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Police surprise Craigslist seller to help woman get her stolen bike back

Posted by on October 19th, 2016 at 4:05 pm

The Craigslist post (still up as of today) said the bike was, “Recently bought for me as a gift but I’m not much into bicycle riding.”

Northwest Portland resident Tina Penman is feeling very grateful for the Portland Police Bureau today. After her bike got stolen on Monday she set up a Craiglist sting with an officer who rolled up just in time to bust the thief.

In the interest of educating others about how to prevent and recover a stolen bike, we asked Tina to share how it all went down. Here’s her story…

With the rain and winds late last week into this past weekend, I took a 5-day hiatus from riding my bike. On Monday night, I popped down to my building’s private courtyard to say hi (who doesn’t miss their bike after a 5-day hiatus?) and see how it was doing. I live in an apartment complex in the Pearl and you need a fob to gain access to this area. To my unpleasant surprise, it was no longer there. I had it locked using a Kryptonite Chain Combination Lock in a well-lit area next to two other bikes (one was my husband’s) that remain unscathed.

I immediately hit up my husband and a couple friends to ask for advice. My bike had a Tile tracker attached to seat and I wasn’t sure how it would work in a situation where my bike could be anywhere. Tile utilizes a Bluetooth connection so you have to be in very close proximity for an item with a Tile attached to be found. I hopped in a Zipcar, drove real slow around some popular camps in PDX in hopes my Tile app would capture my bike, but no such luck. After driving around for an hour, I realized it was like searching for a needle in a haystack so I called it quits and went home.

All safe and sound, minus a few accessories. But strangely the thief cleaned it up and added a new saddle.
(Photos: Tina Penman)

When I got home, I hopped on Craigslist just for kicks to see if it was being sold. To my surprise, I actually found it in a Craigslist post. The pictures showed my bike, down to the details of the bike frame sticker, the spoke reflectors I use for visibility (obnoxious, I know), and even the bike mounts I have on my dropdowns for my front lights. I got nervous and my heart was beating so fast! I knew time was of the essence because this bike could be sold and I’d never see it again. I immediately posted in the BTA Women Bike Facebook group asking for advice. It was late on Monday night, my husband was not yet home from work, and I was afraid to use my own phone number to call the Craigslist poster. I have a traceable social media footprint so I did not want to spook the Craigslist poster into knowing that I was actually the owner of this bike.

The Facebook group and a couple friends encouraged me to call Portland Police Bureau, who said they would send out an officer. As I waited for the officer, I downloaded all relevant photos of my bike, including two photos I had of my bike’s serial number on the bottom part of the frame. I also had photos of my bike and me with my bike. Luckily, I had also registered my bike on Project 529 which is free and also includes the serial number registration and proof I had previously registered in September 2015. All of my evidence was gathered and I retroactively filed an online police report for stolen property.

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The officer from Portland Police Bureau arrived and I showed him all of my evidence. At this point it was 11:30PM, but we decided to send a text anyway. We texted using the officer’s phone and we received a response from the Craigslist poster. They stated they were going to bed, but still had the bike. We then asked if we could see it the next morning, but we didn’t hear back (they probably fell asleep). The officer was working night shift, so he told me a daytime officer could help with the next steps the following morning.

Yesterday morning, I woke up and did not hear from the officer. At that point, he had already been off duty for a couple hours so I knew I was starting from scratch again. Taking a risk, I texted the Craigslist poster from my phone. Than an hour later I left a voicemail. We also texted from my husband’s phone. Four hours later (felt like an eternity), I finally heard back. I was so worried my bike had been sold. Turns out it had not, whew! Over the course of a couple texts throughout the rest of the day (again, feeling like an eternity), we arranged a time and place to meet.

About 45 minutes prior to meeting, I called Portland Police Bureau to update the online police report and to request officer presence for this exchange. A couple minutes later, an officer called me back to ask for the details. I told her where and when we would be meeting and she requested I call her as soon as I saw the Craigslist poster and the bike, even if I wasn’t able to talk. That would be her cue to pull up to our meeting location.

