The Case of the Missing Roubaix
This week has truly been a roller coaster.
From my perspective, it all started at 7pm on Wednesday evening. I opened the interior door to my garage to find that the garage door was wide open. Assuming that one of my roommates had just accidentally left it open, I went to my car parked in the driveway. Walking back in, I counted the bikes… 1, 2, 3, 4… wait.. where’s #5? I left it here, right? Earlier in the week I had it inside, but I moved it to the garage, right? I did a quick scan and looked under / around and had a roommate come look and count the bikes too. Mountain bike, check; city bike, check; Grandpa’s vintage bike, check; roommate’s mountain bike, check; road bike…missing.
Before this event had occurred, I had already registered my bike with the National Bike Registry and had the serial number in my files and my safe. The non-removable sticker from the registry is on the bottom of the frame. I also had several photos of my bike by itself. With all of this in hand, I quickly posted a photo and short description on Facebook to the local shops and organizations (the Bike Friendly groups are great for this, as well as your own friends). I also posted on the area neighborhoods on our Nextdoor site.
Next, I called 9-1-1 to make a report. An officer came by to took a look around and start the case. I gave him the serial number and description, and he gave me a case number. He said it was very common for thieves to pop garage doors open or use unlocked cars to get to the garage door openers, snag the best looking bike, and head to a pawn shop. He also said that crime has been way up this month, and even that night was unusually busy for him. I know that a lot of folks have reservations about calling the police. Please don’t hesitate. The police use call information for planning and budgeting. Do everyone a favor and go ahead and call 9-1-1.
On Thursday morning, I put together some simple 1/2 sheet flyers with the serial number, the description, a photo, and my contact information. With these flyers, I hit up all of the pawn shops within a 5 mile radius of my house. Every one of them was very friendly and hopeful that I found my bike. See my disclaimer about this below, though.
Poking around Craigslist all afternoon was bringing my hopes of recovery down further. There are lots of bikes on there, how was I ever going to spot mine?
By Thursday afternoon, my home insurance had gotten back to me about my claim and, sadly, my deductible is $2500. Since the bike was $2100 new, the claim wasn’t that useful and they closed the file. If you were following me on Facebook, I posted this at about 6pm and was feeling lots of sympathy and love from my friends and neighbors. I know that it’s rare to find a bike again, so the reality of not having a great road bike was sinking in. I love my long rides on this bike, every single one has been pure joy.
Not but an hour after I had posted the verdict of my insurance claim, the pawn shop nearest my house rang.
“Are you the guy who dropped off flyers this morning about a stolen bike? Was it taken yesterday? Thought so. I have it. The serial number matches. We paid $75 for it. Don’t worry, we’re going to keep it safe for you.”
I had to sit down for a minute.
It hasn’t even been 24 hours since I reported it missing.
Yup. It’s there. I checked this morning. The police are slowly working the papers. For the fastest return, I will repay the purchase amount to the pawn shop ($75), and then seek legal action.
A few things I’d recommend:
- Register your bike with the National Bike Registry. They send you a nice Certificate of Registration that is excellent for showing the police proof of ownership.
- Have the serial number easily available. This is really, really important. Email it to yourself, put it in a safe, keep it handy. Don’t wait on this! Do it right now while you’re reading this article! PLEASE.
- The serial number is located underneath your bike. Flip it upside down and look on the bottom bracket and look for either a sticker or a stamped number.
- Lock your bike at all times, even inside an attached garage.
- I really thought my garage was safe, but either through someone’s carelessness or a thief’s skills, it wasn’t safe at all.
- “Always lock your bike, especially at home. More bikes are stolen from home than from any other location. Wherever you store your bike; a garage, a college dorm room, an apartment building, use your lock.” (Locking Your Bike)
- Have something very identifiable on your bike that is unique and hard to notice. The National Bike Registry sticker on the bottom of mine is permanent. Hiding a business card inside the seat or the saddle bag is also a good idea.
- Report it to the police right away.
After this, I’m picking up a Dropcam to install inside my garage to notify me of motion. I’d like to find something that notifies me of an open garage, but I haven’t found anything simple and straightforward yet.
I’m looking forward to taking off on the open roads with that bike again.
Disclaimer about Flyers
It turns out that I was very lucky about the flyers, and I would caution you against following what I did here. If I had given my flyer to a pawn shop before they had bought it, then they would have refused to buy it and it would still be out there on the street. However, since they had already bought it but weren’t finished inventorying it, they called me when they saw a serial number match. If I had not done the flyers, the pawn shop and the police assures me that they would have found the police report and contacted the police about it. Slower, but still it would have been OK in the end. Pawn shops use this system to check for stolen merchandise. The police need your serial number for this to be effective.
Postscript on National Bike Registry
Through this experience, I talked with Colin Clarke of Switching Gears about the National Bike Registry. and his experience with them hasn’t been that helpful. He had a bike come in with the sticker, but couldn’t get a hold of anyone at the registry. Their phone number goes straight to a shoddy sounding voicemail, and there’s no way for local shops to look up bikes in the area. This system is obviously not perfect, but I am glad that it forced me to get my serial number and have a permanent sticker on the frame that thieves can’t get off easily. If there’s a better alternative, I’m all ears. I would love a system that would let me mark my bike as stolen and automatically alert area bike shops and pawn shops. We have the technology!
Postscript on City of Dallas Store
Another interesting tidbit that I learned is that the city has a store of recovered items. The police officer who filed my case said that there’s a whole warehouse of bikes that the police have impounded. The city store sells them after a certain period. I’m interested in checking it out… maybe that’ll be my next adventure. I’m curious to see this warehouse of bikes. Details for the store can be found here.
TL;DR: Take a good photo of your bike, and record your bike’s serial number somewhere safe. Email it to yourself. Then lock your bike at all times.