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Stolen bike bought from thief, returned to owner

Posted by on May 24th, 2006 at 7:06 am

A few days ago I was hanging out on my street talking to a neighbor. Suddenly, riding toward me on a strange bike with a huge grin on his face was a friend of mine, known as West Cougar. When he got closer, I noticed the bike was a green Kronan (a Swedish military bike similar to the ones used out at the Nike Campus) and I instantly realized why he was smiling.

This bike was recently posted on the Stolen Bike Listings and West Cougar had just bought it off some guy on the corner for $150!

Here’s how West Cougar remembers it:

“I was riding home from work north on Albina. While waiting on the red light this dude rides by in the cross walk on this sweet Kronan. I was like, no freakin’ way did that guy buy a Swedish military bike that isn’t even being imported anymore. So when the light changed, I crossed the street then tailed him for a couple blocks. He was in absolutely no hurry and it was hard for me to not be noticed. I finally just crossed the street and struck up a conversation about his nice bike. Then asked him if he wanted to sell it. At first he wanted $250, but I wrinkled my face and said “I dunno…” He came down to $150 and then I said OK.”

The owner, “tim” gives thanks:

“Thanks to west cougar my bike is back less than one week after it was stolen. Proves that there is hope if we keep our eyes open. Thanks to everyone involved, this list, all the people who wrote with advice and encouragement, and of course to west cougar – a gentleman and a scholar.”

Chalk up another win for the bike community! Keep your eyes peeled out there, and remember to check the Stolen Bike Listings for hot bikes that may crop up on a street near you.

So far, twelve bikes listed on this site have been recovered. Read about the others here.

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  • Bryce May 24, 2006 at 8:51 am

    Good story! But why didn’t he call the cops?

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  • Vigilante May 24, 2006 at 9:05 am

    Wow, that guy just made some good money. Smart people repeat what has been successful for them in the past. Let’s hope this guy isn’t very smart.

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  • Kaliana May 24, 2006 at 10:59 am

    I’m not sure I fully understand. Why are we celebrating paying a thief 150 dollars? Yes it’s great the bike was returned, but in the process, a thief was paid off. Doesn’t this promote the idea that thieving bicycles is a quick and easy buck? I don’t think a story like this should be advertised on this site.

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  • Jonathan Maus May 24, 2006 at 11:06 am


    You make a good point. Perhaps I shouldn’t have published the story.

    I think West Cougar just wanted to do whatever he could to get this bike back to its rightful owner.

    If he called the cops, the guy might have gotten away by the time they responded. If he didn’t purchase it, I doubt the guy could have been coaxed into handing it over.

    I agree that paying the ransom might not be the best idea, but given the circumstance, this is what West Cougar decided to do and now the bike is back to its rightful owner.

    I’d like to hear what the victim thinks. Thanks for bringing up these points.

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  • Kaliana May 24, 2006 at 11:21 am

    It’s a double edged sword, really. On one hand he got his bike back, but on the other hand the guy who stole it is now likely thinking “wow that was the easiest 150$ I’ve ever made.. I need to do this more often.”

    It’s like what Vigilante said a few posts above, this behavior is likely to be repeated now since it has proved successful. It’s sad when bikes are stolen but paying ransom only nurtures the problem.

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  • Good Luck Guy May 24, 2006 at 12:36 pm

    We need to start stealing the bikes back! My housemate’s bike was stolen last week and the first thing he did was ride around the block to all the “bum campgrounds” hoping to find it and steal it back.

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  • karen May 24, 2006 at 2:26 pm

    It brings up an interesting question. My bike was stolen recently and I am constantly scanning Craigslist hoping that it comes on the market. But what then? Do I pay for it & perpetuate the problem? Do I steal it back, unfortunately the thief knows where I live? Do I get the men and women in blue involved? Do I try to take the offender to court? Does anyone have any experience with this?

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  • josh m May 24, 2006 at 5:45 pm

    some people have set up stings.
    Most of the time they want you to meet at some random place, not their home. So you bring like 10 friends along and explain the situation to the person. dispense some u-lock justice if need be.
    who was it that was doing the set up stings? the anti-bike theft gang or whatever. they would set up bikes and wait for them to get stolen and then just beat the crap out the person.

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  • beth hamon May 24, 2006 at 6:33 pm

    I work in a bike shop that sells used and new bikes. Many years ago, a regular customer called to tell me her garage had been broken into and that four high-end bikes had been stolen. She sent me detailed descriptions of the bikes with serial numbers and asked me to keep my eyes peeled.

    The next day, one of the bikes rolled into the shop needing repairs. The guy who brought it in was obviously much too short to ride it and was weirdly evasive when I asked him why he was riding such a tall bike.

    While I had it at my work bench, I called the lady whose bike it was, and and she told me to stall the guy while she came down for the bike. The guy saw her flyer on our bulletin board, saw me on the phone, and figured everything out quickly. When I refused to give him the bike back, he got in my face, punched me in the face and knocked me down, and took off with the bike. I ended up with a bloody nose and broken glasses. It could’ve been worse.

    I will NEVER put myself on the line in ANY way for a stolen bike again. Anyone who’s willing to hurt someone else over a bike has bigger stuff going on, and I’m not paid to be a cop OR a social worker. Sorry.

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  • Patrick May 25, 2006 at 3:47 pm

    I had the same thing happen to me once. I noticed a guy riding on a bike, “hmm that guy has the same bike as me. Hmm he rides the same tyres, WAIT, he has the SAME pedals. Wait a minute, that IS my bike!!!”

    I followed the guy to a Starbucks and struck up conversation. He had a waterbottle in the cage, and I grabbed it and threw it down.

    Indignately he asked me what I was doing, “TAKING MY EFFING BIKE BACK!!!”
    He tried to back pedal (nice pun) his story, in the end I told him look we can walk over to my house across the street and work this out or call the cops. He gave up. I made a pretty good scene. It was hard not to loose my cool. I say take it back or call the cops, not give em’ cash….. Just make sure it’s the right bike. In my case the sticker from the bike shop I had bought from in California was still on it.

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  • Patrick May 25, 2006 at 3:51 pm

    The kicker of my story above:

    I had no idea the bike was missing at that point. The guy must have stole it within a few minutes. Why in the heck he decided to stop cruise through the neighborhood he stole it I’ll never know.

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  • West Cougar May 25, 2006 at 4:54 pm

    Ugh. I feel my reputation is in question.

    Believe me I was not at all happy about having to buy the bike. From the beginning it was my biggest lament. (Check this bike’s comment thread on the stolen bike listings.) Ordinarily I would never buy a stolen bike. CERTAINLY never for personal profit.

    The Kronan I made an exception for. It was a very unique and practically irreplaceable bike. I was sure the rightful owner would be glad to have it back even if it cost him a ransom.

    Here is the crux: I did not know with certainty it was stolen. I highly suspected it was, and was certain I would be able to find the rightful owner if it was. But a 3rd party hunch is not enough for a policeman to confiscate a bike from someone else. (If it is please correct me.) So at the time, I felt my only recourse was to “buy” it.

    FWIW, I discussed this scenario with a number of people after the fact. Most agreed that it was a necessary evil, kind of worth it for such a unique ride.

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  • […] A recent bike theft recovery story spurred a debate about what to do if you see a stolen bike in your neighborhood or for sale online. In the story, someone approached a thief and paid them $150 for a bike they suspected was stolen. Some people were happy the owner got his bike back, while others said paying ransom was a terrible idea and would only encourage the thief to steal again. […]

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