A Biker’s Plight

By Kenny Redublo

I awake to a sound I hate. It’s like any other morning. I turn off the daily alarm and fall right back to sleep. I can spare the time to sleep in a bit more. As long as I have five minutes to bike to class.

Thirty minutes before class, I finally get my morning routine in motion. Shower, brush teeth, backpack, and bikes. Wait.

I open up my front door and the empty space where my bikes usually would be is, well, empty. The space between my front door and a solid steel gate is this safety zone where I thought was, well, safe.

Not today. There goes my morning routine.

The gate was wide open, slightly swinging from the windstorm of the morning. All I had in my head were incomplete questions.

How did they…? Where are my…? Who left this…?
Then came the blind rage.

I spout out a constant stream of obscenities and curse words as I shatter a planter on my way out of my barren safe zone, but sadly walk back into the house as I realize I don’t need my bike lock any more.

The weight of my bike lock was the weight of my rage being lifted off of me. I began to sadly accept my plight, though I kept running through hypothetical situations of recovering my bikes and the subsequent revenge I would take on the assailants.

But what could I do? What was there to do?
Nothing. All I can do is to move on.
This happens all the time.

I tell myself that and, sure, it calms me down, but it’s not enough. There’s this bikeless void in me and now I’m late to class.

Bikes are essential to the daily commute in San Francisco. The city is taking more measures into widening bike lanes or timing traffic lights for a greener, more efficient everyday commute. San Franciscans are relying on bikes as much as cars or public transit. It’s almost even a burden to wait for a delayed bus or endlessly circling street to street for that prime parking spot.

But bikes are easy to steal. On the SF State campus, according to campus police, during the Spring 2013 semester, there have been twelve reported thefts, compared to last semester’s nineteen reports, and many other thefts go unreported since there’s not much to be done about a bike theft. With a car, there’s insurance, car registration, and, in some cases, tracking devices like LoJack. A car is an investment and protecting that investment is vital. Bikes can be an investment but not on the scale of a car. Insurance on a bike can cost more than what the bike is worth. Grand theft auto is a more heinous crime than bike theft, or petty theft as classified by police reports.

Basically, bike thieves are jerks. It’s a petty crime from a petty person. Their actions shake your sense of safety and ruins your daily routine.

But with trial and error, it’s a learning experience. An aggravating learning experience.

As much as I was inconvenienced by my morning surprise, other people rely on their bikes much more than I do, especially when riding bikes is their job.

Taking care of business on two wheels
Dave Yoha is the general manager of TCB Courier. TCB is a bike messenger service delivering anything, from food and drinks to batteries and condoms. Late night fixes are fulfilled for the residents of the Mission, SoMa, Haight, and neighboring districts thanks to TCB. Going from district to district, the couriers increase their risk of bike theft and its effects can damaging to the business, and more so to the rider.

“It’s always a terrible thing to have happen because it’s something you rely on and inevitably something you have to put money and care into or maintaining or building,” says Yoha. “When it’s something you rely on for your job or your personal training, it affects so many aspects of your day to day life.”

TCB started so people could have jobs. One of the founders traveled constantly, and one time he came home from some messenger trip in Japan and didn’t have a job anymore. He was wanted a job where if he were to leave town for a week or two, he would still be employed.

The original goal of TCB was to start a company for messengers, by messengers that allows them to still live that traveling lifestyle but have a sense of security of being able to have a job when they get home. They made the job what they wanted it to be instead of “some guy in an office telling them what they wanted to be.”

Over the course of 2013, TCB experienced upward to five bike thefts while riders were on the job. Most cases were when bikes were left unattended for a short time in front of restaurants or other drop off points. Theft can happen in a matter of seconds.

There were a couple of incidents where locks were cut through and other odd cases.
“We had a few mysterious instances where one of the riders would have their bike U-locked to a parking meter or bike rack and then they were just gone, which is really bizarre.,” says Yoha.

Though the streets of San Francisco may be crowded, most of the thefts happen during the dinner rush where riders are dropping in and out of businesses and residents.

The string of incidents left Yoha wondering if there was a vendetta against TCB, like someone was targeting the riders, but it was just the opportunities the couriers were giving the thieves. Yoha says that any experienced bike thief can figure out the popular spots where riders would hang out and operate. It was nothing personal, especially in the Mission.

“This is what some guys do–they go around stealing bikes and bike parts.”
According to the San Francisco Police Department crime maps, there have been over 400 reported thefts in the Mission district since the beginning of this year. Theft is no stranger in the Mission, but with its more bike friendly streets like Valencia Street, bike theft is more prominent in the neighborhood.

“I think that even though it’s Valencia Street and it’s kind of a gentrified, localized area, it’s still the Mission,” says Yoha.

“Overall, it’s not the best neighborhood and there are still a lot of people there living hand and mouth and theft is a real life way to feed yourself or provide yourself for whatever other vices you may have.”

“There’s a lot of opportunity for bikes to get stolen.”

Yoha recalled one incident where someone, a “crackhead,” tried to walk off with another rider’s bike.

He was hanging out with three other riders outside of a cafe in the Mission, around the corner of a popular art gallery. The gallery was full of people coming and going and the riders kept a watchful eye on their unlocked bikes. A group of people also noticed the bikes as they walked by and one broke off from the group, casually walking up to one of the bikes. The thief grabbed the bike and started to walk off. As the thief walked away, Yoha and his friends caught the thief instantly, asking him what he was doing. Confused and caught red handed, the thief told Yoha and the riders saying the bike was his and he was just picking it up. Not believing a word, they told him to get out of there and leave the bike alone. The thief knew well enough that wasn’t his bike and the riders made sure of the fact, so he walked away empty handed.

