How I Recovered My Stolen Bike a Year Later

Almost exactly a year go my mountain and downhill bikes were stolen. I was devastated! But remarkably just this past weekend I recovered one of my bikes all by myself. Here’s how it went down.

June 30th around midnight I was surfing Craigslist looking for replacement bikes when I typed in Ellsworth and up comes an ad for my bike!

How could I be sure it was my bike? Easy, before my bike was stolen I had swapped the rear Kenda tire for a Racing Ralph loaned to me by Big Tree Bikes. Plus those XSD wheels from Gords are super unique. You can’t buy them in the US. And that seat? The SDG saddle came off my Rocky Mountain Blizzard.

Okay now what?

It is midnight on a Saturday and I wanted my goddamn bike back so I called the police. They told me to call back during the week. Monday to Friday. 9-5. So frustrating!!! Being an impatient person, I pinged the Facebook and the advice rolled in.

That Monday I figured I should get the police involved so I talked to the Seattle Police Department (SPD). They advised me to arrange a meetup and then call them 30 minutes ahead of time and they’d assist in getting my bike back. Unfortunately, my bike was in Bremerton, an hour ferry ride west of Seattle. So I dragged my feet hoping my bike would magically make its way to Seattle. It didn’t.

Once my schedule got less crazy I called the Bremerton police. They basically said the same thing but that since I had filed a police report in Seattle that I really should involve the Seattle police. So I called the Seattle police back who confirmed that “they don’t do appointments” and that I should call them 15 to 30 minutes before the meet, ideally during the morning and ideally on a Sunday morning. That’s when they’re the least busy. Sounded easy enough.

But wait. They also wanted to know if I had my serial number which I didn’t. My friends suggested they head over to get the serial number for me on a test drive. I didn’t want to hassle them with two hours of riding ferries so I assembled all the info I could to document my bike ownership. Fortunately I had a picture of me on the bike at Whistler (I actually have shockingly few photos of me with the bike), a few blog posts about it, and while I couldn’t find the emails documenting my purchasing of the frame I was able to log into the sites I had bought all the parts from. I assembled a little dossier and called it good.

Next step was to arrange a meet. I created a fake email (matt_ski_mtnr) and emailed the seller.

Me: Hi David, Is your Ellsworth still for sale? When would be a good time to see it? I assume you never come to Seattle? :) Thanks! Matt

David: Sometimes I come to Seattle. Yes it is still for sale. I might be able to ride it over on the ferry. Unless you wanted to come take a look at it? In that case I could meet you at the ferry. Any time is good for me in the evenings.

Me: Cool. I don’t get to Bremerton much :). Would there be a good time to meet you at the Seattle ferry dock sometime soonish?

David: I guess I could ride it over Sunday. Late morning

Me: Hey David, bike still available? Want to meetup tomorrow?

David: Yeah I just need to look at the Ferry schedule. Would you rather have the platform pedals or SPD clip-less.

Me: SPD please! :)

David: I will be taking the 945 ferry so I should be there around 1045. If you like it please bring cash. I would be a little nervious with giving the bike up with a check.

Me: Sounds good. I’m driving so can we meet at the parking lot at 1st and Columbia? My number is…

Sure enough he texts me in the morning that he didn’t make the ferry. I head out for breakfast assuming this is all going to fall apart. However, when in line at Starbucks I get a text that he is on the 11:10 ferry. Sweet!

I race home and Chels and I hop in the car and head down to Western and Columbia. We’re about forty minutes early so I call the SPD who says they’ll dispatch a car to help me out. With about 20 minutes to go Chelsea heads over to the ferry terminal to let me know when the ferry arrives and to ID the guy. I call the police again who say that they’re busy and haven’t sent anyone! The guy then starts texting me saying he’s close to meeting up. I start to stall him saying I’m getting in my car and heading over.

Chelsea spots the ferry, then the guy. Still no sign of the police. I call again only to find out that they’re still busy and haven’t dispatched anyone. So much for Sunday mornings being their quiet time! I drag my feet a little more then head over to 1st and Columbia on foot to meet him.

I meet the guy who is 6’4″ according to his ad for the bike (surprise, my medium frame didn’t fit him!), in the navy and christian (according to his Facebook page). He actually seems like a nice, decent guy. Almost right off the bat he suggests I take it for a quick spin which I do. We then chat and I ask him a bunch of questions he doesn’t have good answers for like, “what year is the bike?”, “what size frame is it?”, “did you build it yourself?” What I do learn is that he allegedly bought it off his buddy a couple months ago for $2k and that it doesn’t really fit him. He figures the bike is worth $5-$7k.