As I turned the corner and walked up to our meeting location, I saw my bike against the wall and the Craigslist poster smoking a cigarette. Immediately I could tell the seat had been swapped out, a rear reflector had been added, and my bike was shiny and clean! That said, a couple things were also removed – my light mounts, my bell, water holders, and my fenders.

I was nervous! The poster suggested we look at the bike in a garage attached to the building about 10 feet away and I respectfully declined, realizing this poster wasn’t the innocent third party I thought they were. I discreetly called the officer’s phone number to send the signal. Then, I stalled asking questions, testing out the brakes, and standing over the frame. I was nervous that the officer might get delayed or may not show up, but PPB came through and timing was perfect! About 30 seconds later, the officer pulled up and revealed that the bike was stolen property, and that it did in fact, belong to me. The officer told me I was free to go.

As much as I would have loved to linger and see what happened, I was still going on adrenaline and still very nervous, so I got out of there as fast as I could!

As I was walking home (I was still nervous and didn’t want to ride home yet- also the seat was a little too high), the officer called me back and thanked me for calling it in. It was a very classy move and I am so thankful for PPB!

Tina is lucky, but she created her luck by doing several things right: Contacting the police, registering her bike before it was stolen, and having photographic proof of ownership.

So what are you waiting for? Go register your bike and snap some photos right now! We recommend using Project 529 and/or Bike Index.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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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

74 Comments
  • BB October 19, 2016 at 4:22 pm

    Why are spoke reflectors obnoxious?

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    • tinapenman October 19, 2016 at 4:43 pm

      I’m glad you don’t think they are obnoxious! To me, they are just very in-your-face blingy, which I know is the point. 🙂

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      • John Lascurettes October 19, 2016 at 4:54 pm

        On a scale of 1 to 10 with overly-bright and blinking headlamps being directed too high being a 10, those spoke reflectors are about a 0.5 😉

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. October 20, 2016 at 9:38 am

      Because they always break and fall off. First thing I do for a new bike is remove them.

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      • BB October 20, 2016 at 9:41 am

        You’re thinking of the big plastic reflectors that span multiple spokes. The reflectors in question are the little individual ones as shown in the photo, the kind that don’t come on new bikes.

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  • SD October 19, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    Was your Tile still on or in your bike?

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    • tinapenman October 19, 2016 at 5:22 pm

      No, I had it attached to my seat, which was swapped out.

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      • J_R October 19, 2016 at 7:46 pm

        Hopefully the PPB will get a warrant for the thief’s address and find your seat and a bunch of other stuff. The tile should prove that was stolen, too.

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        • tinapenman October 19, 2016 at 11:01 pm

          Yeah that would be cool if that actually happened. It’s just hard to prove that the poster was involved if they were claiming that they bought it from someone else.

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          • Eric Leifsdad October 20, 2016 at 9:03 am

            So, either they’re claiming to have swapped the seat or to not have it. Finding it at their address would clear up the latter case and if it’s the former, at least they should be happy to give the seat back.

            “The thief was sentenced to break-in a new leather saddle to fit the victim.” If only.

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            • Robert Burchett October 20, 2016 at 11:29 am

              I regret to say the software will let only let me like this once!

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  • Mossby Pomegranate October 19, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    Finally a feel good story on BikePortland. Congrats!

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    • Tina October 20, 2016 at 10:56 am

      Thank you! I am just very lucky.

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  • Todd Boulanger October 19, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    The Tile note was an interesting aspect of this event…too bad the design of Tile v1.0 (there is a v2 now – fits in your wallet) does not make it more bike recovery friendly….perhaps Tile (or PPB) needs to set up a few Tiles in high crime areas so that these signals have more of a chance to be pinged by a Tile on stolen property…since the whole “community” of Tile users has reached cloud status in Portland etc.

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    • tinapenman October 19, 2016 at 5:51 pm

      I think that would be an awesome idea. They would also need to make sure they had the app downloaded on a phone and then plant the phones in those sketch areas because the alerts are driven through Bluetooth which comes from phone-to-tile and not tile-to-tile. (I’m pretty sure that’s how it works!) I also think it would be great if Tile had greater capabilities other than Bluetooth because BT a pretty short range. In general, I think a GPS bike chip would be awesome to have, like a “Find My Bike” app, but even then you probably need to rely on PPB to help with the exchange when you found your bike. They prob already exist anyway and they’re probably spendy. I’m still waiting for Skylock to come out too!

