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How I stole my bike back

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.


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.

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.

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.

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…

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.

Part of the encampment where I found my bike.
Duct tape residue over the distinguishing logo on top tube.
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.