Stolen Bike Listings success: Bike thief foiled by technology, community

Posted by on July 24th, 2009 at 9:59 am

The bike, before a thief took
it for a two-week joyride.
(Photo: James Selman)

It’s been about a month since the re-launch of our Stolen Bike Listings. And it’s a good thing we did. So far in July, we’ve had 63 stolen bikes listed.

Today, I get to a share a story of how technology and the community came together to get one of them back and put its thief behind bars.

James Selman, the founder and creative director at branding agency Weights&Pulleys, listed his one-of-a-kind, custom black Seven Cycles Tsunami singlespeed (with estimated value of $4,600) on June 29th.

According to Selman, someone threw a baseball-sized rock through the glass door of his office in Northwest Portland. The smash-and-grabbers grabbed his Apple laptop and rode off on his bike.

Selman immediately listed the bike on BikePortland. Then, on July 10th he got an email from a guy named Joe in Northeast Portland. It read, “Your bike is in front of my apartment building, in the possession of a skeezy dude. I have called police…”

“Your bike is in front of my apartment building, in the possession of a skeezy dude. I have called police…”
— An email to theft victim James Selman

Joe also said that he’d seen the suspected thief before, so even if he got away, they’d have a second chance to confront him. After sending the email, Joe headed down to try and stall the suspect.

According to Selman, Joe had heard the suspect bragging about the bike a week prior (must have been right after he stole it). This time, when Joe saw the bike, he pulled out his iPhone and checked our listings. Selman’s detailed description was an exact match. “So, while he [Joe] stalled the guy,” Selman told us, “he emailed me and called the cops.”

By the time Selman made his way to Northeast, the thief was already in the back of a Portland Police car; and his beloved Seven was leaning against a wall nearby.

Upon inspection, Selman found his bike pretty beat up after the thief’s two-week joyride. Lots of chipped paint, scuffed saddle, brake levers that were “pretty raked up,” and so on. “He may have gone down on it,” Selman recalled.

Selman estimated the damages to his bike to be about $850. With that price tag, and with several hours of missed work to get the bike back and to testify against the thief in court, Selman thinks he might have been better off never seeing the bike again (and getting an insurance settlement). “It makes you wonder about dealing with the system once you get your bike back, versus just letting it go,” he said, “It’s sort of nuts.”

Last week, both Selman and Joe went to court to testify against the thief. Turns out the man who stole the bike (and laptop) has a long criminal history and this testimony will help the DA finally build a case against him.

Nice work Joe. And James, good luck re-connecting with your steed after its brief abduction. I hope it makes a full recovery.


— In other bike theft news, KATU-TV reports that a man arrested for stealing high-end bikes in the Pearl District earlier this year has pled guilty.

— You can help track down stolen bikes. Follow @StolenBikesPDX on Twitter and check out our Bike Theft Central page for more information.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

40 Comments
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    bh July 24, 2009 at 10:08 am

    Score one for the good guys! 🙂

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    armando July 24, 2009 at 10:15 am

    a couple of things. first, i don’t want to let appearances cloud my judgment, but working downtown, i often see people on bikes that i can’t even afford. recently i saw a man collecting cans and bottles from the garbage, and he had a nice schwinn cruiser style bike and schwinn trailer. it looked newer, and was probably about $800 worth of bike transport. it looked like it was tailored to a woman rider(again, not trying to be stereotypical). when i got back to my desk, i looked on the stolen bike board, but didn’t see anything like it listed. is there some type of keyword search that is possible on the listing?
    secondly, it was a bummer that mr. selman got his bike stolen and damaged, and he is definitely out some big cash, but i’d like to commend him for listing his bike as stolen, and his efforts(and joe’s!) for finding the bike and prosecuting the thief. there’s an admirable amount of civic pride he should have, rather than taking the relatively easy way out and just having insurance buy him a new bike. i appreciate your efforts, mr. selman, and will be pointing out your story to my children as the right thing to do. man! i’m sorry that sounds so hokey, but i’m sincere about it!

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    E July 24, 2009 at 10:31 am

    Armando ITA about civic pride. A lot of times these jerks just get away with it; this one didn’t. Thanks to Joe for your sharp eye and quick thinking, AND the courage to stall the perp. I’m glad you’re on our side. 😉

    James, does your homeowners policy cover damaged possessions? You might be out your deductible but you would be anyway. Good luck to you.

