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How I stole my bike back

Posted by on November 4th, 2014 at 4:31 pm

Found it! (Can you tell I was a bit nervous at that moment?)

It’s back! I found my bike and am happy to report it’s right here next to me in my office.

Let’s rewind…

This morning I did something really dumb. I left my bike unlocked and unattended on SW 4th Avenue for several hours. And, not surprisingly, it was stolen. OK, now that I shared that very embarrassing fact, here’s what’s happened since…

After trying to catch my breath and calling Juli sobbing like a little baby at my luck and stupidity, here’s what I did:

I spread the word as far and wide as I could. Facebook, Twitter, and here on the Front Page. I also made a listing on the Bike Index. Thanks to many kind people, the word got out quickly and I felt pretty hopeful that it would turn up. I’ve written about many recoveries over the years and I know that hustling and spreading the word is the best way to get bikes back. I also had a lot going for me in that the bike is very distinctive (one-of-a-kind), I know a lot of people in this town, and I have a fair bit of good stolen bike karma working in my favor.

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After I got the online communication work rolling, I got on my bike and went out to see if I could find it. At first, I did a quick loop through Waterfront Park and found nothing. I was still in such shock and felt too sick at what had happened that I really didn’t feel like riding around. So I went back to the office to fan the online flame and see if any leads had turned up.

Then about one hour later, I rolled out again for a longer loop to see check the eastside. This time I took my camera and was feeling more determined about the search. I headed straight for the start of SE Salmon under the I-5 freeway at the northeast corner of the parking lot at the Hawthorne Bridge. I knew this was a common spot to see people living among lots of bikes and bike parts. It was bustling with activity but I didn’t see my Cielo. So I continued north on the Esplanade.

Then I realized that if I was a good bicycle thief I would not have a freshly stolen bike out in the open. I would stash it for a while. So, as I rode I started looking to my right into the bushes and under the freeway. Eventually I was down on the floating portion of the Esplanade ramps, just north of the Burnside Bridge, and lo and behold I saw a white road bike resting on some rocks underneath I-5!!! I could not believe it.

bikestash

This photo was taken while looking east from the floating Esplanade path after I retrieved the bike.

I stopped to take a closer look but it was dark under the freeway and my eyes are not that great. I needed to get over there. I thought about snapping a photo but didn’t want to attract any attention to myself out of fear that someone would grab the bike and run before I could get to it.

I wasn’t sure how to get across the water and onto the rocks, so I headed north hoping for some access. Sure enough, right at the top of the ramps there was a big cut in the chain-link fence. So, I carried my city bike up the embankment and onto the Union Pacific property ODOT property.

Stole my bike back!-5

A break in the fencing just north of the floating ramps.

It was muddy and rocky and I had no idea what I would encounter under the freeway, but I had to get closer to that bike. Fortunately there were only a few tents around. As I walked over puddles, trash, and sharp rocks I eventually came upon the bike I’d seen from the Esplanade. Sure enough, it was mine. Bastards! I locked up my city bike and walked down to the Cielo to grab it. There was still no one around, except for two people in a tent about 50 feet away.

Stole my bike back!-2

On private railroad property looking toward the Willamette. The bike was stashed just on the other side of those tents.

As I walked closer I could not believe my eyes. There it was, all alone just waiting for me to grab it…

Stole my bike back!-4

The whole time I was nervous and worried that something would go wrong. I just wanted my bike and I wanted to get out of there before things got complicated.

As I grabbed my bike and started to leave, three kids walked up. They had big backpacks and looked as if they lived under the freeway. I told them what happened. They said they knew nothing about it. I snapped a few more photos of the area, made my way back to the Esplanade, and that was that.

Stole my bike back!-6

Part of the encampment where I found my bike.
Stole my bike back!-7

Duct tape residue over the distinguishing logo on top tube.
Stole my bike back!-8

In perfect shape — minus a good set of lights, a frame pump, tool roll, and my GPS unit.

On my way back south on the Esplanade (now ghost riding a bike), I rolled by those encampments at SE Salmon again. I thought it was very telling how many heads popped up and out of tents to stare at me now that I was carrying another bike — because the previous time I rolled through, no one noticed me at all. I started a conversation with two people who were disassembling a Raleigh singlespeed. (Keep in mind there are parts and bike frames everywhere.) I asked if this was some kind of bike shop. One woman was very interested in me. As if she thought I might be there to sell her the bike I was carrying. “You want to drop something off?” she asked.

