. But bless the people who thought he was entertaining.

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  • Howie June 6, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    Yes that’s the guy. Ran into him on the Oregon Coast and Northern California in June 2008. Same sob story, someone had stolen his front handlebar bag with passport, money etc. He says he’s from Darwin and has ridden all over the world. He persuaded me to “lend” him $10 (I wasn’t expecting it back really).

    One thing is for certain: He is extremely loud and annoying. He will not stop bothering you at campgrounds, and repeatedly asks for food and money.

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  • redhippie June 7, 2012 at 9:04 am

    Some say that this is a victimless crime. I say this is a crime of the worst sort. It is the crime of cynicism. It is stories like his that make us less likely to help the next sole who truly needs help. Remember that this rouge, could easily go sit on the corner with the rest of the day-labor or just ask for an odd job around a bike shop and support his itinerate lifestyle. He chooses to take people’s money and we are all worse for it.

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  • russell workman June 9, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    I think red hippie makes a good point. Once bitten twice shy. Its a bit of an anomaly of our cycling, that there is a bit of a convergence with homeless people who travel, not as a holiday or adventure, but as a need! I think though the differences quickly become obvious when out on the road.

    Maybe on some point this bloke is so desperate, that he needs to lie to keep going. Maybe he deserves our pity. I’d hate to think that to survive my life had become a long series of cons. It’s a bit sad. But even sadder if that once lied to, a good person never trusts again. Then the crime is carried forward forever. Don’t let one bad apple spoil the whole bunch, there are many more good people in this world.

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  • Larry June 11, 2012 at 9:34 am

    Hmm… Sounds too familiar. I can’t say this is exactly the same guy but I have an eerily similar story from Oregon in 2002. I met a guy in McKenzie Bridge, OR who told me that his tent was cut open and his gear and money was stolen. He had no ID or means to get money and wanted me to give him some cash. Read about it at:

    http://www.discoveryride.com/log/60.html

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  • GlowBoy June 11, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Good point redhippie. Besides the fact that he’s defrauding people, he makes it that much less likely that one of the rest of us would get help, should we find ourselves in an unfortunate situation on the road.

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  • Evan July 5, 2012 at 8:13 am

    I know it’s a little late but “Ian” passed through Pendleton yesterday. He may be on his way to Milton-Freewater / Walla Walla or LaGrande.

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  • Lucie October 10, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    Any guess how old this guy is? I think he maybe a relative of mine that I haven’t seen in over 15 years. The stories sound all too familiar, as he conned us too, but it’s been a long time since we’ve seen him so it’s hard to confirm from the pictures. He would be in his late 30′s early 40′s by now.

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  • Jen October 15, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    We met him “broken axle for his BOB trailer” 30 mi. outside of Portland. Didn’t offer him anything besides water and a chance to call a shop.

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  • Jen October 15, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    Oops meant to say that was August 11, 2012. I read about him in Adventure Cycling and was like — that guy sounded familiar!

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  • Mark October 15, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    Talked to him at the intersection of US 26 and Oregon 47 on Saturday, August 11 as we were heading from Portland to Cannon Beach. Said he’d been clipped by a truck and broke part of his Bob trailer and that his passport and money had been stolen in Portland.

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  • Alan 1.0 January 18, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    Ian sighted this week in Florence, OR.

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    • 9watts January 18, 2013 at 10:38 pm

      That is one interesting rig crazyguyonabike is riding. Way more interesting than “Ian’s” jalopy. Wow.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Alan 1.0 January 19, 2013 at 12:29 am

    Yeah, in fact Coulter’s whole journal is interesting…
    http://crazyguyonabike.com/thegimprider

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  • Paul in the 'couve April 7, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    He’s BAAACK….. I saw Ian today in Arlington OR, by the public restrooms at the city park just off the freeway. He was pushing an overloaded bike / trailer combo. He was wearing the same orange jacket as in the top photo on this page.

    He tried to start a conversation with me by asking the time. I replied “Sorry Ian, I don’t have any idea what time it is.” He left the area immediately afterwards. I think he got the idea I knew who he was.

    As I drove out of Arlington he was sitting by the yellow caboose with his bike and trailer. I was hoping to get a picture but at that point I couldn’t stop to take one.

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  • pete May 7, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    I have cycled Seattle to San Francisco 6 times,1998 to 2008, and have talked to ian 4 times with a different story each time, last trip he said he just spent 3 years in india.my comment was,, didn’t i see you last year at Humbug mt. He kept right on going.and we all laughed. I think he lives in Willits calif.

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  • Rick May 21, 2013 at 10:27 am

    Ian was in Waldport Or yesterday. He stopped by the Green Bile Co-op. Having encountered him before, I did not accommodate him. He was able, however, to sponge a free cup of coffee from the adjacent Espresso shop. He spent 3 hours sitting at the outdoor table.

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    • Paul in the 'Couve January 15, 2014 at 3:37 pm

      Thanks Rick, always fun to know he’s still at it.

      Did you happen to actually see him RIDING the bicycle. Just curious.

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  • SilkySlim May 21, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    May this thread continue forever with colorful updates.

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    • 9watts May 21, 2013 at 4:30 pm

      Or, someone should tip Ian off to the fact that he’s famous – and show him this discussion on their laptop or smartphone.

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  • Justin January 15, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Ive known Ian for the last couple of years. He stops into my shop every three or four months. Funny thing is.. he never asks for anything other than some lube or a tool for a quick fix. I do realize he’s a bike bum, but he’s also one hell of a guy to drink a couple beers with! Keep on keepin on Ian!!

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  • Paul in The 'Couve July 31, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    Anyone seen Ian this summer?

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  • Ken Bettencourt July 31, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    Well I came across Ian two times in the last 10 yrs once on the coast and once coming out of halfway going to baker both times diff story.and he didn’t remember me. And the con was still there after I told him I meet him before.nothing out of me.

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  • Remedy October 3, 2014 at 4:19 am

    I have seen Ian twice in the last two years, l gave him a ride over Tollgate out of Elgin, listened to the con and decided something was off and I just saw him a couple weeks ago drinking beer in Wallowa, dude should write a book

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    • 9watts October 3, 2014 at 7:08 am

      “dude should write a book”

      This suggestion was made above too. I can just see him raising the funds for it…
      But I’d be even more interested in the logistics of his book tour. The whole thing could loop back on itself. Conman-becomes-celebrity-cons-everyone-to-paint-his-fence/give-him-a-ride/sell-his-book.

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