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    ignatz July 24, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Congrats on the recovery. More of this please! The insurance dilemma is directly connected to the moral and civic issue. If we do as James considered and let the theft go allowing insurance to cover the loss, we don’t support the civility of our cities and neighborhoods.
    Bike theft gets really bad when we accept it is a part of life. It does not need to be this way. Thanks Jonathan and crew for providing a way for us to look out for one another, no corporations necessary.

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    Burk July 24, 2009 at 10:55 am

    “It makes you wonder about dealing with the system once you get your bike back, versus just letting it go,” he said, “It’s sort of nuts.”

    I hear ya’, but thanks for following through. It sucks that you had to go through this but you have actually DONE SOMETHING to help prevent this from happening to someone else!

    Thanks James, Jonathan and Joe. Like ignatz says this kind of stuff really contributes to the civility of our cities. Portland is lucky to have folks like you.

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    steve July 24, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Anyway we can throw this guy Joe a party?

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    Joe Rowe July 24, 2009 at 11:11 am

    The stolen bike listings are great, but they need a lot of help.

    Wish list: Both thumbnail photo proof sheet, perhaps 4 per screen, and full size photos, sorting by color, brand, better search tools.

    And a one step way for novice users to get alerts when a thief tries to sell a similar bike on craigslist or ebay.

    Portland is known for bikes and open source, and the Bryan who started stolenbikeregistry.com seems to be open source friendly. I can’t program in the newer web laguages, but I’d be glad to setup a meeting time and date at freegeek with pizza to draw in liked minded folks. Even if no coders show up, we could raise fund and hire local open source programmers and Bryan. I can help with UI and QA.

    Is anyone interested in starting an Open Source bike theft working group with meetings starting out at FreeGeek?

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    Esta Nevando Aqui July 24, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Technically, the $850 in damages can be recovered from “skeezy dude.” But if he had that kind of money, he wouldn’t be stealing the bike in the first place (perhaps)!

    Anyway, someone should post the Oregon law on making a citizen arrest, as that is an alternative to “stalling” in certain circumstances.

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    Editz July 24, 2009 at 11:42 am

    Has anyone thought of contacting the local media to set up a ‘To Catch A Predator’ style stakeout where you’d place a locked bike somewhere with camera crews tailing and eventually confronting the thief?

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    BURR July 24, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    I don’t think I own a bike worth $850, let alone $4,600. You’ve got to be crazy to be riding or parking a bike like that anywhere in a major metropolitan area, including, apparently, inside your office.

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    bh July 24, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    @Joe Rowe – drop me an email. Some things are already in the works on a couple of fronts but more help is always welcome.

    The ‘working group’ idea has come up a couple of times so there is some interest…

    -bhance, SBR

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    Tony P July 24, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Re #6: When can we throw the thief a blanket party?

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    Quentin July 24, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    It’s great that the dirtbag got caught, but he’ll probably be out of jail way too soon and eager to steal anything he can. I like Editz’s idea, that would be fun to watch. I read about a police department using a very small GPS tracking device planted in the saddle of a bike to track and catch several thieves. Police departments often use “bait” cars for sting operations, so maybe the Portland Police could do the same with bikes.

    re: #10 BURR, why not just use a good strong lock if you’re going to ride an expensive bike? I use a Kryptonite New York lock for my frame and front wheel and another Kryptonite Evolution and a steel cable for the rear wheel and saddle.

    I realize that it is pretty unusual to have your bike stolen from inside a secure building, but this whole episode should be a reminder for everyone to always make sure their bike is securely locked!

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    redhippie July 24, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    Good show for getting the guy into the system. It does make you wonder though. He causes $850 in damage, another few hundred in the owners time to testify, a couple hundred in cop time, a few thousand in court costs and (if he doesn’t pleed it away) more thousands to house the guy in the lockup. Extrapolate this by hundred or thousands of cases right here in portland.

    Maybe Singapore has it right. Just give the guy a good caneing he won’t forget and call it good. He does the same thing agian, ship him to Saudi and a dose of islamic law with the chopping block. I wonder what they do with all the extra hands?

    It gets to the point where we can’t afford to consistently do the right thing. In college, someone stole my house-mates bike. When we caught him a few weeks later, the Chicano’s from across the street kicked the crap out of him. Never saw him again and never had another bike stolen from our part of the neighborhood in the next two years.

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    steve July 24, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    Thanks Burr.

    I had hoped we would make it to 20 posts before someone chimed in with some such nonsense. People get their inexpensive bikes stolen everyday in this town. The problem is theft, not nice bikes.

