Podcast: Royal Johnson and Timberwolves Cycle Recovery

“There’s not a lot of funding towards actual services in Portland that would provide a more reasonable way of handling this situation than just being active in the community.”

– Royal Johnson

Our story last week about a bike theft incident under the freeway overpasses in the South Waterfront district, created more questions than answers. I tried to clean it up with a separate post explaining what we learned after our initial story, but for one group in town — and one person in particular — damage had been done.

Portlander Royal Johnson and his crew behind Timberwolves Cycle Recovery felt the story connected them to the incident in an unfair way. Yes, Royal was involved in the incident, but he says the person who reported it to police was not only in possession of a stolen bicycle, but they made false claims about a gun being present. He also says someone in the community who has it out for him seized on the opportunity to tarnish Royal’s reputation.

Royal, who is Black, posted online this week saying it was all just another example of racism in the cycling community — something he has dealt with many times since moving here in 2014.

So Royal and I decided to sit down in the Shed and talk it out. He rolled up with two other leaders of the T’wolves, Laura Dallago and Rich Baker.

“I’ve literally been called the N word, like, just on a TNR [Thursday Night Ride]… I’m not perfect, but I’m loud, I have fun… there is no reason why a person should be persecuted for being who they are… I am persecuted by individuals in the cycling community. And I am probably the only person who looks like me.”

– Royal Johnson

Known by some as the Sith Lord Vader Squadron Timberwolves, this grassroots, all-volunteer group has taken the law into their own hands to recover stolen bicycles.

Royal started the group in Austin, Texas in 2011 and he maintains a chapter of the group there, as well as one in Los Angeles, Colorado, and Houston. Their modus operandi is to enlist people to help them spot stolen bikes, research online to find out of it the bike is indeed stolen, and then if it is, hit the streets and try to recover it.

As you can imagine, when a group of people decide to fight crime — especially when they often interact with and accuse homeless Portlanders of stealing bikes — things can get messy. 

In this episode, you’ll hear how the Timberwolves approach their work as professionals who are simply doing the job of an inadequate police force because they want to end the epidemic of bike theft in Portland. We talk about the inherent risks of what they’re doing, what Royal says really happened in that South Waterfront incident, how they interact with unhoused people, racism in Portland’s cycling scene, and more.

Listen in the player above or wherever you get your podcasts. View a full transcript below:


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Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor

Thank you for an interesting interview Jonathan, Royal and friends. Royal has a beautiful voice, made for radio!

I would like to clarify one detail, Jonathan, that I don’t think you realize you are assuming: BikePortland does not know what the communication between OHSU and the police was. You said that OHSU probably learned of the incident via a police log (and that’s what you wrote in last week’s followup article).

That wouldn’t be my assumption at all. The Clery Alert had a lot more detail than what was in the police log tweet, it was the Clery alert which mentioned the gun, the grey SUV and a white male. None of that info was in the minimal police incident log.

I used the police incident twitter simply as a verification of the Clery alert.

My guess would be that the OHSU public safety office spoke with the police before they directed OHSU’s Knight Cancer to email out the alert. Another thing that I want to clarify is that OHSU did not send out a campus-wide warning, they directed the Knight Cancer Research Building to send out an alert.

A Clery alert is required by federal law, and I considered it a credible source for the information, one which had probably involved communication with PPB.

Fred
Fred
10 months ago

One other possibly valuable detail is WHO exactly called the police to report (falsely) the bike being stolen at gunpoint. Everyone seems to assume it was the homeless dude – the one Royal repossessed the bike from. But why would the guy call attention to himself?

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a so-called “homeless advocate” called the cops and invented the story of the gun as retaliation. It would be good to find out if that was the case, since the caller put Royal in some actual danger. Royal & Co are doing God’s work and should be supported fully by the community.

joan
10 months ago
Reply to  Fred

This is quite an allegation. I can’t imagine why an advocate would endanger an unhoused individual like that. They are at huge risk from the police, especially Portland police.

Middle o the Road Guy
Middle o the Road Guy
10 months ago
Reply to  joan

What are the huge risks, especially from Portland police?

Zero zeros
Zero zeros
10 months ago

Strange (not strange) how any opposing post has been deleted or not posted. Biased and censor much?

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
10 months ago

Thanks for doing this interview, Jonathan. And thanks to Royal and his crew for keeping up the important work.

If anyone is looking for the transcript (i was having trouble finding it) look in the podcast player frame, a link to the transcript can be found there.

Zero zeros
Zero zeros
10 months ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

No one was looking because no one cares.

Dwk
Dwk
10 months ago

Very interesting. I would love to know the most expensive bike he has returned?
If he or anyone in the Wolverines has been assaulted ever?
Fascinating, nice work if non violent, good citizens…

Fred
Fred
10 months ago

Royal is amazing – quickly on his way to attaining National Treasure status.

one
10 months ago

Royal for City Council. Please!

Serenity
Serenity
10 months ago

Aah! never read any of this before. Thank you.