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:
The BikePortland Podcast is a production of Pedaltown Media, Inc. If you liked this episode, subscribe and browse our archives for past shows, leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, and tell your friends about it. BikePortland is a community media source that relies on individual subscribers to stay in business. Please sign up today if you aren’t a subscriber already.