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An estimated 1.5 million bicycles are stolen each year in the U.S., and behind each of those is a sad face and a story. Perhaps you chased down a thief who nabbed your Trek from outside your Results gym. Maybe your vintage-inspired Specialized frame disappeared in the crowd of Eastern Market, never to be seen again. City Desk will document the world of local bike theft through regular reader-submitted narratives (and if we run yours, we’ll pay you). Send us your tales about that elaborate sting you arranged to catch the guy who nabbed your Cannondale to Jonathan L. Fischer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story is mostly about my friend Neville‘s cojones and some crazy odds.
While living in Alexandria, in a smallish apartment building, my roommate, Ando, had his bike stolen out of our stairwell. Since we were on the ground floor, our apartment had one door that led directly outside and one door that led to a stairwell that led outside. Ando’s bike, left unlocked in the stairwell, went missing one day. He scoured Craigslist, called the cops, and asked the landlord to check security cameras. No dice. Long gone. Ando too—he’s since moved back to his native Pennsylvania.
One December afternoon, three months after Ando’s bike went missing, I leave work with my South African co-worker Neville to grab lunch in Foggy Bottom. I’m feeling a salad, despite the cold, so we head to my favorite salad joint, two blocks from the office. We’re nearly there when I stop dead in my tracks. “Nev,” I say. “That’s Ando’s bike.”
Ando’s bike is leaning against the front of a sushi joint, unlocked, staring me in the face.
“What? How do you know?” Nev says, in his best South African accent.
“I just know,” I say. “I need to take a picture.” I know bike manufacturers make more than one of each model, but I hadn’t seen a bike like Ando’s before. Not that it was special. It was all black, single-gear, SE brand, with straight handlebars. It was Ando’s.
Nev wants me to go into the sushi place and find out whose bike it is. But I’m nervous and shy and don’t like confronting people, so Nev does it. He emerges with a guy that works at the sushi place. We ask whose bike it is, and he starts going back and forth, saying it’s his brother’s bike, it’s his friend’s bike, he gets off work soon and will be coming back to get it and I wasn’t even here when he dropped it off this morning and other things that don’t make sense. As he’s talking to us and not making sense, I’m taking more pictures and sending them Ando. Before I can flip the bike over and look at the serial number, Ando sends it to me. I flip it, check it, and boom. Match.
The guy appears to call his brother/friend to ask about the bike but can’t get him. Now I’m wondering what the resolution is here. Nev’s way ahead of me. “Well buddy, the number matches and this is our friend’s bike, so we’re going to take it with us,” he announces. The guy seems OK with it, and honestly, he’s been nice the whole time. He tries calling his buddy again, with no luck. We thank him for his help and start walking away. As he watches us go, he asks us to wait a second.
We turn around, and he walks over, takes the U-lock that’s clipped into the middle of the frame, and says, “This is my friend’s.” And we walk away with Ando’s bike.
The bike is now back with Ando, living in Harrisburg, Pa., locked up on a balcony.
Correction: The headline of this post originally stated that a bold South American recovered a stolen bike. It has been corrected to reflect that this bold individual is actually South African.
Graphic by Carey Jordan