After stalling for as long as I could I check my phone again. Still no word from the cops. So I suggest another test ride, he agrees, I hop on, and never look back!

I duck down to Western and pedal furiously to Western and Lenora, call Chelsea and arrange a rendezvous at 1st and Virginia. I load the bike up and hop in drenched in sweat.

My phone rings.

I don’t answer.

I’m actually surprised how long it took him to wonder where I went. So I text him.

No response!

As we’re driving home the police call wondering where I am. I reply that I don’t need their help. “Did you get your bike back?” Yes. “How?” I just took it. “So you don’t need our help?” Nope.

As I’m hanging up the phone we drive by three cop cars dealing with a homeless man outside of the Cheesecake Factory. Thanks for the help SPD!

Now I didn’t want to steal my bike back and was feeling kinda bummed out about the whole thing when I got home. That is until my buddy called and wanted all the details. Then I was pumped. I had my bike back. Fucking badass!

(I know that the chances of recovering my downhill bike that was stolen at the same time are now totally zero :)).

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40 Responses to How I Recovered My Stolen Bike a Year Later

  1. FUCK YEAH GOYER! You’re my hero! I totally should have done this when I found my stolen bike on Craigslist.

    YES!!!!!!!

  2. emilie says:

    Wow, Alex from my bike club sent this around — incredible story! Thrilling account! Seattle Bike Capers! And awesome you got the bike back!

  3. Vince says:

    Hell yeah! Every now and then something goes right in the world. Bike thieves are scum.

  4. Edward says:

    But the seller may or may not have been the thief…You may have stolen from an innocent dude, which isnt cool.

  5. JimmyCap says:

    Fuck yeah! ‘Merica!

    Except that you possibly screwed an innocent person. Yeah, yeah…don’t buy shit from CL. We get the moral of the story. Still, sucks for him if he actually bought it from his buddy.

  6. Pingback: Man steals his own bike back one year later | Seattle Bike Blog

  7. Daniel says:

    Risky but well done! I bet the fine officers of SPD didn’t want to deal with the paperwork so they chose not to take the call. Pretty sad but it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s true.

  8. Out. Friggin. Standing. Congrats sir!

  9. Jekyll Rider says:

    You should have had him charged with receiving and selling stolen property. That would have been a nice little incentive to name the person he bought it from, possibly leading to your Commencal…

    It sounds like a targeted job on these bikes as opposed to a random crime of opportunity. In other words, it was planned by someone who understood the value of the bikes. Chances are, it was one of your neighbors that stole your bikes in the first place. They knew you owned them, where they were stored, and had all the time in the world to study the locks and the layout of the cameras while legitimately lingering in the common garage as residents. Either that or one of the neighbors tipped off the thief and provided building access. Are any of your neighbors cyclists?

  10. J says:

    It somewhat shoes lack of function, and interest, to really combat crime in our society…unfortunately.

  11. Dylan says:

    I did the same thing in Richmond, VA last year. I lived right across the street from the Virginia Museum of Art, and actually think I saw my bike get stolen off my front porch (stupid cable lock) in the middle of the day. I kept my eye on CL and Ebay, and finally it went up 2 weeks later, the day before I was moving back to school. After convincing the guy I was from West Virginia, and happened to be passing through soon, I set up a sting in a nearby Trader Joes parking lot.
    Same thing with the cops too, except mine eventually showed up. I called about 45 minutes before hand and explained what I was doing, they said to call back 30 minutes before I needed them there. I said, “that’s in 15 minutes…..” So of course they were late, so I’m just doing loops around the parking lot until they show up. The guy managed to get away with nothing more than a footnote on his record, with some bogus receipts written in pencil on a piece of scrap paper. He said he didn’t know it was stolen, even though he bought it for $45 and was selling it for $450.
    Either way, I got it back, and it feels good. Fuck a bike thief.
    Congratulations!

  12. Jeff says:

    Seattle Police- This is what you get from a unionized public service workforce. I get pissed every time the news quotes how much some bozo police officer makes when their incompetence makes headlines (most recently on the deputy police chief’s botched handling of the May Day protests).