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  • JT October 19, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    Wow, so lucky Tina…but if you know her, she has a knack for this kind of stuff. Need to register my bike now too. Would love to know what happened to the thief.

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    • tinapenman October 19, 2016 at 5:55 pm

      Me too! I followed up with the police officer, but no response so far. My guess is probably nothing. There must be evidence that the Craigslist poster was in fact the thief, and even I don’t know that’s true. Even then, I feel like you need solid evidence to prove something like this, like security footage, and nobody has that. If anything, hopefully the poster got spooked and will spread the word to that community that it’s not all fun and games.

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      • Gary B October 20, 2016 at 11:42 am

        ORS 164.095. A person commits theft by receiving if the person receives, retains, conceals or disposes of property of another knowing or having good reason to know that the property was the subject of theft.

        “Good reason to know” shouldn’t be difficult in this case.

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  • Curtis Roth October 19, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    Good for you!

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  • rick October 19, 2016 at 8:06 pm

    Portland Police, thank you !

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    • tinapenman October 19, 2016 at 11:02 pm

      Yeah, they really came through. I was so nervous and afraid they wouldn’t show, but they did!

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      • rick October 20, 2016 at 6:21 am

        I’ve seen great service before my eyes.

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  • Kittens October 19, 2016 at 10:02 pm

    Wow. What a nice story. Sometimes PPD is pretty cool!

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  • Kittens October 19, 2016 at 10:04 pm

    Also, I didn’t realize how useless Tile is. Bluetooth? I can barely get my computer to discover and stay connected to my Bluetooth mouse a foot away!

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    • tinapenman October 19, 2016 at 11:04 pm

      Yes! I mean, tile can be handy. For example, when I want to triple check my keys are in my bag. Rather than dig and search and waste 3 minutes, I can just open my tile app, play the tune, listen, and verify. But when it comes to actually finding stolen goods, it’s like searching for a needle in a haystack.

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  • Chris I October 20, 2016 at 6:30 am

    How common is it for these to show up on local Craigslist? I thought they generally stripped them down and sold them for parts, or moved them to different cities. I’ve heard that it’s a good idea to search Seattle/SF/Eugene Craigslist as well when your bike is stolen.

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    • Tina October 20, 2016 at 8:52 am

      You can imagine my surprise when I actually found it! Yes, this is what my friend Heather also told me, but I thought I’d take a look anyway.

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  • Doug October 20, 2016 at 7:41 am

    I would like to know what happens in the “Justice” system.

    You should have come with 6 big dudes with baseball bats for some vigilante justice. Couple broken legs would make a much better story when compared to the nothing he’ll receive in court.

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    • Mike October 20, 2016 at 7:49 am

      You sound like the drunk in the bar. I’ll show you! I’ll show EVERYBODY!

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      • Doug October 20, 2016 at 12:29 pm

        So you think it’s ok for him to rip you off and just get a ticket then go do it to someone else. BS you get what you deserve from criminals with that attitude. I bet he’s out doing it right now and laughing at the citation.

        Notice the thief had money for cigarettes, but needed to steal from this lady for money.

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    • Gary B October 20, 2016 at 11:44 am

      Totally. But first you should move to a different country with a different Constitution and different values, such that vigilantism and lack of due process is totally cool.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. October 20, 2016 at 11:57 am

        You mean America, right? where black people are executed by police with a “lack of due process”?

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        • Middle of the Road guy October 21, 2016 at 1:29 pm

          What does this have to do with bikes?

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      • Doug October 20, 2016 at 12:38 pm

        I’ll stay out of your country (Portlandia) where common sense is uncommon. You hug that thug. That will turn things around. I guess the only thing you inane commenters despise is cars. Bike thieves are cool with you.

        This site is always good for a laugh. I love cycling but cyclists for Portland are dinks.

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        • dan October 20, 2016 at 1:53 pm

          DINKs? Dual Income No Kids? That probably applies to some people here, I guess…but not sure what point you’re making.