    Does anyone care how much Burr’s bikes cost? I sure don’t.

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    BURR July 24, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    hey, I’m glad the guy got his bike back, and I hate bike thieves too; but owning riding outrageously expensive bikes just smacks of typical american materialism and status seeking behaviour to me, especially if it’s a fixie, which this bike appears to be.

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    KWW July 24, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    Do me a favor, post the ‘bad guys’ name and/or mugshot from the Multnomah Cty. website.

    Why creeps like this should be anonymous, is beyond me.

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    f5 July 24, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    BURR: Your assumptions are both irrelevant and arrogant.

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    BURR July 24, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    you’re free to ignore them.

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    middle of the road guy July 24, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    BURR,

    If a 4500+ bike is something that a person has chosen to invest in, that’s certainly their choice and you have zero clue as to their decision making process.

    “outrageously expensive” depends upon who is buying it.

    To your credit, you bagged on it for being a fixie. I can’t stand them, either.

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    maxadders July 24, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    “He may have gone down on it,”

    I hope Rev Phil got footage for Bike Porn 2010

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    Mike July 24, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    Re: 21

    Zing!

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    beth h July 24, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    Congratulations and thanks for pursuing the thief.
    As for the insurance mess, the damage to the bike doesn’t sound fatal. If it had been MY custom bike, I’d be thrilled to get it back with a few scratches and dents and ride it again.
    Far better that the bike’s owner followed through with the process, even if it does mean time-loss at work and all the rest. There’s one thief who will be kept too busy to steal for awhile.

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    maxadders July 24, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    I agree somewhat: a $4000 race bike is one thing. A $4000 commuter is another…and a singlespeed at that…

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    Charles McCarthy July 24, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    I had a bike stolen (Minneapolis, 1970’s), and a week later got a call from the police. They had recovered it, and because Minneapolis had bicycle registration, they knew where to find the owner. The registration fee was small, barely enough to cover the cost of the registration sticker (1.5 x 3 inch, high-tack self-adhesive, like auto license plate stickers).
    My point: bicycle registration can be a good thing.

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    Barney July 24, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    @ redhippie

    If a bike is worth 4 grand and the thief doesn’t sell it (and dings it up), then he probably just needed a bike and he’s clueless as to its value. If a desperate person decides that stealing a bike is necessary, I hope he doesn’t steal mine. But if he does, I’m not going to suggest we beat the crap out of him. Try some empathy.

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    Joe July 24, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    *Yawn* Have you ever reported a stolen bike story where the bike didn’t have a value in the thousands and the owner couldn’t easily afford to replace it?

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  • Wake
    Wake July 25, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    Eight years ago, I was walking through a village in rural Equador and got caught up in a commotion. A local lady had been caught shoplifting and the vendors were angry. They grabbed her and dragged her to the nearby town square, where they stripped her naked and beat her (bruises, no broken skin) with willow branches. they then dunked her in the ice-cold river and walked away.

    My first reaction was,”how brutal”. but after years of working with kids in our juvenile system and seeing families foster-cared apart, criminals reinforcing their skills while incarcerated, and the tremendous costs we bear as a society for this system, I am beginning to wonder if the treatment I witnessed was more humane after all.

    granted, it sure would have sucked if that lady was innocent… However, she didn’t lose her kids to ‘the system’. The town’s tax rate didn’t go up and I would bet that anyone thinking about shoplifting had at least second thoughts.

    Maybe we need to rethink our system… Maybe we need lojack for bikes.

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    Pete July 26, 2009 at 11:29 am

    “someone should post the Oregon law on making a citizen arrest”

    http://www.leg.state.or.us/ors/133.html

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    dan July 26, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    LOL @ $4,000 custom Seven fixie and Apple laptop. Live the cliche!

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    Ian July 26, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    BURR
    It is not a fixie. It says in the story “Single Speed” it is a Cyclocross Race bike

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    beth h July 27, 2009 at 6:42 am

    @ # 25:

    Like most larger American cities, Portland did away with bicycle registration years ago. The high cost of administration didn’t compute, especially when factored against the relatively low monetary value of most bicycles, and the insurance industry has never been that interested in offering the same protections for bikes that it has offered for cars.

    That said, I STILL have the old BTA sticker on my bike, and I have a written record of it, my bike’s serial number and the original purchase receipt, all filed in a safe place. You’d be amazed at how few people keep proof of ownership on hand.

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    Vance Longwell July 27, 2009 at 9:25 am

    “Like most larger American cities, Portland did away with bicycle registration years ago.”