  13. Matt says:

    Hey, I heard about your story on bikeforums. Good to hear you at least partially recovered the stolen bikes.
    Did you own the condo? I’m wondering why homeowners didn’t cover the theft….
    IF the guy you met was in the Navy, you could have contacted the local command in Seattle and they would have helped you recover the bike. NIS doesn’t look kindly on thieves or people receiving stolen property.
    Are you living in the same place? If the guy was the thief who originally stole your bike, he might remember where he got it. It’s not a very common find.
    I’m just wondering what’s stopping him from RE stealing it from you?

  14. Lucy says:

    Receiving stolen property is not OK. Therefore, he didn’t steal his bike from an “innocent” person. Buyer beware!!! Hopefully, if the seller is so innocent, he will reply with the name of his friend who sold him the stolen goods and will assist in returning the first bike. (And then he can sue for his $2K back from the thief)

  15. Nicely done, sir! Great story. I don’t really feel too badly for the “seller” as even if he was an unwitting party he is still guilty of receiving stolen goods. He’s lucky to get off with a sheepish ferry ride back to Bremerton. And his friend is fortunate not to have been arrested for felony larceny. I’m curious if the seller made any additional attempts to contact you or if you heard anything else.

  16. Dan Rappaport says:

    I recovered my mt bike from a similarly tall guy. We need to talk. He might be making a career of this. The cops helped me and have his ID.

  17. Michael Means says:

    NICE!!! Someone stole mine on 3rd and I found it on Craigslist as well. Didn’t go this route as at the point, I would have just pummeled the guy..I wanted revenge, I didn’t care about the bike. WAY TO GO

  18. Roy Wilkie says:

    Awesome story. I should have blogged mine, too. A couple years ago my car was stolen with my Pinarello in the back. I put up ads relentlessly, then one night 2 months later somebody emails me – he saw my bike, still in my car, which was parked in Laurelhurst. I got them both back =D.

    Congrats on getting your bike back, I hope the other one shows up too! Oh and by the way, anyone crying for the “innocent dude” who lost $2000, Matt is not the guy who ripped him off! It was his bike, and he owed him nothing! It’s like this: if I sold you City Hall for $2000, I stole $2000 from you because it wasn’t mine to sell! So, when you try to move in, and the city takes it back from you, they don’t owe you a thing just because you paid money for what wasn’t owned by the seller. This includes unknowing, 2nd tier resellers. Ignorance is no excuse, stolen property is stolen property.

    PS I used to see your bikes, I think, when I worked as a bike courier for Redfin – you have some nice Felt road bike too? Say hi to Mrs Cough for me, she was one of my #1 customers.

  19. Pingback: Morning Memo / Friday: Potty privacy … Fake money … Hey, that’s my bike | The Today File | Seattle Times

  20. Cate says:

    When my bike was stolen (it showed up parted out on the SF Bay area CL three weeks later) my insurance company for my Condo paid my claim. It was stolen from a locked storage area in the garage so the replacement lives up in my unit with me.

  21. Mark says:

    Well done, my friend! Now, THAT’S poetic Justice! Enjoy your..er..”new” bike all over again. Well, deserved!

  22. ROBERT says:

    AWESOME! Great story and so glad you got your bike back!

  23. Ms. Cough says:

    Nice going Matt!
    Well done. You deserve your bike back, and likely – the guy fed you a load of crap re:”buying it from his buddy” after all, as you mentioned – he’s got a good 4+ inches on you…so when should we discuss the next sting operation?

    What up Roy – hope you’re doing well!

  24. Krystal says:

    AWESOME!

  25. dave says:

    You rock! Glad you got your ride back. My ride never leaves my sight. It goes on errands, and into the store with me or they don’t get my business. No lock is a deterrent for a determined thief. Congrats on taking the risk to get it back. Some will do anything to recover their property. You certainly can’t rely on law enforcement to get it back for you.

  26. ExhaustedSpark says:

    The way this is reported is wrong. He did not Steal his bike. He did reclaim his bike.
    I live in stevens county. I had my gun stolen from my home. I followed the law and gave info to the Springdale police and stevens county county police. And yet they could not do nouthing. My son took the same info and we got the fire arm back. So why could not the stevens county law do the same. Poor lazinsess. or they are sleeping with the person that stole my fire arm and my wifes purse and her boobs meant more then the law.

  27. Dan says:

    Good work Matt. I’m proud of you!