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    • wsbob October 21, 2016 at 7:57 pm

      “…You should have come with 6 big dudes with baseball bats for some vigilante justice. Couple broken legs would make a much better story when compared to the nothing he’ll receive in court. …” doug

      Advocating vigilante justice doesn’t sound like such a great idea, here or anywhere else. I nor anyone else should need to give examples of why this is so, for anyone in this country that’s been following at least some of the news about violence in neighborhoods. Maus and Ted…where is your moderation criteria with respect to Doug’s advice?

      Loss of bikes to bike thieves is a serious problem though, and I don’t mean to make light of the situation. What to do for penalties against thieves that can be effective and humane, is a challenge though. I don’t have the answers. People keeping their bike secure at all times is the best answer. In this country, we’ve had enough experience as is, with excessive punishment and bad and inhumane treatment.

      Someone’s bike gets stolen because they fail to lock it up in a sufficiently secure place, prompting someone else to respond to that type of incident occurring, by suggesting violent consequences be brought upon the thief. That correlation is rather chilling, especially when people occasionally, actually act on such suggestions, rather than idly sitting around chatting about them.

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  • soren October 20, 2016 at 9:33 am

    I hopped in a Zipcar, drove real slow around some popular camps in PDX in hopes my Tile app would capture my bike, but no such luck.

    Why was this biased statement about the houseless included in this piece when it had no relevance to the story?

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    • Adam October 20, 2016 at 9:45 am

      Oh, here we go! Because homeless people NEVER steal bikes!!! No, we’ve got it all wrong!! It’s regular people, with mortgages, 401ks, and children, and lawns, that go around stealing bikes!!! How could I have got this so wrong all this time!!!??

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    • BB October 20, 2016 at 9:46 am

      ***BB, I have deleted this comment because I don’t feel it’s productive or appropriate. Feel free to email me directly if you would like to discuss this further – maus.jonathan AT GMAIL.***

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      • Middle of the Road Guy October 21, 2016 at 9:41 am

        hmmm. It’s usually my job to make comments that get deleted.

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    • Tina October 20, 2016 at 10:58 am

      Hi Soren. Thanks for sharing your opinion. I was just at a loss and hoping I would come across my bike, that’s all. 🙂

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      • soren October 20, 2016 at 11:27 am

        Tina, my comment was entirely directed at Jonathan Maus’ editorial decision.

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        • Mike 2 October 20, 2016 at 12:23 pm

          It is/was her story – should Jonathan have edited it to protect your delicate sensibilities?

          Or maybe Tina shouldn’t have looked their because it is not politically correct?

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          • Josh Chernoff October 20, 2016 at 3:35 pm

            +1

            It does not make me anti homeless because I’v helped recover more than one stolen bike from homeless camps. Just the other day I seen a guy trying to stash a bike in a tent next to my work but then he seen me watching him he spooked I dont even think it was hit tent. I know for a fact this bike was stolen, he told me he paid $400 and then $200 on craiglist for it.

            https://twitter.com/JoshChernoff/status/788548751442874370?lang=en

            Hell even Jonathan him self recovered his bike stolen and found in a homeless camp, why wouldn’t he mention it.

            The homeless may be or not stealing bikes, but stolen bikes are being found in homeless camps and thats a fact we cant keep denying out of fear for the homeless.

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        • Middle of the Road Guy October 21, 2016 at 9:45 am

          At a certain point, well intentioned political correctness. has to give way to reality.

          If you can provide a well thought out and researched opinion on why there is disproportionate and ephemeral ownership of bikes amongst the homeless camps and why they seem to predisposed to swapping parts out on them, then please have at it.

          Until then, you come across as a stubborn idealist with a shovel, simply digging a bigger hole for himself each time.

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    • Mick O October 20, 2016 at 11:21 am

      It’s what she did to try to find her bike? That’s probably why it was included in the story? How is an event, something that happened, biased? There are literally dozen of details in the story with similar “relevance” so if you are claiming “selective inclusion” I would disagree. She included lots of actual details. I get where you are coming from, I think. But, this was not a piece of fiction. The fact that is where she looked and didn’t find it at those camps would seem to be a detail that bolsters your worldview. No?