I have always given these encampments the benefit of the doubt in terms of whether or not they were trafficking in stolen bikes. But after my conversation and experience today, that’s no longer the case. I am convinced there are active bicycle theft operations happening in broad daylight in Portland. It’s really absurd that more isn’t being done about it.

Thank you everyone for the support this morning. It meant a lot. I am extremely lucky this turned out the way it did. I was so sad about it because of my goof-up and — more importantly — because this bike means so much to me. It feels great to have it back and this has been a valuable experience in more ways than one.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. 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

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Rob Chapman
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Rob Chapman

I’m glad you found it!

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

Good sleuthing!

ricochet
Guest
ricochet

Death to Bike Thieves. Glad you got it back.

AdamL
Guest
AdamL

Really glad you got your ride back. I’d love to become more involved in community driven recovery – however that might work. I participated in a successful Craigslist recovery a few years ago and it was an empowering experience. Slippery slope, I know. I imagine there a lot of readers here that can relate to that sick feeling in your gut when your bike is stolen. I know there are many good ideas already floating around (revamped bikeindex will hopefully help) and maybe some kind of brainstorming session over beers is in order:)

Jim
Guest
Jim

File a complaint with UP about criminal activity on their property. They have their own police force and are used to dealing with bummies.

patrickz
Guest
patrickz

Here’s to you and your ride, Jonathan. I’m glad for you.

Cheif
Guest
Cheif

It wasn’t mentioned in the article but I would suggest going out armed for anyone wanting to take part in similar bike return scenarios.

Todd Hudson
Guest
Todd Hudson

Great ending. Did you inform PPB? Complaints about thieves operating in that are might prompt them to roust the campers out of there. It might be useful to tell ODOT too, as it’s their property….

Paul in The 'Couve
Guest
Paul in The 'Couve

Jonathan, Very glad you are back in possession of your bicycle and sorry you lost the accessories. Great work recovering it. Still sorry for the loss of your lights and gps and sundry.

Bryan Hance (The Bike Index)
Guest

It’s embarrassing and maddening that we have these idiots/thieves operating bike chop shops in the same places, out in the open, every ***ing day, completely unchecked.

Take a lap around the esplanade any day of the week and you’ll count several of these chop shops. Head down the Springwater and count the frames. Head under the 405, do the same thing. It’s a disgrace.

Given the violence these esplanade guys have been responsible for lately your recovery trip could have taken an entirely different and horrible turn, Jonathan. Rusty screwdriver + angry tweaker, etc. Glad you’re back in one piece, and let’s do that summit soon.

Tim Hanrahan
Guest
Tim Hanrahan

Oh man, my buddy and I rode by you there on the esplanade a couple of hours ago and said hey, thinking you were doing a photo shoot or something. I saw the two bikes. Dang, if I’d known you were in the middle of a stolen bike recovery I would’ve offered a hand. Well done! Glad you saved your Cielo. I’ve seen another hobo camp just south of the Ross Island Bridge that looked like a bicycle chop shop. Dirty rats. Good save!

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

An almost unbelievably lucky recovery. In the daylight, no predators to fight off, bike still in very good condition. You’sa lucky boy, maus. Nice to have that little chapter in your life over, I’m sure.

I suppose even better, would have been to also catch the guys that took the bike. How significant that could have been, depends. Life is bleak for a lot of people today.

Alex Reed - BikeLoudPDX
Guest
Alex Reed - BikeLoudPDX

Oh my gosh, how wonderful and exciting that you got it back! Well done!

My positive spin: it makes me wonder if this whole series of events was somehow fated to take place in order to give even more motivation and a personal story to your already-extant work with the City on bike theft. Let BikeLoud know how we can help! (a few hundred well-timed postcards to the right person, say! 🙂 )

Dwaine Dibbly
Guest
Dwaine Dibbly

Congrats!!!!

Maybe somebody should organize a “chop shop ride” where 50 of us crash several of these locations and…. I don’t know. I haven’t thought it through, yet.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

Moving these people around the city isn’t going to help. It is time for people like Amanda Fritz to realize that coddling drug addict thieves isn’t helping. Something needs to be done to get bike thieves off the street for extended periods of time. I am glad you got most of your stuff back but you still appear to be missing hundreds of dollars worth of stuff. We need sting bikes and real penalties for the people who are doing this. Lets open up some space in our jails by releasing non-violent people who were selling some weed and put these folks where they belong.