  28. Chris says:

    MATT….This is a Fucking Awesome STORY & I’m So STOKED for you!!!….I have a 2010 Epiphany & I LOVE IT!!….Dirty Fingers in Hood River (Ellsworth Dealer) re-posted this and that’s how I came across this article….I’m so stoked that you were able to pull this off…I would have done the exact same thing but I probably would have brought my HK 40. Cal. (legally concealed weapon) and stuck it in his face after I had the bike in my possession and told him to walk the fuck away…you are lucky that’s all I’m doing…I’m with Michael Means side also….the guy seems super shady and probably deserved to be pummeled….teach his sorry ass to never do that again!!!!!…SOOOOOO STOKED FOR YOU!!!

  29. Doug Johnson says:

    conrats to you sir…. well done. im stoked you got your bike back. bikes are stolen everyday here… mine stays in the house. \m/\m/

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  31. Erik says:

    Congrats on the recovery!

    Similar story here, but the goods were car audio… Woke up Christmas morning to find my passenger window shattered (the perp threw a muddy rock through it), Eclipse CD, Eclipse amplifier, Boston subwoofers, and Clarion mobile internet device all gone.

    Checked CL a few days later and found the posting with everything but the Clarion. I assembled my receipts, boxes, and pictures so that I had a record of the serial numbers for the cops. Arranged to meet the person selling my property a few blocks from my condo.After a few phone calls with the police they initially agreed to show up during the meet, but then the officer backed out 15 minutes before the meet and then told me not to meet the guy out of concern for my safety. Whatever…. I told him that with or without the cops I was getting my stuff back.

    The guy and his girlfriend showed up on foot and actually had the nerve to bring the subwoofers in a big cardboard shipping box WITH MY ADDRESS (but a neighbor’s unit #) on it. I’m guessing they had fished it out of recycling to carry off the stolen goods. After confirming the sub was mine (there was really little doubt), he said he’d walk across the street to bring back the CD & amplifier, leaving his girlfriend there. Ironically, at that point the cop who said he wasn’t going to help shows up with 2 other police cars, right after the guy crossed the street. They put the girlfriend in cuffs for possession of stolen property. Apparently the thief was able to see this from where ever he was and calls my cell phone. I tell him that if leave my CD & amp in an alley somewhere and give himself 10 minutes, I won’t press charges against the girlfriend. He says he’ll call me back. The girl looked like she was 15 or 16 and was in tears, sitting in the back of a police car at this point.

    I wait 15 and my phone rings. The thief tells me the equipment is behind a church 2 blocks away. The cops aren’t real happy with my negotiation but reluctantly give me the ok to go pick it up. I come back and they police confirm the serials match and let her walk.

    It’s really frustrating when you do everything but hand them a thief on a platter and they still refuse to help.

    It turns out this guy had been involved in commercial theft prior to breaking into my card, and later went on to commit several counts of robbery, more commercial theft, car break-ins, etc. He’s currently booked in Seattle jail and hopefully the $75,000 bail is enough to keep him there for a while.

    ( search for 212011415 at the Seattle jail index for details on this jerkoff)

  32. Max Romanenko says:

    I heard about this through a friend, Mark Carr – and I have to say, kudos! This is the way to do it, SPD is usually useless!

  33. TakeNoPrisoners says:

    Bravo! From a fellow victim of bike theft.

  34. Melanie says:

    Just read your story on the local news out of Spokane! Great job! :)

  35. Garry says:

    This person works for me and there is 2 sides to every story. The individual has reciept for the purchase and the upgrades. Funny thing is the SPD didn’t want and would not take copies of this info. It seems the SPD is not interested in bike theft.

  36. Eli says:

    Great story and outstanding work in getting your bike back. The guy knew what he had but he also knew that his large frame didn’t work on that size bike. Too bad he wasn’t the person that stole the bike in the first place. In one year it could have been many states away from Seattle.

  37. gypsychic says:

    Oh reeeeaaaally, Garry?
    Good luck trying to prove that one, man.

  38. Pingback: Seattle man steals back stolen bike | Justice Articles

  39. Kristi says:

    I think you are in the clear. Oddly enough, shortly after this post, a great short clip aired on KUOW’s, the conversation, about bike theft. At about 12:20, there is a great story about a guy who got his bike back after 30 years, found it on Ebay!! According to the story, you can’t sell someone their own stuff, even if they come by it honestly.

    I don’t know why, but bike theft seems so personal, maybe because we all establish such a strong bond with our bikes. We go through so much with them. Here’s the link: http://www.kuow.org/program.php?id=27618

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