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    • Eric Leifsdad October 20, 2016 at 11:24 am

      Tina didn’t say anything about the houseless. There are a lot of shadetree bike shops operating out of tents and in many such locations, multiple stolen bikes have been recovered in the past. Suspecting that stolen bikes are involved when you see piles of bike parts on public property has zero to do with houselessness.

      As for the legitimate nomadic bike hacking hobbyist lifestyle, as long as one is in compliance with local ordinances, that’s totally fine and I would really like to see bikeportland do a character piece on this. But I would suggest a sign and maybe permanent address would be best (or perhaps required) for conducting legitimate business. For example, we have some rules about holding periods before re-selling used property. https://www.portlandoregon.gov/citycode/?c=28579

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    • Kyle Banerjee October 20, 2016 at 11:28 am

      It’s only logical to concentrate early efforts in potential areas that are easy to search.

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      • Middle of the Road Guy October 21, 2016 at 9:46 am

        But that contradicts the narrative someone clings to.

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    • Austin October 20, 2016 at 12:18 pm

      If I remember right, Jonathan found his own stolen bike at one of these camps a year or so ago. Unfortunately, it seems like a good place to start.

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    • Chris I October 20, 2016 at 12:39 pm

      And you wouldn’t do the same? This may be news to you, but those camps contain hundreds of stolen bikes. It would be silly to not look in these places for your stolen bike, in addition to Craigslist, Offerup, etc.

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    • Middle of the Road Guy October 21, 2016 at 9:40 am

      Because is it is well documented that there are many stolen bikes in the homeless camps. It makes sense to look there. Perhaps you missed the BP story about Jonathan’s bike being recovered there?

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  • Anna October 20, 2016 at 9:37 am

    When my bike got stolen a few years ago I immediately filed a police report and registered it on the stolen bike listings. I found it for sale on Craigslist six months later and asked the police for help in recovering it and they refused. They said they don’t have the time or manpower to assist in recovering stolen property and said I should just buy my bike back from the thief or let it go. I called them a second time after I made an appointment with the thief to see the bike and told them I had a meeting set up and I was going to take my bike back by force if necessary, and again asked for someone to please come help me. They again said no, and the best they could offer was that if I happened to see a cop driving past as I walked up to the thief’s house I could try to flag them down. Well that didn’t happen and luckily my plan to steal my bike back from the bike thief went off perfectly.

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  • RMHampel October 20, 2016 at 9:42 am

    soren

    I hopped in a Zipcar, drove real slow around some popular camps in PDX in hopes my Tile app would capture my bike, but no such luck.

    Why was this biased statement about the houseless included in this piece when it had no relevance to the story?
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    So, you’d look for your stolen bike where exactly?
    It’s very well documented on this very site that there are stolen bike “chop shops” operating in or near homeless camps in our city. Do you really deny this? … really?

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    • J_R October 20, 2016 at 10:20 am

      No. Soren knows with absolute certainty that those are valet parking sites or mobile repair shops and that all of us who think otherwise are prejudice against houseless entrepreneurs.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. October 20, 2016 at 10:34 am

        Have you ever thought that one of the reasons you see a lot of bikes on homeless camps is because that’s how they get around? It’s not like they have cars or anything.

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        • dwk October 20, 2016 at 10:44 am

          Huh, one of the “campers” that was swept off the Springwater trail had 15 sets of wheels. I am sure they need all those to you know “get around”.

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        • Mike 2 October 20, 2016 at 12:26 pm

          And the multiple stripped frames piled at the tents are only because they get tired of the color or geometry of the bike.

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        • J_R October 20, 2016 at 12:44 pm

          Not to mention that these bikes have a complete selection of incompatible pedals. SPD, Look, Speedplay, etc.

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        • 696duke October 20, 2016 at 4:27 pm

          bleeding heart:

          An individual who has excessive sympathy for any group or individual that they perceive as underprivileged, and a lack of sympathy for any group or individual that they perceive as over-privileged.

          They typically hold the view that the majority are responsible for any minority plight whatsoever, and that minorities can never, ever be responsible for their own condition. They often feel that the public is obligated to make special accommodations for every group, no matter how large or small it is. They claim to be against racism, but in actuality are racist against whites, and believe that modern generations are responsible for the wrongdoings of their ancestors. They will usually pursue useless degrees with their parents’ money, and they will never be found studying the hard sciences.