Jon
Guest
Jon

Portland is far too tolerant of these camps. They need to be cleaned out and the laws enforced. Lawlessness breeds lawlessness. My wife tells me about the things she sees around the camps along the Springwater and they discourage her from riding on that path. Sadly it sometimes seems safer to ride on the streets instead of the path.

Sam
Guest
Sam

I’m glad you and your bike are safe! I knew you were OK because you were justifiably triumphantly writing your blog, but I keep thinking a meth-head you jump at any time as I read it.

Jolly Dodger
Guest
Jolly Dodger

Holy hell that was fortuitous! Good rescue story.,,,no disclaimer about not trying this ‘at home’ so to speak? Did you carry any weapons (other than a u-lock)? Be safe where you seek…the most desperate folks are those hungry enough to steal in the first place.

Lee
Guest
Lee

Another community driven web service — Nextdoor.com — offers among other things crime reports, lost and found. This would have been another way to get people on the lookout for your bike.

Alan 1.0
Guest
Alan 1.0

I know it’ll never happen but I’d sure be interested in a long-term (many months) undercover sting on the full chop shop and fencing scene, not only bait bikes (frame serials) but also carefully marked components (RFIDs? etched?), and coordination with other cities to see where the parts show up. Seems pretty easy to seed via buyers like the woman Jonathan mentioned.

Since that won’t happen, I’d be happy to see some short-term take-downs of the blatant chop shops. If any cops or policy makers are reading this, take note of the numerous sentiments posted about citizens taking things into their own hands, think what that says about how bad this problem is, and get a handle on it before good people do dumb things out of desperation.

Tim
Guest
Tim

I commute on the Esplanade every day and have steadily watched the number of tents under the I-5 bridge near where Jonathan recovered his bike increase. Many of them have been there for weeks or months. Similarly, I’ve seen the chop shops, particularly in the vicinity of Salmon and Water, operating in the open for months on end. And that’s a conservative estimate.

These are ongoing theft operations, and they may well move around in the event of crackdowns, but that’s no reason to allow them to do their thing with impunity. I think this situation has long since ceased to be about homelessness and started to be about allowing lawless thieves to operate in plain sight steps from some of the most heavily trafficked cycling and pedestrian thoroughfares in the city. It’s not acceptable. Compassion for the homeless does not mean you need to suffer every schmuck in Portland, and these people are definitely schmucks.

Tilton Farnsworth
Guest
Tilton Farnsworth

Folks are rightly angry about the brazen street thieves and their riverside dens…you can call ODOT, Union Pacific or the Police to try and clear out the camps but you’ll just be squeezing a balloon. They will pop up somewhere else within 48 hours.

Lock your bikes properly (U-locks not cables), take off the lights and accessories and accept the fact that it may still get swiped despite your best efforts. Don’t get too attached to your “stuff” folks…you didn’t make it, you just bought it…it’s doesn’t represent or define you as a person.

Losing a bike to theft is psychologically invasive and perhaps financially painful as well but you’ll likely be “whole, healed and wheeled” in a month or less…the creeper who stole your ride likely has one foot in the grave and a bed under a bridge…nothing we can do short of extended imprisonment or capital punishment will reduce the threat of bike theft…and (fortunately) very few would advocate for those remedies I suspect.

Hats off to Mr. Maus for his deductive initiative and brilliant profiling skills…you deserve a jersey with a big red “B” on the chest…BIKEMAN!!!

William Henderson
Guest

Wow, what a lucky break! Congrats on the find.

I ride by the homeless camps on the east bank Springwater trail every day. There are always tons of bikes, plus piles of parts and frames. Makes me pretty sad, but I’ve never done anything but stare. Should I call the cops? Would they do anything?

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

Great detective work! Glad to hear the good news!

Drew
Guest
Drew

Happy to hear you got your Cielo back!
Several years ago I saw a beautiful Mariposa custom touring bike leaning up against a pole outside Woodstock Safeway, unlocked. It was amazing to me that such a valuable bike would be left unprotected. Nobody seemed to be looking like after it. I waited for half an hour, acting like the owner. Finally I had to leave the bike to its fate. Taking it for safekeeping and trying to find the owner did not seem like a good option. I didn’t think the police would be interested. Anybody have an idea on what to do in this situation?

David Lewis
Guest
David Lewis

I am originally from a part of the country where the weather does not support homelessness. Even panhandlers are quite rare.