    Portland, at just under 2 million in the greater metro, is hardly a big city. In fact, the same site that told me our population ranks Portland as the 1041st most populous urban area in America. Portland didn’t, “do away”, with anything. Lack of interest is the current excuse for not providing a registry. Of which there have been dozens, BTW. Bike registration doesn’t work. That’s why cities don’t use it anymore.

    So your statement about administrative costs appears to be wrong. Most cities, Portland included, rarely keep programs around that no one uses, and in this case, doesn’t really do anything anyway.

    Here’s an idea. I speak as an expert too. An expert in not getting your bike stolen. As an expert, I advise you to take responsibility for your own actions, and stuff too, and don’t leave your bike unattended. I have never once had a bicycle stolen. Never. I have never been inconvenienced by having to take care of this responsibility either.

    While Police scour the city for some yuppie’s bike, some Mexican lady over in Gateway has to do without her car anymore, ’cause it got stolen too. While police try to recover, “stuff”, human beings are being victimized.

    A $10 lock on the bike in question would have saved the taxpayers how much money so far? Lock a bike up indoors? You better be, or you’ll be looking to spend some of that tax money yourself.

    Cops are for crimes. Locks are for bicycles. Oh, and peruse the 6th amendment to our national constitution again you nazis.

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    David Feldman July 27, 2009 at 9:51 am

    Hey, fellow bike mechanics–we should all be trying to write serial numbers down on repair tickets. I’ve been doing this all year on any bike with a legibly stamped number. Some people can’t hang on to their receipts, some bikes traded or sold between friends don’t have written records, some shops purge or don’t store bike ticket records for very long. We can be one more storer of serial numbers. And, what the hell is wrong with a $4.5K fixie?

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    redhippie July 27, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Hi Barney,

    What world do you live in?

    You talk of “desperation” in a way that legitimizes what he did. I’m interested, what type of desperation makes this crime ok? Stealing to feed a child, or stealing to feed a meth habit. The laptop he stole was probably important to the victim and the way he makes his living. Is this ok also?

    You talk of empathy, and I would show empathy if this guy was a first time offender and not a guy with a “long criminal record”. Why don’t you show some empathy for the countless victims of people like this. You act as if this is a victimless crime. What if you were the victim, would you say ahh shucks, talk of his cultural and economic disadvantages, his rehabilitation and value to society and turn the other cheek?

    In my experience, I did not wait for the cops to do nothing, I did not write it off to my insurance (especially since I could not afford insurance), I went out and found the bike and the guy who stole it. I have had friends that I helped to get their bikes back by just going out and looking. Most of the time the “desperate” criminals who deserve our empathy are around the neighborhood looking for something else to steal. By taking back what they stole tells them that they are being watched and that we aren’t relying upon the cops or insurance to protect what is ours. In short, that there are real consequences to their actions. Your “empathy” and insurance allows people like this to take root in our neighborhoods like a cancer. Thanks Barney

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    Ian July 27, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    ALL OF YOU CALLING THIS BIKE A FIXIE!!!!!!! read the damn story.

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    b July 27, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    Only 33 posts before someone pulls out Godwin’s Law? Pfft. You guys must be getting rusty.

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    Pojaco July 27, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    “Turns out the man who stole the bike (and laptop) has a long criminal history and this testimony will help the DA finally build a case against him.”

    This sentence does not make a lot of sense. If he has a long criminal history, then the DA has already built numerous cases against him, and won them. If they haven’t been able to build a case against him until now, then he doesn’t have a criminal history.

    They haven’t been building a case for years, biding their time until they have just the nail in the coffin needed to bring down this criminal mastermind.

    Maybe you meant to say that, given his lengthy criminal record, he could likely be on probation and a conviction on this new charge could earn him some jailtime. Sorry for nitpicking.

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    VHF July 28, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    DON”T BLAME THE VICTIM!!!!!!!!!!

    Crimes small and large need the attention of the police. The fact is the bike thief likely is involved in multiple crimes beyond the one he was caught for. Bike thief’s suck and need to rot in jail.

    At some point in time you or friend will either have a bike or parts( seat, wheels) no matter how well you care for your rig and price might make some bikes more attractive than others but even beatup old rigs get boosted. I repeat – bike thief’s are scum and public flogging should done when caught.

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    Lynne F July 29, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    @39 right. Don’t blame the victim.

    others: so it is an expensive bike. So what? You might consider that because some people buy expensive bikes, other people have jobs in the bicycle industry.

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