Leaving a bike unattended is a bad idea, even if it’s just for a few seconds and no matter what time it is.

One night, Yoha was coming home after work and decided to stop into Safeway. It was just a quick errand before he headed home so he locked up his bike in front, only locking the front wheel and frame to a bike rack. Coming out of the supermarket, he noticed his rear wheel was gone. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a person scurrying away with the wheel. The thief was even trying to unsuccessfully hide the wheel underneath his shirt. Yoha confronted the thief and the thief claimed he was told to steal the wheel. Since no one else was around especially late at night, Yoha brushed aside the thief’s attempt at an excuse and chased him out of sight.

Some people will do and say anything for a quick dollar.

“Bikes and bike parts are a really easy thing to flip,” says Yoha. “You can steal it with little to no effort, you can flip it and sell it on the street for next to nothing, and get a quick few bucks.”

The monetary value on the street for bikes or parts can range from pocket cash to a few hundred dollars, with the sentimental value is usually thrown aside as collateral.

A bipedal buddy
I had my bike for more than five years. I bought it from a friend for $175 and put in about $300 more into building it to my own personal specifications. It got me around the Southern Californian beaches and Downtown Los Angeles streets and it traveled with me on my move up to San Francisco. My bike got me through the Daly City and San Francisco hills I couldn’t fathom possible in Southern California to either school, work, or random explorations in the city. My mileage couldn’t compare to other riders, but I wasn’t riding for the distance. I was riding to get me somewhere, wherever that was. The in between was just an added perk.

There is a bond between the bike and the rider and there’s no filter for sentimental value on Craigslist. So when a rider loses their bike, they can’t buy back the time and memories stolen from them.

One victim of bike theft on Valencia Street left a note behind for the thief. It was one way of retaliation. The note provided some background for the bike.

One, it was the victim’s mother’s bike.
Two, the victim fixed it up with the last of his/her savings.
Three, the victim works, goes to school, and doesn’t have much money or possessions.
And four, the victim has plenty of doctor’s appointments to go to, for their cancer treatment, and their bike was the only means of transportation.

A note, especially one that tugs the heartstrings and makes its way onto Instagram, is a small way to gain notoriety for a stolen bike. The more people know about it, the better chances are of someone recognizing the bike.

Though there may not be much to do to recover a stolen bike, there are some measures to help ease the worried mind and maybe lead to recovery.

Bike path to recovery
Filing a police report can be a waste of time. The SFPD already has their hands full with more heinous crimes like murders or assaults or drugs. Relying on them to be on the lookout for a stolen bike can provide some false hope.

Filing a police report does give you evidence that the reported bike is yours, which is great for confronting your bike thief, especially if you have a police officer with you.
Riders know their bikes, according to Yoha, and the prevailing attitude among them when they lose their bike is “it’s going to take an army to stop me from getting my bike back.”
Little tricks like hiding notes with your contact information inside of the bike frame or just knowing the in’s and out’s of your bike can invalidate the bike thief when claiming what’s yours to a police officer.

One TCB rider confronted their bike thief while accompanied by a police officer. The police officer wanted the rider to prove that the bike in question was actually his. Asking the bike thief what the gear ratio is already invalidated ownership, but that wasn’t enough for the officer. The rider stood patiently as the police officer counted each tooth on the gear for some solid evidence.

“If some cop or mediator asks how you can prove this is your bike, I would say ‘well, how long of a list do you want? I built it from the ground up, what do you want to know?’” says Yoha.

The rider eventually recovered his bike, but this isn’t the case most of the time. Time is of the essence when it comes to recovery.

“If you haven’t recovered your bike in the first day or two, the chances you’re going to recover it are slim,” says Yoha.

Fighting back
The San Francisco Bike Coalition have been fighting bike theft ever since their inception in 1971. This year, they will be working with SFPD to investigate bike theft rings and to collect statistics on where bike theft is most rampant, according to communication director Kristin Smith. Until their collaboration yields results, SF Bike Coalition holds free courses on educating the public about bike safety and theft prevention every month. If you can’t make it to any of the scheduled classes, there are tips on their website on how to lock up your bike safely and securely around the city.

Bike theft isn’t a problem that can be solved at a source, but there are ways to prevent it.
The best way is to make theft harder for the thief.

Having a U-lock is vital for locking up in the city and the smaller, the better. Larger U-locks have a greater chance of being pried open. Pair the U-lock with a cable to protect the wheels from being stolen and that’s the optimal setup for protection.

Using small cables to secure the bike seat and replacing quick release skewers for wheels are additional options for preventing thieves stripping the bike part by part.

As much as additional gear can help, the most important tip is to be aware of your surroundings. The longer a bike is locked up, left unattended, in an unpopulated, or populated, place, the more likely it’s subject to having it’s parts stolen.

Don’t ever leave your bike unlocked.
Don’t ever turn your back on your bike.
Just use your better judgment.

A Cautionary tale
I took my bike for granted and that put my guard down. My mistakes of leaving it locked up overnight in the Mission or at the bike barn at school with it still being there, intact, made me too confident and too trusting of the city.

I can’t trust this city, or anyone in it.

My bikes were stolen at my home, my safe zone. These things happen where you expect them the least and I now will strive to expect the unexpected.

Where to go from here is back onto the bike path. When one bike goes, there’s always another friend selling one, or giving one away, or parts just laying around. I am still angry about what happened, but I’m still on the move, one pedal at a time.