Then I lived in Germany for several years, and the beggars there kneel with their hands outstretched. They are professionals, and have a combination of pride and humility I have a certain admiration for.

Then I moved to Portland, where there are several distinct subcultures of transients, the first I noticed being the crust punks with their color-coordinated uniforms. There are others.

To be fair, I judge our current socio-political climate for failing to provide shelter and sustenance to the mentally ill equally and fairly. This has created most of the problem.

Additionally, bicycle subculture has a convoluted sense of value in brand names, which perpetuates the problem.

I seems to me that acting on a hunch in a small town like Portland is a good bet.

Ted Buehler
Guest

Jonathan — I’m pretty sure your bike was on ODOT property.

The break in the fence is between Portland Parks and ODOT property. There’s another fence between ODOT property and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.

FWIW.

Ted Buehler
Guest

BTW, the gap in the fence in Pic 3 represents a potential future Multiuse Path “shortcut” between the Steel Bridge and the corner of Water Ave and SE Stark St. It’s a level route, plenty wide, of poorly maintained gravel. Used by ODOT as an access route for freeway maintenance. (Not used by the Union Pacific, as I don’t think there are any breaks in the fence between the gravel road and RR tracks.

This would make travel a couple minutes faster between NW Portland and SE Portland than any of the existing routes. You wouldn’t need to go down the ramps to the floating path, and up again. Wouldn’t need to do the zig zag south of Burnside, wouldn’t need to play chicken with the bollards all over the place.

You could just ride from the lower deck of the Steel Bridge to SE Water St. Bam. Flat level route, wide, direct. And it wouldn’t be attractive to recreational riders and joggers because it would be between the freeway and railroad tracks.

Ted Buehler

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

On a previous thread, I suggested a city ordinance that would criminalize possession of a large number of bikes or parts not on the possessor’s own property, with exceptions for rides, swap meets, bike shops, etc.

Grandpa
Guest
Grandpa

Jonathan
Thank you for using your beloved bike as bait to shine light on the pervasive problem of bike theft in Portland. I look forward to seeing how your hands-on journalism is leveraged with law enforcement to address the problem

F.W. de Klerk
Guest
F.W. de Klerk

Who is advocating beatings? People just want something done about a big problem in this city. For some people that bike that was stolen from them may be their only source of transportation. Sorry but I don’t subscribe to your “the homeless are holy” ideal.

Tony
Guest

well done! I tried the same a year ago when my Tri cross was stolen, no luck! There is a special place in hell for bike thieves!

Tim
Guest
Tim

Hopefully there’s a balance between the two extremes. I don’t want a private security force brutalizing the homeless either, but that doesn’t mean criminals should essentially have free reign to do whatever they want. Those seem like the two most dramatic extremes; there’s a reasonable middle path, I would think.

Letting the Eastbank Esplanade and the Springwater operate as open-air chop shops has real consequences: it sucks for victims like Jonathan, obviously. It sucks for the popularity and mode share potential of bicycling in Portland in general; I work at a large Central Eastside employer and the biggest reason clients and colleagues tell me they don’t ride to work is fear of theft. And when we have bikes brazenly stripped in the relatively early evening hours regularly, it’s hard to blame them. And it sucks for any future potential Springwater-like bike and ped projects. When you don’t meaningfully tackle crime on the Springwater or the Esplanade, you’re giving ammunition to every NIMBY who’s going to fight ambitious future projects like the Sullivan’s Gulch trail. If we don’t care for these bold, person-friendly pieces of infrastructure it’s going to get harder politically to build more of them.

Todd Hudson
Guest
Todd Hudson

No, people just want the law enforced (e.g., theft, trafficking stolen goods, camping on city property) and nobody has suggested violence. It’s an uncomfortable fact that these homeless campers drive a disproportionate amount of property crime. Their poor life choices don’t exempt them from consequences of breaking the law. The approach of coddling them has made things worse. It’s time to do something that has positive has results.

Cindy Bernert-Coppola
Guest

So glad you were able to retrieve it, Jonathan. I know that bike meant a lot to you. And glad you were safe – that’s a scary area!

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Guest
kiel johnson

Go By Bike Valet 97,000+ bikes parked and zero bike thefts

Marc Brodehl
Guest
Marc Brodehl

Story of the year! Loved it.