          A bleeding heart is NOT simply any left-leaning individual. Supporting social and environmental causes does NOT make one a bleeding heart. It refers specifically to those who take the views to a ridiculous extreme, make completely illogical, unrealistic demands, and are unable to recognize their own hypocrisy.
          supporting gay rights = not bleeding heart
          demanding that all businesses should provide transgender restrooms = bleeding heart

          supporting gresponsible environmental policies and conservation of fragile ecosystems = not bleeding heart
          crying about things like deer hunting and belonging to PETA = bleeding heart

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        • Middle of the Road Guy October 21, 2016 at 9:48 am

          Adam,

          why are there so many bikes there then? Why do stolen bikes seem to end up there?

          Have you ever considered that your assumptions are incorrect?

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  • Adam October 20, 2016 at 9:43 am

    When she says Kryptonite Chain lock, does she mean like, a serious chain, or a measly chain?

    If it was a hardcore chain, this makes me very nervous. That kind of a thief has some serious tools to steal bikes.

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    • Tina October 20, 2016 at 10:50 am

      Yes, it was a Kryptonite chain combination lock that is no longer sold so I can’t provide a hyperlink to it. I had been using that in addition to a u-lock and an extra cable, but had gotten lazy this summer so I stopped using the other 2 measures. I think it was probably cut, but there is a very tiny possibility that perhaps they fiddled with the combination lock and just guessed the right number? I always reset to 0-0-0-0 so that would have taken a lot of time though.

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  • Adam October 20, 2016 at 9:48 am

    Also, I hope she reported the theft to her building, and left notes on other bikes parked at her building.

    My experience is, no matter how yuppified the building, property management companies don’t generally care about your bike getting stolen. Whack a few staple racks in the garage (if you’re lucky), and call it good.

    Compare this to one place I lived (not even that expensive!) that had a separate ROOM for bikes, that required a key, yes an actual key, to get into. And had a camera mounted on the wall. No bikes ever got stolen from there, and it was a rental property.

    Yet, these condos charging $600,000 for a two bedroom in the Pearl can’t even manage a camera.

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. October 20, 2016 at 9:51 am

      My apartment in Chicago (built in the 70’s and renovated in the 2000’s) actually took parking spaces away from CARS to build a locked bike parking room in the tuck-under garage. It was really nice.

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      • Tina October 20, 2016 at 10:54 am

        Yes, we have one too! I’m going to start using it again. It has just been so convenient parking right there in the courtyard because it saves ~5 minutes going out and coming back. I know this extra time is worth the security, so again, I’m not victim blaming myself, but I’m going to start using this room again. 🙂

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      • BB October 20, 2016 at 11:37 am

        I know people who have had bikes stolen out of locked bike areas inside of secure parking garages. I would no more leave one of my bikes in a “secure” storage area overnight than I would leave it on a staple rack out on the street.

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    • Tina October 20, 2016 at 10:52 am

      Yes, I did that. I like the rental building I live in. I think they do care about my bike stolen because this is bad PR for them. My building does have a separate room for bikes that requires a key, but I got comfortable with just parking it out in the courtyard. I’m not victim blaming myself, but there are definitely extra measures I used to tax, but became lax on, that could have prevented this theft.

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  • Esther3 October 22, 2016 at 10:46 am

    Oh how could you disparage craigs list posters by assuming one of them had stolen a bike

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  • paul g. October 23, 2016 at 7:27 pm

    I found the Bike Theft Force of the PPS very responsive when i had two bikes stolen, and they worked proactively with two website (Letitgo and Offerup) to help me run one down that we found on the site.

    The first one I found, I made sure a brawny friend was with (if any bike friends are brawny!) and we were ready to just hightail it. Cops allowed us to cut the cable lock and take it.

    I was trying to set up a deal for the second bike, and was ready to confront the person directly but I would have “tested” it by riding away as fast as I could! Even for a male to say, sounds like you had to meet in a fairly sketchy area. My only advice from my experience is always have a person with you if this happens. most of these thieves are pretty sketchy characters and wont do anything if you just grab the bike and call the cops.

    As always YMMV.

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