Charles Ross
Guest
Charles Ross

I have no sympathy for the homeless. Yes, it’s tough to be without a roof over your head. It’s tougher to get up to an alarm everyday and hold down a job that keeps that roof over your head.
Jonathan obviously values his bike and was focused on the simple return of his property but he should have gotten a police officer out there to arrest the person responsible. He should have then followed the process out to its natural end: a court proceeding, a guilty plea and a fine.
Bike theft is more than a simple theft of property worth X amount. It’s really a crime against the community. It undermines us all.
I lock my $1,000 bike downtown and lose it to theft? Maybe I don’t replace it and instead just drive instead.
Who loses? Everybody!!

Neil C
Guest
Neil

Good karma indeed.

Tom
Guest
Tom

I talked to a homeless person that said there was a guy posting signs in that area that he would buy “used” bikes. This means, there are others supporting the thieves and making a business out of it.

caesar
Guest
caesar

Charles Ross
… but he should have gotten a police officer out there to arrest the person responsible. He should have then followed the process out to its natural end: a court proceeding, a guilty plea and a fine.
Recommended 0

I wish it could be that simple. In this case, who would the police have arrested? Who witnessed the theft? Cops must follow legal process.

Kristof Roth
Guest
Kristof Roth

How did you manage to leave your unique prize-bike unlocked for several hours in the first place? Were you texting?

Please write another entry on the perils of absent-mindedness. 🙂

Ever ride in the Corridor at night? Smoke from fires of permanent camping residents along the shoreline just beyond Ross Island Bridge drifts up over the bike-path. People are moving things down there (big boards and shit) to fortify their camps after dark. It’s weird and makes me wonder about the legality of such settlements.

Editz
Guest
Editz
Eric
Guest
Eric

LOCK UP YOUR BIKES!!!!

Dan
Guest
Dan

I’m imagining a scenario where transient camps are running chop shops for stolen automobiles in broad daylight in the middle of the city. Would the enforcement (or lack thereof) be the same?

Karl
Guest
Karl

This reeks of FALSE FLAG. I’m surprised the STORY didn’t include you single -handedly fighting off the purported bike thieves. Don’t ever run for office, I promise to expose you. And yes I have pics.

jonno
Guest
jonno

I agree with the commenters who point out that this is not an issue of homelessness, it’s an issue of lawlessness. It’s everywhere and the level of aggression and menace is like nothing I’ve seen in my 15+ years in Portland.

Case in point: heading home over the Burnside bridge eastbound late this past summer, I saw a guy brazenly stripping a bike in the bike lane just east of SW 2nd, adjacent to the unwelcoming stretch of sidewalk where groups of what look like heroin addicts hang out all summer long. Even against that backdrop this guy was so shockingly blatant that I had to get him on video. The group reclining on the sidewalk started shouting at me that I had to have permission to film (ha!) and one guy got up and started coming at me with his hand in his pocket like he was holding a weapon, so I quickly fled the scene.

I got threatened by gutter punks for documenting criminal activity on a public street in downtown in broad daylight.

The status quo has gone way too far in the direction of looking the other way. At least now in the rainy weather, maybe some of the worst will wash out to sunnier climes, but what happens come springtime?

Bald One
Guest
Bald One

Jonathan, l think you must be the king of karma. And damn fine detective work on your own. You deserve this favorable outcome. Congrats.

TOM
Guest
TOM

>> ” I left my bike unlocked and unattended on SW 4th Avenue for several hours without realizing it was even there. And, not surprisingly, it was stolen.”

I don’t understand that statement. If you didn’t “realize it was even there” , how did you know it was missing ? sleepriding ?

Ben McLeod
Guest

These chop shops have gotten much more brazen over the course of the last several months. I ride the Springwater most every day, and work in the Eastside Industrial District. These camps are up and down the Springwater, taking over picnic tables and benches with their tents, tarps and many, many bikes and bike parts. It’s totally crazy. Anybody looking at the scene knows that these people are trafficking in stolen bikes – in broad daylight.

I’ve been riding the Springwater between Sellwood and OMSI for five years and, until a few months ago, never felt unsafe. Over the summer, I’ve seen what was a few scattered camps along the river turn into a pretty continuous camp, filled with trash, (stolen) bikes and really sketchy people. If this activity keeps up, the Springwater will no longer be the family-friendly, safe place to ride.

I want to be compassionate of the homeless. I really do. But frankly, I also question whether these people are truly destitute and homeless, or just criminals who have found a new angle.

When such rampant crime is occurring right in front of our faces, what are we to do?